The 2018 NFL Draft is quickly approaching, and NFL fan bases are debating which prospect will best fit their team to help them improve next season. For Pittsburgh Steelers fans, these debates can be heated, to say the least.
This series will take two players from a position of need, and prospects who could be there when the Steelers pick in the first round, and see who thinks is a better fit for the black-and-gold.
Where do we start? Inside linebacker, of course.
When the debate of inside linebackers begins with Steelers fans, it almost always boils down to two players: Leighton Vander Esch of Boise State and Rashaan Evans of Alabama. Assuming the big-name inside linebackers will be long gone, it is time to put these two ‘backers in the ring and see who SteelerNation believes is the best fit for the team.
Reminder: This isn’t an exercise to see which player is the better athlete, but an exercise to suggest which prospect will be the best fit for the Steelers.
Let’s get to it...
Leighton Vander Esch
School: Boise State
Big, long and athletic. Has history of achievement with dominant performances and state titles in two sports in high school. Former basketball standout with fluid hips and smooth movement around the field. Almost no delay in his change of direction. Has agility and quick-twitch for sudden lateral bursts in his slides to close out slashers. Triggers with compact burst to the ball. Works under climbing blockers to stay clean. Easy sideline-to-sideline range as tackler. Has athletic ability to recover and tackle despite over pursuit. Widens frame and opens arms to welcome his prey as a tackler. Generally wraps up. Very talented in coverage. Quick but smooth in his drops. Mirrors quarterback’s eyes with ability to redirect from side to side as he follows. Uses active, catch-ready hands to breakup the pass or take it away. Shows real rush talent and instincts as a blitzer. May have enough ability to beat a tackle as edge rusher from time to time.
Has just one year of starting experience. Still filling out his frame. Play strength has room for improvement. Has some struggles in taking on blocks and will get washed away by down blocks. Hasn’t learned to use hands effectively to punch and separate. Takes himself out of tackle opportunities by attacking iso-blocks and lead blocks with a shoulder. At times, will over pursue or run himself out of position in attempt to play fast and avoid having to deal with blockers.
Build like new breed of NFL linebackers. Possesses good length and great speed. Premium athlete with plus agility, range and explosiveness. Quick to diagnose. Works around the trash when scraping. Able to pace to the perimeter with the jet sweepers and scat-backs. Patient against misdirection and isn’t easily baited out of position. Deftly side-steps blocks without giving his gap responsibility. Has athletic ability to dance from gap to gap and look up shifty running backs. Learned from tough guys ahead of him and adapted their demeanor. Explosive, wrap-up striker who sees what he hits. Plays with pain. Sub-package rusher with upfield burst to threaten the edge. Can unleash impressive spin counter in either direction. Burst as delayed blitzer from inside linebacker spot is too much for most linemen to catch.
Just a beat behind in diagnosing. Lacks instincts of players who have extended history at the position. Can improve leverage in his pursuit. Fast flow ahead of blockers can allow for cutbacks. Can get wired to climbing blockers. Needs to improve his punch-and-separate when taking on blockers. Benefitted from playing behind monsters along the defensive line. Will wait rather than trigger when downhill shots are available. Will need to trust his athletic ability to squeeze routes tighter. Nagging groin injury plagued him last season. Scouts have some concerns about durability.
After perusing the above information, it is time to make your decision. If you are Kevin Colbert and/or Mike Tomlin and both Vander Esch and Evans are available, who do you take? Let us know by voting in the poll below, and feel free to explain your vote in the comment section below!
Who would you take with the 28th pick if both were available?
This poll is closed
Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State)
Rashaan Evans (Alabama)