With the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine now in the rearview mirror we can probably expect a fresh batch of major media mock drafts to hit the internets this week or next. In fact, Daniel Jeremiah, one of the several draft analysts for NFL.com, released his second mock draft of 2018 on Tuesday and he has the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting Boise State inside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first-round with the 28th overall selection.
The Steelers love big, athletic linebackers and Vander Esch has the tools to match up with elite tight ends.
Unless you have been purposefully avoiding draft talk so far this offseason, you should know by now that Vander Esch has been linked as the Steelers possible first-round selection this year by a few draft analysts in recent weeks. Now that Vander Esch has posted solid numbers at the combine and formally met with the Steelers while in Indianapolis, his Pittsburgh draft stock probably won’t be any higher than it its right now.
In addition to his eye-catching tackle stats that Vander Esch registered during the 2017 season, his first as a full-time starter, Pro Football Focus has him down for a 15.9% stop percentage, the highest of all linebackers they’ve tracked. That’s 57 in total, in case you’re curious. Additionally, PFF has Vander Esch as only missing 7 run tackles last season.
While Vander Esch checks several boxes when it comes to him potentially being the Steelers first-round selection this year, he didn’t play for a Power 5 Conference school. Since Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert took over in 2000, only once has the organization not drafted a player from a Power 5 Conference school and that was in 2004 with the player being quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Boise State pro day isn’t until April 3, so it we’ll have to wait and see if Colbert and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin attend that one and if Vander Esch is then brought to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
As the annual pro day circuit and NFL free agency get underway, it’s probably not too far-fetched to suggest that Vander Esch and Stanford safety Justin Reid might just be the leading candidates to be the Steelers first-round selection this year. However, that can certainly change in a hurry the further we get away from the combine and the closer we get to draft day.
In case you missed it, Jeremiah had the Steelers selecting LSU cornerback Donte Jackson in his first mock draft that was released in the middle of January.