Although the Green Bay Packers defensive line may not seem like an immediate need in this year’s draft, it kind of is. Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry are only under contract until the end of next season, and then what? The Packers would likely have to sign a free agent after next season. However, the cap space will only get tighter as the years go on.
That’s why Brian Gutekunst went ahead and signed Reed for this season. Why not address an issue that they will be guaranteed to have down the road? Better yet, have someone on their rookie contract when so much of the cap is already being used.
Enter Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal. He is one of the most underrated prospects in this year’s draft. Experts see Leal as a developmental player, which perfectly fits Green Bay’s timeline for the position. Leal can sit behind the likes of Kenny Clark, Reed, and T.J. Slaton.
The draft consensus on Leal is fairly up in the air. Many scouts have him as a third-round developmental pick or a late first-round pick with tremendous upside.
If Leal is there when the Packers are selecting, they should consider him due to his tremendous upside.
Though many have used this against Leal, he is a Swiss Army knife on defense. He has played everywhere on the defensive line. However, no matter where he lined up, Leal excelled at rushing the passer.
Leal had 13 sacks in his career at Texas A&M. That’s pretty impressive when you realize he did this completely rotating around the defensive line.
However, his multifarious skillset is holding him back. Many scouts have no clue how an NFL team could use him. But if Leal doesn’t work out as a defensive lineman, he may remind Packers fans of Preston Smith’s journey.
Smith has a very different skillset than Leal’s, but the comparison is a reminder that it’s worth taking redshirt prospects and developing them.
Furthermore, I don’t believe the criticisms of Leal are accurate. Leal is 6’3”, 283 lbs. His size allows him to line up and be successful anywhere. Many draft pundits believe Leal is a poor run stopper. However, he’s more of an edge rusher than an interior defender.
Therefore, you have to evaluate him differently. Leal is quite good at stopping the run and has made some electric plays on the line.
If you look at Leal’s stats from just one of the positions he plays, they seem lackluster. But you have to evaluate Leal holistically, not just as one position.
It seems it’s becoming more and more common for NFL players to specialize in more than one position. However, even the most versatile players tend to settle into one position over time. In Leal’s case, he will not likely be a full-time starter in the NFL, especially in his rookie year. I believe Leal’s value won’t be as an every-down presence.
But Leal’s versatility made him a dangerous player at Texas A&M. Opposing teams never knew where he would line up, making him a nightmare for offensive coordinators. It would be easy to carry this over into the NFL. The Packers could use Leal as a situational chess piece on the defensive line. Joe Barry would have a field day rotating Leal throughout the defense.
Leal’s explosiveness off the line stands out to me the most when looking at his physical abilities. As soon as the ball is snapped, he is already down the field. Check out this play from when Texas A&M played Ole Miss:
Leal was even able to force a fumble on Matt Corral, a projected first-round quarterback known for avoiding pressure and improvising.
If the Packers draft Leal, the fanbase needs to understand that they aren’t drafting a player. They are drafting a chess piece. Given the right scheme and utilization of Leal’s talents, he could be a great situational defensive lineman for years to come.