Movie Theater: Breaking Down DeMarvin Leal’s Game as Pass Rusher
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Texas A&M DL DeMarvin Leal in the third round at 84th overall, it was expected that Leal would play primarily as a baseline DE in Pittsburgh’s defensive system while also being able to play top to bottom of LOS according to new DC Teryl Austin. While Leal had something of a breakout season in 2021, he was seen as a tweener going through the pre-draft process, lacking the natural size of a DT but also the explosiveness of an EDGE rusher. Still, his calling card coming out of College Station has been his ability to rush the passer, and that’s exactly what we plan to break down in this movie theater.
Steelers Depot’s Andrew Shaver recently performed a statistical breakdown of Leal as a passing thrower for the site, detailing his efficiency per quarterback, downs and his use of uphill stunts with the rest of the Texas A&M defensive line. . According to Shaver’s study, “Leal left College Station with 86 total pressures, accompanied by a 13.6% win rate and a 9.4% overall pressure rate. For a projected inside DL at the next level, these aren’t numbers to scoff at. Take a look at one of Leal’s best examples as a pass thrower against New Mexico, rushing from the rim against the LT where he punches and stabs at the inside then rips as he leans into the corner and eats the QB for the sack.
While possessing impressive athleticism and quickness for a DL, Leal also brings versatility to the table, having played across the entire defensive line for the Aggies. He played as far inside as a head-up nose tackle down the middle, but came out as far as technique 7, rushing from the edge with his hand in the dirt or in a two-point position. Here we see Leal head high on the RT and gives him a hesitant step on the ball snap, hitting him with a nasty inside spin move to get into the backfield where he stalks the QB and knocks him down for the sack.
While not known for being a power rusher, Leal does have moments on tape where he exhibits the ability to convert speed into power, especially on the outside against the OT. He’ll catch the OTs leaning forward to get their hands on him early. Lacking the necessary hip and knee flexion to drop the anchor and block the rush. This is where Leal attacks like in this clip against New Mexico, attacking the LT with outstretched arms as he brings it back into the QB and ends the game with teammate No. 2 Michael Clemons for the split sack.
Leal will attack the OTs outside shoulder on the pass that rushes from the edge, but he will look to counter inside if the tackle goes over or exposes his inside shoulder. Here’s an example with a five-star match between Leal and OT #67 Charles Cross. Cross initially takes Leal on his run, but Leal uses his hand placement with the inside hand on Cross’ chest and the outside hand on Cross’ shoulder to rush him into the pocket, playing with good leverage. Leal continues to walk Cross, back into the setter while arming him long, working to get his head and shoulders in Cross’ face and walks towards the setter who is holding the ball too long to wrap it for the sack .
Here against Ole Miss we see a similar result as Leal first tries to hit the jump/rip outside the LT but then turns it into a straight bull rush, noticing the tackle has poor base with his feet. The tackle loses his footing and begins to slide to the ground as Leal exploits the wide inside hole towards the QB, sliding the tackle arm down and knocks No. 2 Matt Corral into the pocket for the fumbled backpack that his teammate eventually recovers.
While it’s great to see Leal posting 12.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks during his junior season as a bigger defensive lineman, a recurring theme I found was that a lot of his sacks didn’t were not “high quality” where Leal won with his hands but rather on extended plays where the QB held the ball too long and he was able to work inside when he was blocked on his run at the ‘outside. For example, watch this game against Mississippi State where Leal gets beat trying to get the corner but can counter inside when the two linemen collide, creating space to run straight for the corner. QB and finish with a sack.
When tackles don’t give Leal the inside counter and play him with square shoulders, he’s often neutralized with his rush, having no viable countermoves to get out of the block. Watch this rep against Charles Cross who plays Leal with great technique, keeping his shoulders square and lands a big punch inside his shoulder pads. Leal is unable to reverse Cross’ hands and is locked on the rep, as he lacks the power to knock Cross back as well as the use of the hand to get rid of the pass block.
On this rep against Tennessee, we see Leal rushing against the RT and doing a good job of pushing him back into the QB’s pocket with power. Still, he can’t get around his outside shoulder or counter inside, getting the pressure, but relies on his teammate to get the sack. All in all not a bad game for Leal, but we see a need to improve the use of the hand to clear blocks to turn pressures into sacks.
Here’s another example against the Crimson Tide in 2020 where Leal takes on No. 70 Alex Leatherwood and can’t win with power on his run as Leatherwood’s long arms snag and neutralize his run. Leal is also unable to get his hands down and fight the block in time before the pass is gone, showing potential issues against a bigger and longer OL he will see at the next level.
Overall, DeMarvin Leal brings a unique skill set to the table as a passing thrower. He has the athleticism to line up on the outside and get out of the rim as a 4-3 DE, but also the size to kick inside and rush the guard, using his speed and his quickness to carve gaps and be a disruptive presence on the inside. General manager Kevin Colbert said the same when asked about Leal during an interview on SiriusXM Radio, complimenting his athleticism and saying he had “some linebacker-type moves.” Colbert also envisions Leal playing as a base DE and kicking inside as a DT in subsets using that speed and quickness on guards and crosses, shooting spreads and being used on twists and stunts.
While he has good functional athleticism and versatility, Leal needs to develop more game strength in terms of winning with power consistently on his bull rush and improve his overall hand usage to get out of blocks. rather than relying on extended plays as a setter. Along with that, Leal needs to do a better job of finishing the game with the sack as he’s had a lot of opportunities on the tape where he applies pressure on the QB but doesn’t get the sack. Developing quality counter movement as a rusher as well as getting stronger with his bottom half will be keys to taking Leal to the next level when it comes to being a pass rush specialist.
2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Texas A&M DL DeMarvin Leal
What do you think of DeMarvin Leal as a passing thrower? Do you think he can become a threat against opposition passing games at the next level? Will he be able to play more consistently with the power and use of his hand to work on blocks, or will his lack of size and high-end athleticism cripple him and his efficiency? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading?