Heading into the 2015 NFL Draft the Buffalo Bills have put themselves in a position to select the best available player with their No. 50 overall pick in the second round. The team retained Jerry Hughes in free agency which will keep their dominant front four intact. However, that hasn’t stopped the Bills from showing interest in the 2014 Ted Hendricks Award-winning defensive end, Nate Orchard, out of Utah. The team scheduled a private visit with the 6’4” 255-pound 23-year old that’s coming off of a stellar season in which he posted 84 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
The Bills need depth behind Hughes and Mario Williams for Rex Ryan’s hybrid defensive scheme, and Orchard looks like he could possibly be a good fit as a rotational pass rusher. Orchard was a team captain at Utah, finishing his career with 185 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups and eight forced fumbles, before impressing scouts at the Senior Bowl with his on-field play and his off-the-field character.
Orchard had a rough upbringing, being the brother to seven siblings before being adopted and legally changing his last name to that of his new family. He used his experiences as motivation, and is now married with a daughter, and is set to graduate with a degree in Economics shortly after the draft.
But let’s take a look at what Orchard brings as a player.
Despite weighing 255 pounds, Nate Orchard has a lean frame with long arms (33 ¾”) and huge hands (10 ¼”) that allow him to get inside the pads and maintain his distance between opposing linemen.
Athletically, Orchard isn’t going to blow anyone away. He posted respectable numbers in the movement drills at the combine, running a 4.80-second 40-yard dash with a 1.65 10-yard split, a 4.43 short-shuttle and a 7.28 three-cone, but he didn’t perform well in the explosion tests, recording a 31.5” vertical leap and a 9’7” broad jump. This lack of elite athleticism shows up on tape as Orchard has a good, but not great, first-step and doesn’t change direction well when dropping into coverage.
Because of this, teams will have to decide whether he’s best suited for a 4-3 defensive end, where he currently lacks the ideal bulk and strength, or as a 3-4 outside linebacker, where he doesn’t have elite explosiveness. Regardless of what position he’ll be labeled as, Orchard is a good-enough athlete and is strong enough to make an impact as a complementary edge defender, while he has a frame that can stand to add weight.
As a pass-rusher, it’s clear that Orchard understands the small nuances of the game- consistently using his hands and length to his advantage when engaging offensive linemen. He’s advanced with his technique, and compensates for his lack of elite athleticism by winning with subtle moves, as you can see in the following clip against a projected first-round pick in Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat.
Orchard gets off the ball quickly, getting inside and is able to deliver a punch into Peat’s chest, instantly generating enough power to knock him off his spot, before quickly ripping him to the ground and bringing down quarterback Kevin Hogan for a sack. This ability and advanced understanding of technique consistently shows up on tape, and it’s clear that Orchard is a savvy player. In the next clip he beats Peat again, this time with a bull-rush from the edge.
Using his length to get inside Peat’s chest again, Orchard drives him backwards before using a nifty hand maneuver to get off the block and make the sack.
In addition to having polished technique with his hands, Orchard sets up blockers really well while showing good closing speed. In the following clip against Colorado State’s Ty Sambrailo, a projected top 100 pick, Orchard fakes to the inside, putting the tackle on his heels. Now in control of the leverage game, Orchard drives Sambrailo back into the quarterback’s lap and nearly swats the ball out of his hands.
Orchard gives 100-percent effort on every snap, and this high motor helped him to notch several “clean up” or coverage sacks by not giving up on a rep. In the next clip, Orchard is used on a stunt from the left defensive end position. He loops around, crossing the face of the center who knocks him off-balance, but he’s able to maintain balance and redirect himself into the quarterback.
Orchard was used in a variety of spots at Utah, lining up on both the right and left side of the formation, sometimes in a “Wide 9” alignment, at times as a stand-up rusher and would typically kick inside to tackle in nickel situations.
When operating in close quarters, Orchard showed power and strength to push the pocket from the defensive tackle position.
The same attributes that make Nate Orchard so effective as a pass rusher, also help him to defend the run. He uses his length to his advantage, boxing out linemen in order to keep his eyes on the ball and uses his hands to violently shed blocks. In the following clip, Orchard abuses Andrus Peat again with a similar rip move, and while he doesn’t make the tackle, he displays the strength and ability to hold his ground when defending the run against an NFL-caliber tackle.
Orchard diagnoses runs quickly and takes good angles to the ball, understanding that he doesn’t need elite explosion to make plays. In this play, Orchard is lined up at left defensive end and drops back off the snap, reading the run before flowing over and making the tackle.
One area where he needs work is his tackling. Too often he’ll get into the backfield, but put his head down and completely whiff on the ball-carrier, as displayed in the following clip.
Also, Orchard doesn’t have the speed to chase down plays from the backside, but on rushes in his direction he’s surprisingly effective despite being a bit undersized.
How He Fits The Bills
Nate Orchard is a really fun player to watch. You can tell that he’s an intelligent player and he’s a tough matchup for opposing linemen. He probably won’t come into the NFL and be a 10-or-15 sack player, but his technique and consistent effort should guarantee him a role for quite some time. Far too often scouts are wowed by “workout warrior” pass rush prospects that have no idea what they’re doing technique-wise and wind up busting in the pros, but while Orchard isn’t the same caliber athlete as say, a Jadeveon Clowney, he finds a way to consistently win against both the run and pass.
With the Bills, Orchard wouldn’t be depended on to be a No. 1 pass rusher, and he’d be able to “redshirt” as a rookie, or serve in a rotational role while he develops his strength and adjusts to the game.
Projected Round: 2nd
Player Comparison: Rob Ninkovich/ Willie Young