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In Mobile, the question every year is who can convert from a defensive end into an outside linebacker.  While Utah’s Nate Orchard is a very athletic defensive weapon, I struggle to believe he will be nateoable to make the transition to linebacker if he gets forced to drop back into coverage.  I reviewed his games against UCLA and Oregon State along with his outstanding Senior Bowl practices and game.  Here is what I saw:

DE/OLB Nate Orchard, Utah 6’ 4” 255 lbs.

Cons: At his size, Orchard has the build and athleticism for an outside linebacker and does not have the backside or power to play defensive end at the next level, especially as an anchor DE in a 3-4. When the defender dropped back into coverage on game tape or in practice, he seemed slow-footed and very mechanical.  Any tight end or running back would separate from him after two steps in coverage.

Pros: He gets a great first step off the snap and identifies where the ball is going quickly.  The defender flows to the ball, disengaging blockers by shortening their point of impact, and sheds without allowing offensive linemen into his body.  Orchard plays well against the run, but is better at crashing down the line of scrimmage on the backside to make the tackle.  He has a strong power base, has amazing balance, and can switch up his pass rushing techniques.

The pass rusher uses combinations of bull rushes, swim moves, and spins top create separation between him and the blockers.  This causes him to face a lot of double teams trying to keep him away from the quarterback.  He is versatile enough to kick inside to defensive tackle on obvious passing downs when an extra pass rusher would be helpful.  Orchard varies his stances from a two point stance to a three or four point depending on the situation.  This defender’s motor is constantly running when he is chasing down the signal caller in the back field or running down a back 15 yards downfield.

Overall thoughts: Orchard is a tweener meaning he doesn’t have a natural fit much like Seattle’s Bruce Irvin.  He can be an effective 4-3 defensive end or can play a 3-4 outside linebacker if he doesn’t drop back into coverage.  If defense uses him as a designated pass rusher and run defender at outside linebacker, Orchard could excel.

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