The star of the NFL combine? OLB Leighton Vander Esch

Rick Gosselin

The NFL draft is all about how a player performs on tape – how he blocks, tackles, throws or runs in game situations. But sometimes a performance at the NFL scouting combine will demand another look at a player’s tape. A longer look. A deeper look.

That was the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll last week – which player at the 2018 NFL scouting combine helped himself the most? The winner was Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who received 39 percent of the vote.

Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin came in second with 29 percent of the vote, followed by Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen at 16 percent. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore both finished with single-digit support.

The NFL draft is all about the measurables. Teams want to spend their draft picks on the players who fit the prototypes for their positions, which gives them the best chance to succeed at the next level. And that’s why Vander Esch stood out to NFL talent evaluators at this year’s combine.

The NFL wants size and speed at every position, but particularly at linebacker where you have to engage guards and tackles and chase running backs. Vander Esch fits the NFL prototype at 6-4, 256 pounds, with 4.66 speed in the 40. You also need to watch his tape – Vander Esch was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year last season, with 129 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The Talk of Fame Network hosts were once again split with their votes. Ron Borges and Clark Judge gave their votes to Barkley and Gosselin to Allen.

Barkley’s size (5-11, 233) and productivity (three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in college, 51 career touchdowns) set him up as the top running back in the 2018 NFL draft. He flashed his speed with a 4.40 40 (some watches had him in the 4.3’s) ) and athleticism (41-inch vertical jump) at the combine.

“Barkley went from solid first-round pick to maybe the No. 1 overall pick,” Borges said. “That's worth some cash and he earned it at the combine.”

Added Judge: "Barkley went from one of the 2-3 best players in the draft to No. 1. Can't do better than that in Indy ... unless he got a year's worth of breakfasts at Shapiro's, too."

Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold, who projects as the top quarterback in the 2018 draft, chose not to throw at the combine. But Allen was more than willing to show off his big arm. One of his passes at the combine carried 66 yards. He also fits the NFL quarterback prototype at 6-5, 233 pounds and flashed surprising speed (4.75 40) for his size. He was a two-year starter for the Cowboys and elected to skip his senior season to turn pro.

“The NFL game is all about the quarterback position,” Gosselin said. “So those players draw a little extra scrutiny each year. I'm guessing those NFL talent evaluators really liked what they saw from Allen.”


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