Eagles Interest in Vander Esch is Real
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Winning the Super Bowl has its privileges, obviously.
In theory picking at No. 32 in the NFL Draft isn't one of them, at least if you are looking at things superficially.
Peel the skin back a bit, however, and will see at least some freedom in being last in the first round because need, the cliched worst talent evaluator in sports, is put on the back-burner in favor of sifting through the remnants of the top prospects in an effort to uncover one who may have slipped a bit.
In the Eagles case the likely result on April 26 remains trading down in an effort to regain some draft capital lost in the building of their Super Bowl roster, attrition that has left them without second- and third-round picks right now.
If one certain player is left on the board, though, expect the Eagles' contingent in Arlington to sprint to the podium. His name is Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Linebacker is not a glaring need for the Eagles right now after the team was able to re-sign Nigel Bradham and bring depth pieces like Corey Nelson and Paul Worrilow in during free agency. They will also get star mike LB Jordan Hicks back from an Achilles injury and still have Mychal Kendricks, although the oft-rumored potential trade of the veteran is still very much on the table.
Despite all of that Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole was sent out to Boise on Tuesday to get a closer look at Vander Esch during his pro day.
Having a coach at a pro day isn't really indicative of much other than due diligence but at least two NFL sources have told 973espn.com that Philadelphia really likes Vander Esch. Couple that with the knowledge that the injury concerns surrounding Hicks are real as the Texas product enters the final year of his rookie contract and you have the recipe in place.
Hicks had a number of physical problems dating back to his time with the Longhorns and two of his three professional seasons have been cut in half by significant injuries, a torn pec during his rookie campaign and the Achilles last season.
While Hicks is certainly a dynamic playmaker when healthy the Eagles have to be questioning whether a lucrative long-term extension for him is the right way to go in a league where the best ability is availability.
On the other hand, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds with sub-4.7 speed some look at Vander Esch and see a modern-day prototype at LB, a three-down option with the speed and instincts to excel quickly.
The easy decision is taking Vander Esch if he falls to No. 32 despite the depth chart in Philadelphia. He's only been a starter for one year at the college level and still needs to learn how to shed NFL blocks effectively so the luxury of learning for a year would be helpful and give the Eagles an excellent insurance policy if contract talks with Hicks prove difficult or Bradham doesn't live up to his career year in 2017.
The reality, though, is that it's extremely unlikely the former Boise State star is there when Howie Roseman takes his first turn.
If anything Vander Esch's stock is rising as the process moves along and most draft observers have his floor being Pittsburgh at No. 28, a LB-needy team reeling in the wake of Ryan Shazier's likely career-ending spinal injury.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen