First, people in Riggins knew about it. Then, blue and orange fans in Boise witnessed it. Now, the NFL is about to see it.
“It” is linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s vaunted athleticism.
Vander Esch, a multisport star at Salmon River High and last year’s Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, opted to forgo his senior year at Boise State to pursue an NFL career. He is pegged by many to be a breakout star of this weekend’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman ranked him as one of 10 “freaks set to turn heads.” NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo said Vander Esch is “starting to get some attention as a draft riser. He can validate it at the combine.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Perhaps the most glowing praise comes from the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who told SI’s Peter King that he is the most intriguing prospect this week. King noted that he never has seen one snap of Vander Esch on tape, so the secret isn’t completely out. Yet.
“I could make the argument that his tape against Oregon (in the Las Vegas Bowl) was as good an off-the-ball-linebacker tape as I’ve seen in five years,” Mayock said.
Vander Esch will take part in the bench press Saturday and do on-field work Sunday. Mayock said that if he can run faster than 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the time would validate his first-round worthiness. Feldman said the linebacker’s vertical leap should be in the mid- to high 30s, which would have put him in the top five at the position in 2017.
In many recent mock drafts, Vander Esch has been pegged as a first-round pick, including by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who has him going No. 19 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and NFL Network’s Chad Reuter, who has him at No. 14 overall to the Green Bay Packers.
“Vander Esch will be considered among the best defensive prospects in the class after the combine concludes,” Reuter wrote.
But the linebacker isn’t alone among Broncos in Indianapolis. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson is among the attendees, looking to improve his stock. He’s currently viewed as a mid-round pick.
“I’m just really excited to get out there in front of the coaches that haven’t really seen me yet, just get out there amongst the other talent and show I’m right there with them, if not a little bit better,” Wilson said in an interview with the Mountain West. “Just get my name out there more since I did go to a non-Power Five school, just showing them I have the ability to compete at the next level.”
Wilson will do the bench press Friday and have his on-field workouts Saturday. Idaho State offensive lineman Skyler Phillips will do his work Thursday and Friday.
NFL Network will televise live from the combine at 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
Here’s the definition of each on-field drill, from NFL.com:
The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine. It’s kind of like the 100 meters at the Olympics: It’s all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start.
The bench press is a test of strength — 225 pounds, as many reps as the athlete can get. What the NFL scouts are also looking for is endurance. Anybody can do a max one time, but what the bench press tells the pro scouts is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years.
The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. The athlete stands flat-footed and they measure his reach. It is important to accurately measure the reach, because the differential between the reach and the flag the athlete touches is his vertical jump measurement.
The broad jump is like being in gym class back in junior high school. Basically, it is testing an athlete’s lower-body explosion and lower-body strength. The athlete starts out with a stance balanced and then he explodes out as far as he can. It tests explosion and balance, because he has to land without moving.
The 3-cone drill tests an athlete’s ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes 5 yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes.
The short shuttle is the first of the cone drills. It is known as the 5-10-5. What it tests is the athlete’s lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. The athlete starts in the three-point stance, explodes out 5 yards to his right, touches the line, goes back 10 yards to his left, left hand touches the line, pivot, and he runs 5 more yards and finishes.