Bill Belichick is a master of unlocking potential within the New England Patriots system, and that makes Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch a perfect fit.
At Boise State, Vander Esch was a team captain and was named the 2017 Mountain West defensive player of the year. He burst onto the national scene though with a tremendous performance in the Las Vegas Bowl with 12 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Vander Esch is a versatile linebacker, and that’s a position the Patriots desperately need to address
Why he fits for the Patriots
When Dont’a Hightower went down last season it became clear that the Patriots had a lack of solid depth at the linebacker position. Of course, the team will look to add a linebacker in the upcoming NFL Draft, and there’s a possibility that they look that way in round one.
Leighton Vander Esch has been compared to the early-career version of Karlos Dansby, and the Patriots would of course love that kind of production. Over his first 5 years in the NFL Dansby had 24.5 sacks in 74 games. In New England Vander Esch would start as a depth player but he could be molded into a starting caliber linebacker that puts up those numbers.
Vander Esch has the ability to play both the run and the pass extremely well, which is rare for a player with just one season as a starter. He’s built to add a bit more weight in muscle at the NFL level, and the Patriots would surely love to see that. Vander Esch, even with a 6’4″ frame, has fluid and quick movements. There’s almost no delay in his change of direction and he’ll be able to get sideline to sideline for tackles.
The Patriots would love to have a player with Leighton Vander Esch’s high ceiling for 2018 and beyond, if he’s available when they pick at #23.
Where he needs to improve
Leighton Vander Esch needs more experience and time to fill out his frame, and New England can offer him time to develop behind Hightower. At times, he also needs to improve upon his attack. There are plays when Vander Esch will attack a lead blocker head on rather than working to get the tackle. Of course, that opens things up for teammates to get the tackle, but he will have to get some of those hits himself.
There really isn’t much that Patriots coaches would have to fix or work with to get Vander Esch ready for the NFL game. He simply needs time to get ready and to add more muscle. Those are easily achievable tasks that New England would be very willing to take on.
Likelihood he’s available for the Patriots
Leighton Vander Esch is an intriguing prospect for a number of teams, but he should fall somewhere between #20 and #28, so there is a great chance he’s available for the Patriots. In that range, only the Detroit Lions, Cincinatti Bengals, and Buffalo Bills pick before the Patriots. The Lions may be looking for defensive line help, the Bengals need any help they can get on the offensive line, and many expect the Bills to trade up in the draft. Whichever team winds up with that Buffalo pick could be in play for a linebacker, but the odds are still heavily in New England’s favor to be able to land Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State with pick #23.