Remember back in December when I published an article entitled The Vander Esch Conundrum, wherein I posited that maybe Leighton Vander Esch wouldn’t declare for the draft and instead give the Bronco fans another year of highlight tape hits, sacks, and picks? Well, if you do remember that article, you might also remember that I intimated that Leighton should absolutely declare for the draft (as much as it pained me) and that he may just slide into the first round once scouts took him on a second date. Honest, I did...
I may have been a homer and too bullish on previous Bronco linebacker prospects, but I truly believe Vander Esch could go in the first round this year. He’s just the complete package...there is nothing he doesn’t do well, and his measurables are exactly what scouts covet.
Now, I’m no Nostradamus (again, if I was...do you think I’d be sitting on these lotto picks?) but I did get to see a lot more Leighton Vander Esch highlights than most of the scouts had (and still have). Early draft declarations at BSU are also becoming old hat, so we have plenty of baselines to measure against. To my eyes, LVE just had the type of stature and athleticism that don’t come around too often—especially as walk-ons from Riggins, Idaho. After (wisely) declaring for the draft, Vander Esch has steadily climbed into the public consciousness and up the draft boards, and although tape doesn’t lie...he faced a “prove it” moment for a new audience that doesn’t just appreciate his story, but wants to pay him for it. So, you could say this weekend’s NFL Draft Combine was a pretty big opportunity for Vander Esch to get about a million reasons why he made the right call, and brother let me tell you...he made the right call.
In fact, I’d be willing to say that Vander Esch would’ve made the right call if he went anywhere from the first to the third round in April’s draft..but now if he’s still available in the 2nd round, it might be a minor miracle. Draftniks absolutely love Vander Esch’s size...which at the combine measured out to 6’4” 2/8 and 256 lbs (16 more pounds than the regular season) and along with Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds fits a linebacker mold that maybe comes around every 5-10 draft cycles. Could Vander Esch’s other measurables add up? Well sir, his 20 bench reps were kinda middle-of-the road (long arms), but draft expert Mike Mayock implied that if he hit 4.65 or below in the 40, he’d cement his status in the 1st round. Tony Pauline gave him even more leeway and said if he ran a sub 4.75 he’d still be a virtual day one lock. This morning Vander Esch ran...a 4.65. Boom!
Not the best 40 time among the linebackers, but far from the worst...and considering his size and weight—pretty fantastic. It was the on-field testing though where Vander Esch really stood out. Scouts were able to see his fluid hips, quick change-of-direction, and just how much ground he can cover, even eliciting a few Brian Urlacher comparisons. As testing went on, look at where he landed among the 40 some-odd LBs:
3-cone drill: Top 5 (6.88 seconds)
20-yard shuttle: Tied for 2nd (4.15 seconds)
60-yard shuttle: Tied for 2nd (11.57 seconds)
Vertical jump: Tied for 2nd (39.5 inches)
Broad jump: Top 5 (10’4”)
That show of athleticism might even put him in a different class (albeit slightly) from Tremaine Edmunds (whose 40 times were slightly better). It certainly didn’t do anything to damage his draft status, which had been steadily moving toward a first-round consensus. Oh, and if you think that Urlacher comparison was a little pie-in-the-sky...well, maybe you’re right (Urlacher was just inducted into the Hall of Fame, after all), HOWEVER, numbers-wise...it ain’t crazy at all (and BU even played in the Mountain West—serendipity!). Look at this:
Now look at this...twitter doesn’t even autofill with “Meester” anymore when I type “Leighton” into the search field.
Highly impressed by Leighton Vander Esch's display of mobility and looseness despite being built so thickly. The 4.6 time was good, but how he's carrying his weight in these movement drills is great.#NFLCombine— Dion Caputi (@nfldraftupdate) March 4, 2018
Leighton Vander Esch moves well for a big man pic.twitter.com/JLSWK5RukV— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) March 4, 2018
Worth breaking this one out a second time. Vander Esch definitely amped up the anticipation this morning. #NFLCombine Key Measurements thread...— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) March 2, 2018
143. #BoiseState LB Leighton Vander Esch
Height: 6-4 2/8
Hand: 9 6/8
Arm: 33 7/8
Wingspan: 81 1/8
4.66 at 256 for Leighton Vander Esch. Oh baby.— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) March 4, 2018
Leighton Vander Esch jumped 39.5 inches at 256 pounds. Since the 2008 #NFLCombine, only 6 defensive players recorded a 39.5+ inch vert at 250+ pounds.— Jay Tust (@KTVBSportsGuy) March 4, 2018
4 went in the 1st round. None slipped past the 20th pick in the 2nd round (52nd overall).
So, that bodes pretty well for LVE...
Day 3 #NFLCombine winners according to @MoveTheSticks ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/yu2NgnI188— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 4, 2018
This is just a small selection...trust me it goes on and on. Suffice it to say, the kid did good. I think the Vander Esch bus is about to get chromed out with spinning hubcaps.