From now until the 2023 NFL Draft, we will scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top-10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections, and priority undrafted free agents. Today, we’ll be profiling Illinois State linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh.
#5 Zeke Vandenburgh (R. Senior) — 6036, 234 Lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Zeke Vandenburgh||6036, 234||9 3/4″||31 5/8″||77″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
-Uber-productive defender who lived in opponent’s backfield
-Motor runs extremely hot and has a nose for the ball; won’t be outworked in a rep
-Good get-off to threaten edge quickly
-Flashes quick, powerful hands to win as pass rusher
-Able to dip, bend edge without losing speed; good finishing burst to get to quarterback
-Showed ability to vary speed in rush, keeping blockers off balance
-Flashed some quick counters to keep blockers off of him
-Has the quickness to shoot gaps against the run to make plays
-Undersized edge who will struggle to hold up as a run defender at next level; will need to add around 20 pounds to really be a true edge
-Length a real concern; shorter arms that will have harder time winning against longer OTs in the NFL
-Not a twitched-up athlete, relieves heavily on motor to win
-Competition level a real concern; stats padded against inferior competition; tended to disappear for stretches in bigger matchups
-Projects as a tweener at the next level but never really played off ball in college
-Played in 51 career games for Illinois State over five seasons, starting 33 of them
-Finished career with 256 tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss and 24 sacks, along with seven passes defensed, one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery
-Recorded 100 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks in 2022
-Named the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award winner, given each year to the most outstanding defensive player in FCS football
-Named 2022 Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year
-Named first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference linebacker in 2022; second-team selection in 2021, honorable mention in 2019
-Son of a high school football coach in Illinois, whom he played under
Winning the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award as the most outstanding defensive player in FCS football will certainly put a player on the map when it comes to the NFL Draft, and that’s the case with Illinois State linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh.
Vandenburgh recorded 100 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 14 sacks in 2022, winning the award in convincing fashion. Though he does have the impressive award on his resume, Vandenburgh isn’t getting much buzz ahead of the NFL Draft, at least nationally. That is in large part due to his size and questions about his position at the next level.
Standing 6036 but weighing just 234 pounds, Vandenburgh is a bit light to play EDGE in the NFL, which is where he did his damage at the college level. He has the bend and the pass rush arsenal with hand usage to play there at times, but he’s very undersized for the position. A move to off-ball linebacker could be in the cards, but he never played off-ball linebacker in college, so moving him there is a stretch.
The tape sure is intriguing though.
Vandenburgh wins often with a great jump off the ball, consistently threatening the edge with speed. Once he’s at the corner, he has shown good flexibility to dip and get underneath blockers without losing speed, finishing at the quarterback consistently.
Really nice job here of gaining depth with his rush and putting the tackle in a bad position. Making his inside shoulder small and dipping around the corner, he finishes with strength for the sack.
Vandenburgh is a good athlete overall and has a bit of a basketball mentality to his game as a pass rusher. He varies things up, throws a ton of stuff at linemen and really wins with his athleticism.
Great euro step here to fake inside, getting the tackle to commit. Look at the burst to get back outside and then the quick, efficient swim to beat the tackle and finish with speed for the sack. That’s impressive stuff.
Similar thing here from Vandenburgh, changing up his timing and pass rush package against a tight end.
Vandenburgh delays to keep the tight end guessing. Look at the burst and power to walk the tight end right back into the quarterback for the sack. That’s not going to happen consistently in the NFL, but that’s impressive stuff on tape nonetheless.
He wasn’t just a speed rusher on the edge. He showed good counters throughout his tape at Illinois State, a strong swim move and consistency being able to knock down the blocker’s hands to win, especially inside.
Nice rep here against Northern Iowa last season. Threatens vertically and then bounces inside after the tackle overcommits, opening up a lane. Good job of clubbing inside hand away and swimming to win, leading to the sack.
One thing I really like about Vandenburgh is his nose for the ball and ability to finish reps.
Like the dip and rip here to get underneath the tackle’s block. He then has the wherewithal to finish at the quarterback, getting a hand on the quarterback’s arm just as he releases the pass, forcing the incompletion.
As a pass rusher there’s a lot to like about Vandenburgh, even if he’s on the smaller side off the edge. He has a good feel for varying his pass rushes, keeping linemen off balance, and showed a well-developed assortment of moves as a pass rusher. You don’t finish with 24 career sacks in college with 14 in one season without being advanced and skillful as a pass rusher.
That said, there are concerns about his run defense at his size. He was rarely asked to take on blocks in the run game, instead shooting gaps and wreaking havoc in the backfield time and time again. He didn’t display any sort of ability to stack and shed on the tape I was able to get my hands on (pretty difficult to find Illinois State games). He’s undersized, lacks ideal length and really just doesn’t project well as a 3-4 EDGE or a 4-3 defensive end.
His best bet might be to move off the ball at his size and then slide onto the edge in passing situations at the next level. Again, he never played off-ball in college, so that’s a tough projection.
His production in college and winning the Buck Buchanan Award will get him a shot in camp somewhere, that much is certain. He could eventually be a special-teams demon with his motor and nose for the football, but it’s hard to truly believe with his size that he’ll stick on a practice squad at the next level, let alone a 53-man roster.
Projection: Undrafted Free Agent
Depot Draft Grade: 5.3 (Camp Invite)
Games Watched: at Wisconsin (2022), at Northern Iowa (2022), at Indiana State (2022), at South Dakota State (2022), at North Dakota State (2022)