Hey, would you look at that, another potential first-round linebacker is going to stop by to say hello to the Atlanta Falcons!
This time, it’s Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch.
I’m told Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch had dinner with the Steelers last night and will leave for Dallas and a visit with the Cowboys in the morning. He’s visited the Saints and Eagles, and has visits with every team from 12-26 except the Ravens, Rams, Chargers lined up— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) April 3, 2018
The Falcons are pick 26, so that means they’ve got their eye on another first-round linebacker. Alabama’s Rashaan Evans is also visiting, and he’s anticipated to go in the top 32.
Let’s see what NFL insider Lance Zierlein has to share about the former Bronco.
Vander Esch is a loose-hipped, instinctive linebacker who played in 2017 like he had a GPS tracker on the football. His production totals against both the run and pass are rare for being a first-year starter and with a frame that is primed for more muscle, his NFL ceiling is high. Vander Esch might benefit from a reduced role his rookie season while he improves his play strength and becomes more skilled at taking on blocks. He’s an every-down linebacker with very good starting potential and the talent to fill up a stat sheet.
So, like Evans, Vander Esch would essentially man the WLB spot in the place of Duke Riley, and team up with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell to give Atlanta a nasty linebacking core. Zierlein makes it seem like he may take a little time to grow into the role, and he doesn’t mention speed as one of Vander Esch’s top qualities, as he did with Evans. But, Vander Esch has drawn comparisons to Luke Kuechly, which is enough to get any team interested.
Here’s an outside-the-box idea about the Falcons and these visits. Do they want to move Deion Jones to WLB? He’s growing into one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL, but his size will always be an unavoidable knock on his game. Do the Falcons think he could be even better at Will, and are they eyeing a new, bigger guy to man the middle? It’s not likely, but it’s something to contemplate regardless.
So, that’s two top-rated linebackers headed to Flowery Branch for a visit. They only get so many of those, so it’s kind of curious to see them putting the time and resources into giving these guys a look. Defensive tackle has long been the popular draft target. Could it turn into linebacker?
Be sure to check out SB Nation writer Alex Kirshner’s story on Vander Esch here.