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2018 Packers mock draft: Green Bay takes Leighton Vander Esch to bolster pass rush

Even after adding Muhammad Wilkerson, the Packers could draft a pass rusher with their top pick.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers have made some significant additions in free agency, including bringing in former New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson to bolster the pass rush. Still, the team could address the front seven again in the upcoming NFL draft, especially at outside linebacker where the injury-prone Clay Matthews and Nick Perry sit atop the depth chart.

With that in mind, SB Nation draft guru Dan Kadar selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch for the Packers at No. 14 overall in his latest mock draft. Vander Esch marks a departure for Kadar’s Green Bay projections which have previously featured UTSA’s Marcus Davenport.

Vander Esch fits the mold of a Packers edge rusher. At 6-foot-4, 256 pounds with a 4.65 second 40-yard dash, 6.88 second three-cone drill, and a near 40-inch vertical, he possesses tremendous athleticism. Green Bay has developed athletic front-seven defenders before, with former first-round pick Kenny Clark becoming the latest such example.

At the same time, Vander Esch didn’t rush the passer as extensively as most of his draft counterparts, compiling just five sacks in three seasons. That doesn’t preclude him from developing into an effective pass rusher in the NFL, but it suggests a steeper learning curve than other edge defenders available in the draft.

Here is what Kadar said about the potential selection of Vander Esch:

With Davenport gone, this pick was almost Boston College pass rusher Harold Landry. Instead, the choice is Vander Esch because of his ability to play multiple linebacker spots. He’s probably the most comfortable on the inside, but at 6’4 and 256 pounds he has the build of a player who can handle edge work.