via Boise State Football
BOISE, Idaho – Former Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round (19th overall) of the NFL Draft Thursday in Dallas.
With Vander Esch’s selection, Boise State has now had an early entrant tabbed in each of the past five drafts. Entering this year’s draft, the Broncos were one of just 10 programs in this exclusive group, along with Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Penn State, Stanford, USC, and Washington. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence was selected in the second round (34th overall) of the 2014 draft by the Dallas Cowboys, running back Jay Ajayi was taken in the fifth round (149th overall) by the Miami Dolphins in 2015, linebacker Kamalei Correa was tabbed by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round (42nd overall) in 2016, and last year, running back Jeremy McNichols was picked in the fifth round (162nd overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Vander Esch is the fifth Bronco all-time to be taken in the first round of the draft, and matches Shea McClellin (2012, No. 19 to the Chicago Bears) as the second-highest selected Boise State product. Ryan Clady (2008, No. 12 by the Denver Broncos), Kyle Wilson (2010, No. 29 by the New York Jets), and Doug Martin (2012, No. 31 by Tampa Bay) round out the quintet of Boise State first-round picks. He is also the 62nd Bronco overall to be drafted, and the 34th since the NFL Draft went to its current seven-round format in 1994.
Boise State has now also had a player drafted in the third round or higher in 11 of the last 14 NFL Drafts (2009, 2015, and 2017 being the only exceptions).
Vander Esch put together one of the top all-around defensive campaigns in recent Bronco history in 2017, leading the team in tackles (141), intercepting three passes, forcing four fumbles, and recording 4.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss. Individually, Vander Esch ranked 14th in the FBS with 10.1 tackles per game, as well as fifth in the country with 6.5 solo tackles per game.
The Riggins, Idaho native became the first Bronco to be named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, and backed it up with being named the Defensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship Game. In that contest, Vander Esch matched the game record with 16 tackles, and sealed Boise State’s 17-14 victory over Fresno State with an interception with just under two minutes remaining.
Two weeks later at the Las Vegas Bowl, Vander Esch made a team-high 12 tackles with 3.0 TFL, a sack, and a forced fumble in Boise State’s 38-28 win over Oregon.