Pass Rusher Profile: Nate Orchard
The Cleveland Browns invested heavily in their edge defense before the 2013 season and last season started to see the rewards. Paul Kruger earned our 11th-highest pass rush grade among 3-4 outside linebackers and Barkevious Mingo graded positively as both as a run defender and as a pass rusher. However, in free agency they lost the third prong of their edge attack as Jabaal Sheard departed for New England. The man charged with replacing Sheard’s production is the NCAA’s sack leader in 2014, Nate Orchard.
While Orchard might have been among the leaders in production he was also among the leaders in playing time. While his 60 total pressures and 21 sacks are extremely impressive, his 437 pass rushes were seventh-most among draft-eligible edge defenders and 134 more, for example, than Vic Beasley.
With the increased playing time you expect increased production, but on a per-snap basis his grade and productivity from 2014 are still impressive. What stands out is that some of his more noteworthy games from a statistical perspective aren’t his top games from a grading perspective. For example, the four-sack performances against UCLA and Stanford are dwarfed by his six pressure games against Colorado and Colorado State. In the latter he took apart Ty Sambrailo (now of the Denver Broncos) in arguably his most impressive performance of the season.
One area of encouragement for Orchard’s pro prospects is that his pass rush profile displays the balance of winning inside and out that is a common trait for most of the NFL’s top pass rushers. Adding to this with four sacks on bullrushes hints at a variety of ways to win for Orchard that isn’t just dependent upon one move, but builds off of that to keep opposing tackles (and he played a number of highly regarded tackles in his senior season) off balance as to where he might attack next.
Adding nine pressures via clean up and pursuit further highlights his work rate and willingness to hunt down the quarterback even when he might not have won his own battle.
Consistency is, for the most part, the name of the game for Orchard as a collegiate pass rusher. Whether you look by down, by quarter or by stance Orchard produced consistently across the piece rather than peaking in terms of production in a particularly favorable scenario.
One area where this is not the case, however, is by the depth of drop by the quarterback or how long the passer holds the ball before release. By these measures Orchard clearly makes the most of his opportunities when the quarterback is giving him the time and space to get after him.
Merely average on shorter drops (measured by Pass Rushing Productivity), Orchard comes to life on the deepest drops with nine of his sacks last season coming on 95 pass rushes against seven-step drops. That’s just shy of one sack for every 10 pass rushes in those situations, a conversion rate Browns fans would be delighted to see this season.
One thing that will be intriguing to see is just how Orchard translates to life in a 3-4 defense and how much he is required to do so for the Browns.
At Utah you can see that Orchard was predominantly a hand-down pass rusher and in base defenses he will be asked to play as a stand-up linebacker for the Browns. However, the proliferation of sub-package defenses is somewhat blurring the lines between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in the NFL today and even for the “3-4” Browns, both Barkevious Mingo and Paul Kruger were close to 50:50 in terms of rushing the passer from a two- or three-point stance, with only Jabaal Sheard predominantly rushing from a two-point stance.
It would seem then that whether Orchard plays predominantly in base or sub-packages could determine just how difficult his transition from college to the NFL will be in terms of the stance he is rushing from. Anything the Browns can do to ease his transition and help replicate his collegiate production will only serve them well moving forward.
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