(Editor's Note: While the start of the 2017 NFL Draft isn't until April 26, it's never too early to profile some of the key participants. The staff of DallasCowboys.com intends to preview the landscape of the draft's top prospect, with an emphasis on possible Cowboys draft picks – from the first round to the last. Today's featured player is Boise State Leighton Vander Esch.)
- Name: Leighton Vander Esch
- Position: Linebacker
- College:Boise State
- Height/Weight:6-4 / 256
- Honors: Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
- Key Stat:After recording 47 tackles in two seasons, Vander Esch exploded in his junior year with conference-leading 141 tackles, along with four sacks.
Where He's Projected:
He was more of a third-fourth round pick when the draft process began but is working his way closer to the top. Vander Esch is now being mocked as a late-first round pick with a chance to go in the late-teens. Obviously, that's where the Cowboys sit with the 19th overall pick and a glaring need at linebacker after losing Anthony Hitchens in free agency. Vander Esch should be available for the Cowboys at that spot.
How He Helps The Cowboys:
The Cowboys have a need because of not only free-agency departures, but the injury history of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith. Having some depth at this position is so vital and Vander Esch provides that immediately. As a player, he's a big-body who can maneuver around the defense to get to the ball. The Cowboys have had issues in pass coverage with tight ends and running backs out of the backfield and Vander Esch is the type of player who would help in those areas.
- Best trait is his ability to play with range. No question that he can get from sideline to sideline. Flows to the ball.
- Will run through when he finds the ball. Knows where he needs to fill.
- There are snaps where he tackles as a half man. Would like to see him take on more square. Will miss with his hands. Has to be careful not to overrun.
- Quick reactions when he sees it. Trip up the ball carrier in space. Has some redirection skills. Not always aware against blocks. Times where you see him get cracked or trapped.
- Best when he can play on the move. This is his way of avoiding blockers. Has a feel for how to play in coverage. Nice drops and reactions. Ball skills for interceptions. Can carry the back in the flat or up the field.
- Attacks the pocket as a blitzer. Can be disruptive. Physically an impressive linebacker. Has the ability to line up in all the spots. Feel like his best position is at the MIKE.
- Retrace his steps. Will take on blockers. Can close on ball in front. Will step up to tackle. Doesn't have much pop. Will shoot the gap. Will get his head around in coverage.
- Like to see him finish better. Movement is good. Needs to be more physical.