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Leighton Vander Esch | Linebacker

Team: Boise State Broncos
Ht / Wt:  6'4" / 240

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SB Nation's Dan Kadar assigned the Dallas Cowboys a "B+" grade for their work in the draft.
Vander Esch could end up being a steal depending on whether or not his health issues end up being a factor. Kadar said "Dallas got a great athlete who can patrol the middle of the field. He’s an asset in coverage with his ability to read the quarterback and make a break on the ball." He also really liked the Cowboys selection of Texas OT Connor Williams in the second round who "could fit at tackle or guard in the NFL, particularly if the Cowboys want to move La’el Collins inside." In addition to Williams and Vander Esch, wide receiver Michael Gallup was one of Kadar's favorites at pick No. 81 to help replace Dez Bryant. The Cowboys had an all-around solid draft. Apr 29 - 3:19 PM
Source: SB Nation

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Cowboys selected Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Receiver might be the Cowboys' biggest need following the release of Dez Bryant, but linebacker was a major area of concern as well. Vander Esch (6’4/256) earned 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors as a redshirt junior, tallying 10 career tackles for loss, four sacks, and three forced fumbles. PFF College credited him with 2017’s most run stops (57) and highest run-stop percentage (15.9%) among draft-eligible linebackers. Vander Esch drew comparisons to LaVar Arrington and Brian Urlacher before the draft, posting the highest SPARQ score (96th-percentile) in this year’s off-ball linebacker class. Supremely athletic with long arms (33 ¾") that help in coverage, Vander Esch is built to play on all three downs. As long as his health cooperates -- he was reportedly flagged for a neck issue by some teams -- Vander Esch should be a quality addition.
Apr 26 - 10:19 PM

Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline reports that no teams have flunked Leighton Vander Esch because of his neck/spine issue.

"The information passed on to me from a general manager this morning is 27 teams gave Vander Esch a passing grade on his medicals, 5 teams flagged him while no team flunked him," Pauline writes. As he also notes, flagging and flunking are not the same thing: Flagging is moving down the board, flunking is taking him off the board entirely. The issue could keep Vander Esch from going in the first round, but there's still a chance that he goes in the first 32 picks on Thursday, with the Cowboys being the team most often linked to the former Boise State star.
Apr 26 - 1:42 PM

On the Stick to Football podcast, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller reported that five teams have taken Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch off their draft boards because of a "neck" and/or "spine" issue.

Miller explains: "It's a spine problem where they feel like it's narrowing. And for some teams that's just too much of a problem. It's too scary for them, they're not going to take that risk." Miller was unequivocal in his report. This dispatch mirrors news first reported by Walter Football's Charlie Campbell a little over a week ago. Rotoworld's Thor Nystrom reported that Vander Esch's medical report included a concussion, a c-spine nerve injury and a minor knee injury. The concussion and pinched nerve occurred on the same play in 2016, injuries that ended his season prematurely. Whether the "narrowing" that Miller vaguely alludes to has anything to do with that injury or not is not yet known. Expect for this to be a storyline all day Thursday. Vander Esch has been considered a consensus Round 1 prospect throughout the process. We'll find out on Thursday night whether this news effects that status.
Apr 25 - 9:28 PM

NFL Network's Jane Slater passes along that some members of the Dallas Cowboys organization view Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch as "Brian Urlacher 2.0."

We've heard the Urlacher comp with Vander Esch from several corners of the internet, ranging from Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline to NFL Media's Lance Zierlein. Looks like the Cowboys are all about that lofty comparison for the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder as well. So much of the attention with Dallas' No. 19 pick comes with the team's opening at receiver following their cutting bait with Dez Bryant, but we're not locking them in for a first-round receiver, especially given the depth of that position group.
Apr 23 - 6:34 PM

CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora speculates that if the Denver Broncos trade down from the No. 5 pick, they could potentially be looking at Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch lower in the draft.

Broncos GM John Elway confirmed on Thursday that the team is open to trading the No. 5 pick. La Canfora floats a possible swap with the Bills, who currently sit at No. 12 but may have to move up to select the quarterback they covet.
Source: CBS Sports
Apr 20 - 1:54 PM

Rotoworld's Thor Nystrom reports that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch's medicals include a concussion, a c-spine nerve injury and a minor knee injury.

B.J. Rains, a Boise State beat writer at the Idaho Press-Tribune, passes along that both the concussion and neck injury referenced by Nystrom occurred on the same play in 2016, limiting him to just six games for the campaign. He did not miss time for the most recent campaign. Further padding out this story, ESPN's Chris Mortensen is hearing that "some teams have flagged Vander Esch" for the neck injury, but that "not all necessarily removed him from draft board[s]." All of this comes about following a report from Walter Football's Charlie Campbell earlier on Monday which had more than one team scrubbing Vander Esch from their boards due to medical concerns. Pro Football Weekly's Eric Edholm subsequently released a conflicting report, citing a source close to Vander Esch who "vehemently den[ied]" that there was any real concern over the linebacker's health history.
Apr 16 - 5:25 PM

A source close to Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch told Pro Football Weekly's Eric Edholm that an earlier report regarding the linebacker failing medical checks was untrue.

Edholm writes that his source from Vander Esch's camp "completely and vehemently denies" that the linebacker has run into issues with his medical checks. Earlier on Monday, Walter Football's Charlie Campbell reported that several teams had axed the Boise State standout from their draft boards due to health concerns. Edholm is hearing that Vander Esch was not even at combine rechecks, though. We'll cut through the smoke one way or another in a little over a week.
Apr 16 - 1:35 PM

Walter Football's Charlie Campbell hears that more than one team has nixed Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch from their draft board due to his failing their medical checks.

Campbell does not specify what, exactly, some teams might have spotted in Vander Esch's medicals. While the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder has widely been viewed as a first-round selection by the draft community, Campbell relays that four teams he's spoken to see the Boise State standout as a Day 2 talent. Explained one AFC GM, "He has gotten a lot of hype, but he plays soft." That same general manager later added that Vander Esch is "not an impact-at-the-line guy like a Ray Lewis, Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason or Brian Urlacher."
Apr 16 - 12:14 PM

Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline hears that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch will likely be selected by pick No. 20.

For reference's sake, that 20th pick is owned by the Detroit Lions. Vander Esch (6'4/256) has been a sturdy performer throughout the evaluating process, testing in the 96th percentile of NFL linebackers while at the combine and later acing his position drills on pro day. The Cardinals, Steelers, Titans, Bills and those aforementioned Lions are all among the potential suitors for Vander Esch's services.
Apr 10 - 6:41 PM

Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline passes along that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch "looked tremendous during position drills" while taking part in Tuesday's pro day.

Vander Esch (6'4/256) opted to stand on his combine numbers on Tuesday. No surprise there given that he tested in the 96th percentile of NFL linebackers while in Indianapolis. He did take part in drills, though. And how. Writes Pauline, "He was fluid and explosive and once again showed no stiffness moving around the field. For Vander Esch, today’s position drills were the perfect complement to his knockout testing at the combine." He's now off on an official predraft visit to the Cowboys, with a slew of officials set to follow -- Pauline ticks off the Arizona Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills as parties which will all play host to Vander Esch as they try to get a read on the stud Day 1 linebacking prospect.
Apr 4 - 12:53 PM

Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline passes along that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch met with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday.

Vander Esch (6'4/256) will be taking part in Boise State's pro day on Tuesday as he readies for the stretch run before the draft. While the linebacking standout would be a welcome addition to the Steelers -- in need of help at the position -- they would almost certainly need to trade up to get into range to actually select the Boise State standout. Pittsburgh owns the No. 28 pick in the draft, probably a bit too late to procure Vander Esch's services. He tested in the 96th percentile of NFL linebackers at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Apr 3 - 1:35 PM

Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline relays that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch has both a private workout and official visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys.

Pauline was hearing rumblings of the Cowboys' interest in Vander Esch dating back to the Senior Bowl. That interest has understandably not abated following a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine -- the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder tested in the 96th percentile of NFL linebackers, the best overall mark in the position group. Holding pick No. 19 for April's draft, Dallas is near the front edge of Vander Esch's likely draft range.
Mar 21 - 6:07 PM

NFL Media's Lance Zierlein compares Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch to an earlier version of Karlos Dansby.

Dansby at one point was one of the very best inside linebackers in the game, so this is a lofty compliment to Vander Esch. Zierlein calls Vander Esch a "loose-hipped, instinctive linebacker who played in 2017 like he had a GPS tracker on the football," and calls his productivity against the pass and rush "rare." Because of the positional value he may fall in the second day, but the 6-foot-4, 256-pound linebacker could easily go in the first 32 selections.
Mar 19 - 1:22 PM

An NFC defensive coordinator said that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch is "a player, not just a tester."

"There aren't too many (linebackers) in the league who have his size and explosiveness in testing. And it shows up on tape," the defensive coordinator said. Vander Esch is certainly more than just some sick test times, but he's got those going for him nonetheless. Per Three Sigma Athlete, the 6-foot-4, 256-pounder graded out with a composite athletic score in the 96th percentile of NFL athletes while showing off at the NFL Scouting Combine. We don't see him dropping out of Round 1.
Mar 9 - 3:43 PM