Complete with a "Blindside" like background, Utah's Nate Orchard is to attacking the back side of a quarterback like Michael Oher was allegedly to protecting it, according to Michael Lewis's famous book.
Orchard draws the same kind of praise the high-level prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft do, with a Barkevious Mingo-like deep charge off the snap and a narrow frame, he represents both potential and concern.
Add in an outstanding Senior Bowl week, Orchard has been described as a target on Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.
So where should he land? Several teams will have different opinions on him - too small to become a traditional 4-3 defensive end, concerns about run support and coverage as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The NFL is about pass rushing today and that's what Orchard does best. Orchard shortened his initial step off the ball, something that had clearly influenced UCLA's left tackle. Orchard sees he has him beat back to the inside, and easily sifts his way through the gap for the sack. He seems to have set the tackle up for this move, which is impressive enough, but if it was a reaction play, he deserves even more credit. He's long, lean and athletic, and that length combined with explosion makes him difficult to block. He also really doesn't have much film standing up, even though reports indicate Senior Bowl coach Ken Whisenhunt had him playing a variety of positions, and he ended up as the North team's defensive MVP. Teams will have to look out for these kinds of things, though. A player with a high motor like Orchard has to play focused all the time. He doesn't have the size or the strength to get away with less than strong technique and a deep burst off the line.
That deep burst off the line helps Orchard keep bigger offensive tackles at bay, and he has a good amount of lower body strength. Watch him get off the line, get into the backfield and drive the left tackle right into the runner's lane. He penetrates the backfield often, and his production numbers (18.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss) tell the story of a highly disruptive edge player.
As a developing player, he makes good use of his hands, and he doesn't rely solely on any one trait in order to make plays. In this play, he gets off the line in enough time and throws his hands quickly to avoid the blocker getting inside him, and it seems he has good enough hand strength to get off a block and get a piece of the ball carrier. The length of his arms is useful here as well. Slowing a running back down from outside the lane can limit longer runs by giving his teammates a chance to hunt the runner down.
Orchard has good raw skill, but the transition he'll need to make from a college upfield-rushing 7-technique defensive end to a stand-up outside linebacker with coverage responsibilities will be a difficult one, as it is for many players. Ex-Steelers defensive end LaMarr Woodley didn't see the field immediately as a second-round pick of the Steelers in 2007, neither did Jason Worilds in 2010. It wouldn't seem likely the Steelers would take on such a project in the first round, but he'd be a tantalizing second or third round option. Since he's going to be such a team-specific pick, it's hard to gauge this early where he may end up, but he's on to keep an eye on heading into February's Combine.