Analyzing Steelers Third Round Pick DeMarvin Leal - The Five-Star Talent
As a young child, DeMarvin Leal knew exactly what he wanted to do in life. At that time, he admittedly had a hard time deciding what pleased him the most. When he discovered the game of football at age four, Leal knew from that point that it would be a part of his future.
For Leal, the game of football was a way of life, his comfort zone. Leal embraced every aspect of the game at a young age. Perhaps this could explain why an athletically-gifted individual ended up becoming one of the top prep players in 2018. Once a five-star recruit, Leal had his pick of 21 power-five schools, including highly coveted programs such as Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide and Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers. Ultimately, Fisher decided to join coach Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M.
In his freshman year, Leal played 13 games with seven starts. He finished the season with 38 total tackles, two sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss. The following season, Leal would improve those numbers with 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, an interception, and three passes defended. His most notable performance that year came against the LSU Tigers, when he earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors with a seven-tackle, one being for a loss. His junior year saw Leal breakout on a national level. In addition to being named to the AP All-America First Team, he was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end. He set career highs in tackles (58), sacks (8.5), and tackles for loss (12.5).
After viewing Leal on tape, it was apparent that we had someone with untapped potential. Whereas consistency in production may be a concern, his talent is undeniable. If coached in the right manner, Leal has the potential to become one of the biggest steals of the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Winning one-on-one battles
When it comes to winning one-on-one battles in the trenches, technique could serve as a greater tool than brute strength. Leal may not be the strongest defensive lineman, but his pass rush fundamentals are good enough to hide any deficiency he may have in this area. The example we will see here is a great example of how technique can neutralize a bigger opposing lineman.
In this sequence against Ole Miss, Leal is seen in a 5-technique alignment (shaded on the outside shoulder of the left tackle). When the ball is snapped, Leal engages, and during the course of the battle, he does three essential things: firstly, he keeps a low pad level; secondly, his low pad level allows him to get underneath the shoulder pads of the opposing lineman; and thirdly, his feet are constantly in motion, causing the Ole Miss lineman to lose leverage and eventually fall. The combination of all these things resulted in a sack-fumble on quarterback Matt Corral.
Pass Rush Arsenal
What has defined Leal as a pass rusher is the variety of moves and counters he possesses. In addition, Leal generally rushes with a specific plan in mind. If move A does not yield a positive result, he is adept at responding with a counter to give him the space needed to make a play. His pass rush ability, in many ways, serves as an exhibition of his athleticism, which he uses to his advantage.
In this sequence against Arkansas, Leal is seen aligned in 5-technique, this time on the left side (a small sample of his position versatility). The key to the maneuver he executes in this play is the setup. When the ball is snapped, notice how he attacks the Razorback tackle's outside hand with a quick slap. Then, in one fluid motion, he spins on the opposite shoulder, resulting in an open path to the quarterback. The speed and timing of the movement are impressive, yet the whole sequence suggests that Leal had this planned before the ball snapped. This aspect is arguably his greatest strength as a pass rusher.
Not all of Leal's pass rush attempts have yielded initial results. In those instances, Leal has shown the ability to be persistent and find alternate ways of making plays. One of his strengths is his high motor. Leal has been known to play entire sequences until the whistle on a consistent basis. This type of work ethic generally pays dividends, as you will see in this example against Louisiana State.
Unlike our previous clips, where Leal was positioned in 5-technique as a defensive end, Leal is now seen in 1-technique as a defensive tackle. When the ball is snapped, Leal stunts to the right, where his pass rush is stymied by both the Tigers' offensive guard and running back. Even with this, Leal keeps moving and, as the pocket collapses, he is in the right place to make the sack. Persistence counts, and the play is proof of it.
When we talk about untapped potential, we think of someone who has all the fundamentals necessary to be successful but requires the proper time and coaching to take those skills to the next level. Leal, in essence, fits this mold, as he is an extremely gifted player who can become a problem to opposing defenses if placed in positions to succeed. Leal has a chance of materializing that potential into something big, one that can help the Pittsburgh Steelers defense achieve great things in 2022.