A report on Monday indicated that Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch would drop in the 2018 NFL draft, partially because of medical reasons, but information provided to Pro Football Weekly appears to contradict a lot of what was written in the vague writeup.
The report at Walterfootball.com indicated that Vander Esch — a possible first-round linebacker following a breakout 2017 season — had been removed from at least one team's board for medical reasons, and it added that four other teams believed he was a second-round talent.
The WF report doesn't specifically mention which injury concerned teams most, as the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Vander Esch did suffer multiple injuries in his career at Boise State. But PFW obtained a copy of the medical report from the NFL scouting combine showing that Vander Esch was given a passing grade for his health and was not asked to come back to the April medical re-check in Indianapolis, which very commonly happens when initial tests are concerning or inconclusive.
The combine medical report gave Vander Esch a medical grade of 4 out of a possible 5 — the lower the number, the more concerning the player's injury status is. A five would be a fully healthy player with no known medical issues; typically players are only red-flagged if they receiver lower than a 3 on the combine report.
This clears up some of the picture, as Boise State's coaching staff adhered to a policy of not revealing the specific nature of injuries for their players. Two scouts had mentioned to PFW previously Vander Esch's right knee injury, a grade-1 LCL sprain, which he suffered in August of 2016.
But it appears the more concerning injury was actually a neck impingement Vander Esch suffered in September of that year in a game against Oregon State and initially was diagnosed as a concussion. We spoke with a source who had knowledge of Vander Esch's medical history who told us that the concussion diagnosis was found to be incorrect after Vander Esch told the school's medical staff he was not suffering any concussion-like symptoms but rather pain in his neck.
Upon further evaluation, Vander Esch was found to have suffered a stinger — an extremely common injury among linebackers especially — and began wearing a neckroll thereafter once he returned to the field. Vander Esch later visited with a chiropractor, who quickly adjusted him, relieved the pain from the pinched nerve and helped clear his path to return to the field.
The actual wording of the combine medical report we received indicated the pinched nerve in the cervical area, and we've never heard of a prospect being medically red-flagged for that. The report indicates no structural damage was found, nor was there any evidence that Vander Esch suffered a significant concussion or any further head trauma in that incident almost 18 months ago.
The Boise State coaching and medical staffs kept him out as a precaution at the time, and Vander Esch returned to the field with a big performance against Air Force (first career interception, seven tackles, two for loss) in November of that season and played in the remaining two games that season.
As a reshirt junior, Vander Esch returned to the field to play the entire season and be named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and earn Mountain West Championship Game Defensive MVP. He also put on a show at the NFL scouting combine with a banner workout for the former walk-on who played high school eight-man football.
We don't expect this incomplete and seemingly inaccurate report to have any bearing on Vander Esch's draft status. Oftentimes poor or faulty injury information will leak to sources this time of year with the hopes that some teams gets scared off for medical concerns. Vander Esch has met with virtually every team picking in the middle of the first round — keep an eye on the Los Angeles Chargers, who pick 17th overall — and has seen his stock skyrocket in the past six months.
Our latest mock draft landed Vander Esch to the New England Patriots, with the 23rd overall pick. PFW's Greg Gabriel graded Vander Esch as a borderline first- or second-round prospect in the 2018 Draft Guide.