Boise State Football

ESPN draft guru impressed with Boise State’s Vander Esch; Wyoming QB No. 1

Harsin on Vander Esch: 'We're behind him all the way'

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announced that he’s leaving school a year early to enter the NFL Draft. Boise State football head coach Bryan Harsin said the Broncos backed his decision.
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Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announced that he’s leaving school a year early to enter the NFL Draft. Boise State football head coach Bryan Harsin said the Broncos backed his decision.

No one outside of the Gem State knew much about Leighton Vander Esch three months ago, but in the coming three, you can bet the former Boise State linebacker’s name will be on plenty of NFL fans’ radars.

Vander Esch, who declared for the NFL Draft on Dec. 21, forgoing his senior season, is poised to make a move up draft boards. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Thursday that he and fellow draftnik Todd McShay were discussing the Salmon River High grad earlier in the day.

“He’s a really good player,” Kiper said. “In fact, when he decided to come out, you go back to the drawing board and look at these guys a little closer. ... Todd and I were talking about it. I said, ‘This Vander Esch kid really impressed me.’ He said he saw it as well. Outside linebacker, with his versatility, he does a lot of things, he can drop and cover. I wouldn’t be shocked if he went second or third round.”

Kiper said he has Vander Esch among his top 10 outside linebackers in the draft, and it’s a strong class at the position. Nine linebackers went in the first two rounds in the 2017 draft. The 2018 draft will take place April 26-28.

Vander Esch figures to be the sort of prospect who will impress in workouts as an athletic, 6-foot-4, 240-pound former quarterback in 8-man football – who was a very good basketball player, too. The Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, Vander Esch had 141 tackles in 2017 (most for a Bronco since 1988), collected four sacks, forced a team-high four fumbles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

As a likely pick in the first 100 selections, Vander Esch should get an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. Juniors had until Monday to declare, so his invitation likely will come soon.

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch celebrates with friends, family and fans after the Broncos' 38-28 win against Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday.

Kiper’s first mock draft was released Thursday. His No. 1 overall pick? Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.

That’s sure to rankle Boise State fans — and plenty of other fans, too. His sub-60 percent completion rate and poor showings against Power Five foes provide fuel for Allen’s skeptics. But Kiper wasn’t having it.

“You’ve got to look beyond the stats. Stats are for losers, in my opinion,” Kiper said. “... You have to watch the tape, look at every throw. They’ll find that completion percentage was a little misleading.”

▪  Another expected Boise State draft pick, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, will be on the Senior Bowl’s North team, coached by the Denver Broncos staff. One of the North quarterbacks is Allen, along with Washington State’s Luke Falk, Nebraska’s Tanner Lee and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. The Senior Bowl will be played in Mobile, Ala., at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 27. It will be televised on NFL Network.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @davesouthorn

Top 10 gymnastics showdown in Boise

No. 8 Boise State and No. 7 Denver headline a four-team gymnastics meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Taco Bell Arena. Illinois-Chicago and Seattle Pacific also will compete. The Broncos posted the best season-opening score in school history last week, a 196.225. They are 14-16-1 all-time against Denver, which is coming off a 196.8.

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