By Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

I have gone over a bunch of scenarios for the Bills on who they may select if they move up from the number 12 pick or stay at 12. If they don’t use the number 22 selection as capitol for a trade up from 12 who is the likely selection? Obviously that is tough to come up with an answer unless we assume what they did at 12.

For this discussion, let’s just assume that the Bills were able to draft a QB with their number 12 pick and that they still hold the number 22 pick. With a quarterback in hand and then figuring that middle linebacker is the next biggest need on this team the player the Bills could very well select in Boise linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

Leighton Vander Esch Is The Pick

Vander Esch has been getting a lot of play of late and just this past Tuesday he hosted a number of top scouts and coaches at the Boise Pro Day. Vander Esch is one of bigger linebackers in the Draft, coming in at the Combine at 6’4″ & 256 pounds. He also ran a quick 4.65, had a 39.5” vertical jump and a 10’4” long jump. All are excellent numbers for the position.

Leighton is a junior entering the Draft after he had such a productive 2017. He finished the year with 141 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and 2 interceptions.

Strong Points

Looking at his strong points, he obviously has the size required and very good overall athletic ability. He also has the most coveted linebacker trait and that is top instincts. He is very quick to anticipate and almost never reacts late. When playing the run he shows strength and power at the point of attack, can get rid of blockers very quickly and easily moves through trash to get to the play. He is an excellent tackler and always takes good angles to the ball. In coverage, he shows that he can play either man or zone and he matches up very well with backs and tight ends. He has very good receiver awareness and his ball reactions and hands are excellent.

Negatives

On the negative side, Vender Esch really only has one full year of top production. He missed seven games in 2016 with an injury. In the six games in which he did play he played very well.

What sets Vander Esch apart from other linebackers in this Draft are his instincts and ability to play with leverage. The only other linebacker who can match Vander Esch in comparing instincts is Georgia’s Roquon Smith, who I wrote about last week.

There really isn’t a weak part of Leighton’s game and with his size, speed and athleticism he can be used in a variety of ways. He is scheme-versatile in that he can play in any NFL defensive scheme and be a productive player. In a 4-3 like the Bills use he can play Mike or Will but would be best off at Mike (middle linebacker). He is a plug and play type prospect who will be a day one starter and should have a very productive rookie year. The problem the Bills may have is does he get to number 22?

Vander Esch is a player who is becoming a quite popular player for team selecting in the mid to late teens of the first round. In fact if the Bills want to make sure they can draft him, they may have to trade up a few slots in order to assure themselves of getting him.

Read Greg Gabriel’s top Draft Day misconceptions

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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