If you have been following the draft closely, two names you might have heard come up for the Patriots are Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch. Both are talented first round linebackers that can fill a huge need. If both are available at pick 23, who would be the best pick for New England? I analyze and compare both players in this first installment of Draft Battle.
Weight: 234 lbs
Vertical Jump: 30.0 inches
Broad Jump: 116.0 inches
3-Cone Drill: 6.95 seconds
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.36 seconds
*Evans chose not to run the forty on Alabama’s Pro Day because he did not want to be defined as one single position. This caused his draft stock to fall as many teams made their way out there especially for that.
Weight: 256 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.65 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 39.5 inches
Broad Jump: 124.0 inches
3-Cone Drill: 6.88 seconds
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.15 seconds
60-Yard Shuttle: 11.57 seconds
For every category Evans did participate in, Vander Esch performed better. One thing the Patriots defense lacked was that second-level athleticism. At a pure physical standpoint, Vander Esch takes the cake.
Rashaan Evans is a fierce versatile linebacker who can excel at wherever he is placed on the field. He displays a consistent use of power and finesse to win against offensive linemen, and it showed in his performance in 2017. He led the Crimson Tide defense with 13 tackles for loss and six sacks. Evans is best rushing the passer and stopping the run, but he can win in coverage as well. His versatility is one of his greatest strengths.
Injuries have always hurt the New England defense, and Belichick will love that he can play him almost anywhere in the front seven. Speaking of injuries, Evans can and has played through pain and still does well. He isn’t perfect however. Evans plays with so much power that sometimes he can overshoot the ball carrier and allow him to get by. His instincts are up there, but still need improvement. However, Evans is an explosive hard-hitting linebacker who can match up well for the Patriots.
Leighton Vander Esch is a long, athletic playmaker who just came off an amazing year. The 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year totaled 141 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 4 sacks, 4 pass-breakups, and 4 fumbles. In other words, he is a tackle machine. He strives at open-field tackling and has loose hips with great change of direction. His instincts are top-notch, and his coverage is spectacular. His biggest weakness is navigating through traffic and getting off blocks. He seriously struggles with blockers and even sometimes takes himself out of play just to avoid them. However, his athleticism and instincts could make him a great piece in a postion needing some help.
If you think about it, Evans and Vander Esch are kind of opposites when it comes to playstyle. Evans is a compact, powerful linebacker who can play a couple different positions. Vander Esch is a long, instinctive linebacker who primarily plays inside. In my opinion, Evans’ playstyle is more of a necessity for the Patriots.
If both are available at 23 (provided the Patriots don’t trade up for a quarterback), Rashaan Evans should be the choice here. The difference in athleticism is there, but is not much. The biggest tipping factor for me at least is on how the two players deal with blocks. Rashaan Evans is ferocious and has the mentality of a winner. He comes from a system Bill Belichick loves, and can be the player New England needs him to be.