When I watched Utah beat UCLA, one player stood out. Nate Orchard had four sacks in the game. He dominated from start to finish. But it wasn’t a surprise.
Brett Hundley has been sacked over 100 times at UCLA in just three years. The Bruins offensive line is a shambles. It’s any wonder Jim Mora hasn’t made a few ‘dirt bag’ references since moving to L.A. So watching a guy like Orchard fly around the field and make plays wasn’t a shock. I kind of chalked it down to a ‘right time, right place’ type of situation.
And then I watched the Oregon State game. It was no fluke. The guy can play.
He has 17.5 sacks on the season so far with a Bowl game to come. He’s about 6-2 and 250lbs — so he doesn’t have great length. And that’s going to be a problem for a lot of teams. He doesn’t have the size to be an every-down pure end in the 4-3. He might be pigeon-holed as an outside backer in the 3-4. But if he’s quick enough he might find a role in Seattle’s rotation.
It’ll be interesting to see what his wingspan is. You wouldn’t expect long arms at 6-2. He consistently flashes a nice get off and the ability to get off blocks. The way he disengages is top notch. While a guy like Shawn Oakman will linger on a block far too long, Orchard has a real ‘get off me’ mentality. That’s encouraging, particularly if the arm length is at least average. It’s more likely to translate.
His pad level is always spot on and he understands leverage and hand placement. Despite a lack of great size he’ll offer a real jolt to the body to stun a tackle. You can have all the speed in the world but when a pass rusher is converting to the pro’s he HAS to show this kind of ability. Defensive end is one of the toughest positions to project for the next level. Think of all the high-profile busts in recent years. Just because you’re a great athlete who wins with speed in college doesn’t mean it’ll translate when you take on better, tougher offensive linemen. You simply have to show you can get off a block with hand placement. It’s a necessity.
You also need to show you can convert speed to power. Orchard does that too. He’ll feign the outside rush and deliver a fantastic bull rush right into the body of an unbalanced tackle. There are times when he gets engulfed but that shouldn’t be a surprise at 250lbs. You’ll take that. He isn’t going to win every play, nobody should expect him to.
I’m not convinced he’ll be an explosive runner at the combine and that could hurt his chances of landing in Seattle. They are big on the 10-yard split. Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin both ran explosive splits. But Orchard’s first step quickness is good enough to be a threat and he does round the edge nicely. In one rush against Oregon State he left the tackle for dead to fly around the edge and get to the QB. He can get stronger — add some muscle tone to his upper half and really improve his lower body power. I think that’d be the way to go given he probably isn’t going to be a 1.50 runner over ten yards.
For me he’d be a very solid mid-round selection. You have to temper expectations because of the size and the lack of brilliant athletic qualities. He doesn’t have the same athleticism as some of the other prospects who will go in the first — or necessarily the upside. But he’s technically superior and has the production. If he performed above expectations at the combine his stock could go through the roof, much like Marcus Smith this year. Don’t rule that out. If Seattle did want to add a little more depth to the edge rush, this is definitely a guy to monitor.
In the aftermath of the Avril extension, Seattle is possibly less likely to go DE early. The offense needs work — particularly if they lose Marshawn Lynch. But they’re likely to add a pass rusher at some stage. Orchard is an option. He’s also a team captain at Utah and he’s already married with a child. He’s a mature guy who will impress teams with his character.