Header image courtesy of discoloredcurrenc of SaintsReport.com
The New Orleans Saints field an effective pass rush unit in 2013, finishing tenth in the NFL in pressuring the quarterback per Pro Football Focus. Led by the double-digit sack seasons of Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, they were ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks. However, with several outside linebackers approaching free agency in 2015 (Parys Haralson, Victor Butler, and possibly Junior Galette if he voids the third year of his contract) it made sense for the Saints brass to address a future need at pass rushing outside linebacker, even if the problem was greatly exaggerated by national media sources. That in mind, they could not have made a better choice with their second selection in the Fifth Round of the 2014 NFL Draft, taking Ronald Powell from the University of Florida.
The former Florida Gator was a effective in Florida’s defense as a defensive end/outside linebacker. Powell notched eleven sacks and eighteen and a half tackles for loss in his three years at Florida as a situational pass rusher. He also showed promise in coverage, dropping into both zone and man schemes in a pinch. For all intents and purposes he is as similar to Junior Galette as the Saints could hope to have found in the draft, much less late in the Fifth Round.
Like Galette, Powell was able to rush the passer both from a three-point stance on the line with a hand in the dirt and as a stand-up linebacker lined up outside the tackles and inside the interior gaps. In the four games I watched that he participated (versus South Carolina, Miami, Tennessee, and Florida State) he made an impression as a fearless defender with great stamina and technique. He was only penalized once in these games with an offsides infraction late against Florida State. Powell dropped into coverage nineteen times during that four-game period but was never thrown at. He was sent in as a pass rusher seventy-five times throughout these games, coming away with twenty-two total pressures (two sacks, four hits, and sixteen hurries) getting pressure on 29.33% of his rushes. For comparison, neither Parys Haralson (12.61%) nor Junior Galette (12.08%) got pressure half that frequently for the Saints in 2013. Not to say that Powell will pressure NFL quarterbacks on a third of his attempts in 2014, but that is great potential to have in a Fifth Round Draft selection.
This video courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com showcases Powell’s abilities. He finished the game with seven pressures on sixteen pass rushes (one sack, one hit, five hurries) and three tackles for loss.
But what are the Saints’ plans for Powell now that they’re in the middle of minicamps? According to reports from the NOLA.com and the Times-Picayune, Powell (and draft picks Khairi Fortt and Stanley-Jean Baptiste) has seen snaps with the first team defense in organized team activities. There isn’t much to take away from this due to the frequent rotations in personnel at this time of the year but it is very encouraging for their chances to make the roster that they have been thrown to the lions this early.
Given the age and uncertainty at the outside linebacker position (Haralson is 30, Butler is 27, and Galette is 26) Powell is in a great position to carve himself a niche on the roster as a situational pass rusher to be developed for 2015. He will be facing competition to make the final 53 roster spots by August 1st in the form of Keyunta Dawson, Rufus Johnson, and fellow rookies Kasim Edebali and Chidera Uzo-Diribe. Powell is easily the most polished of the group, but questions about his health (he tore his left ACL twice in 2012) will be considered before he should be seen as a roster lock. He will definitely be a player to watch in training camp this July, and hopefully a player to watch in years to come.