If you’re tired of seeing the same names pop up in every mock draft, then we’ve got something special for you.
The Chicago Bears’ needs at linebacker are well known. That’s why Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia’s Roquan Smith have been connected to the Bears in various mock drafts in recent months. And then there’s Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, who goes completely off book with a brow-raising selection for Chicago.
Prisco has the Bears taking Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with the eighth pick in the draft.
In Prico’s latest mock, Vander Esch – and not Smith or Edmunds – is the first linebacker to come off the board. And by drafting Vander Esch with the eighth pick, the Bears would pass on a wave of talented defenders including UTSA pass-rusher Marcus Davenport, Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
So what makes Vander Esch stand out in a room of intriguing defensive prospects?
Well, Prisco puts an All-Pro comp on the linebacker prospect, comparing Vander Esch to Carolina Panthers stud Luke Kuechly. This isn’t the first top-tier comp that has been dropped on Vander Esch. Back in March, the Boise State product drew a comparison to Bears legend (and 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame member) Brian Urlacher. Vander Esch had a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, checking in as one of the top performers in the vertical jump (39.5 inches), bench press (20 reps), and 40-yard dash (4.65 seconds).
Vander Esch has long been projected to be picked in one of the first two rounds, but his stock is clearly on the rise if one football guru has him among the contenders with the eighth pick. There is no doubting Vander Esch’s college production, highlighted by earning the Mountain West Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year after a season in which he racked up 141 tackles and four sacks, while also coming up with a pair of interceptions.
Vander Esch seems to fit Bears GM Ryan Pace’s first-round type as high-upside impact player who is a bit raw and can still be molded. Despite having just one year of starting experience, Vander Esch projects to be an instant starter upon arrival to the NFL. Bears fans probably want that top-10 pick to be someone a little more polished, but Vander Esch’s upside could lead to him passing a handful of names we have become accustomed to seeing drafted by the team in mock drafts when the real thing goes down later in April.