For several weeks now, former Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been linked as a possible early-round draft selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 and if you’ve seen his college tape, it’s easy to understand why. On Saturday in Indianapolis at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, it wasn’t a surprise to hear Vander Esch say that the Steelers have had a formal interview with him already and as you can probably imagine, the 6-4 linebacker said that meeting went well.
“That one was really enjoyable,” Vander Esch said of his interview with the Steelers. “I loved it. It was a great time meeting the coaches and the organization. I mean, it was an absolute blast. I’ve had an absolute blast meeting with everybody that I’ve met with formally and informally.”
Vander Esch, who admitted on Saturday that he purposefully bulked up to 256-pounds for the combine in order to show he could carry the extra weight, was asked what it would mean to him to ultimately play for the Steelers and potentially replace the currently rehabbing Ryan Shazier, who will miss the 2018 regular season because of a serious spinal injury he suffered during the 2017 season.
“It would mean everything,” Vander Esch said. “I mean, to play for an organization like the Steelers and the reputation the defense has, it would be pretty special.”
Vander Esch, who registered 188 total tackles, 5 sacks and 4 interceptions in the 32 games that he played in at Boise State, scoffed Saturday afternoon at the notion that he wasn’t used much in man-coverage during his college career.
“Well, I was always comfortable in man coverage,” Vander Esch said. “I mean, you can say you pop on the film and say I wasn’t in man-coverage but I was in man coverage quite a bit and I’m super comfortable in positions like that. I take tremendous pride in going on one-to-one matchups against the back or the tight end. It doesn’t scare me one bit. I look forward to it. I want to be put in that position.”
The Steelers haven’t spent a first-round draft pick on a non-Power 5 Conference player since they drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 out of Miami University. When presented with that fact on Saturday, Vander Esch had a near-perfect reply.
“You can break it up in divisions if you want to do that, this and that, but that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Vander Esch said. “You have put that aside. If the guy can play football, he can play football.”
Vander Esch was asked what his message to fans of the team that ultimately drafts him would be if they want to know what kind of player they’re getting and his response was as straightforward as they come.
“They’re getting a dude that’s going to come in there and work his hardest,” Vander Esch said. “I’ve always been known for that. I’m always going to put myself in position to make plays by preparing myself in the weight room and in tape. Know what’s coming forward with all the snaps and I mean just my confidence and a good leadership style of the team.”
As far as his skill sets go, Vander Esch said he believes his range on the field is his strongest asset.
“I mean, I feel like I cover the field really well,” Vander Esch said. “I’m always around the ball. I’m always going to put myself in position to be around the ball or be close to it and we took great pride in that at Boise State.”
We’ll now have to wait several more weeks to find out if Vander Esch will be the next inside linebacker for the Steelers. In the meantime, however, we’ll get to watch him go through the combine drills at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis on Sunday. He’s expected to have one of the top performances when it comes to the off-the-ball linebacker group.
You can watch Vander Esch’s entire press conference below.