Rob Hodges of SB Nation’s page for Florida State University, Tomahawk Nation, took some quick time to answer a few questions for Saints to get to know one of their newest additions to the offensive line.
The Saints got a lot of flack for drafting Leonard in the 4th Round, with many pundits putting an “Undrafted” grade on him. Were you surprised to see him go off the board that early?
“Stunned” is a pretty good word here. Leonard doesn’t lack any of the tools to make for a top-flight OL, having played DE (and seen playing time) early in his career at FSU. But Rick Trickett was able to convince him to switch to OT. At 6’7 311, he has good size and excellent frame to hold perhaps 10 or so more pounds of lean mass while retaining his athleticism. But yes, as is - I was stunned to see him go in the 4th round.
Leonard has insisted he could play multiple spots on the offensive line. Would his game play back up this proposition?
Leonard played right tackle for FSU the last two years. He did see some time at LT early on, but Rick struggled early in 2016 with his pass sets against an incredibly talented slate of rush ends. His feet were just fine as you’d expect given his DE pedigree, but he did not have the core strength to be able to engage a rushing defender after squaring him up on a pass rush. The result is he would get rag-dolled. But Leonard has added good strength & weight and is continuing to improve. He is a RT, but not immediately in the NFL. There is the outside chance he could develop into a LT, but my understanding is that the functional difference in the NFL these days between left and right tackle isn’t what it was - so that point may be moot. That said, he is a prototypical offensive tackle.
What would you say is the strongest part of Leonard’s game?
Rick has that “dog” in him, if you will. In fact, that is likely why he insisted he could play multiple spots on the offensive line. Dude is just a worker, and hungry. Whatever you think of when I say soft, this guy is the opposite. And, in my humble opinion, is the exact mindset you need from OL. And it shows up on and off the field, which makes him trend even higher on overall ceiling. A worker with that size and mindset can become pretty doggone good for your team.
Where could he look most to improve?
Rick is still maturing physically, which is part of what makes him a high upside pick late in the 4th round. Specifically, he still needs to improve core strength. He was 255 as a recruit coming in at FSU, and while not skinny, he does have a sleek build. The result is that he doesn’t have the bulk to be able to anchor against the bull rush. But he is not far from that physical maturity now. He’s got all the necessary leg & arm strength you’d expect, but absorbing defenders is still on his list of things to improve on. It’s not that he was lazy by any means, but learning to be monolithic at OT is a different skill set to refine than playing DE. And to his credit, he showed himself to be both a consummate team player (and smart enough to go get that money) by switching from a sexy position at DE to a very, very unsexy position in OT.
What type of career do you project Leonard to have in the NFL?
While his floor is lower than most mid-round OTs taken, his ceiling is extremely high. He’s a super hard worker, he’s smart enough to learn the intricacies of playing OL in the NFL, has a good health history, and he is still maturing physically. He is clearly an upside pick. Was he over-drafted? That’s up for debate, and I’m just a College FB guy. But give him two years as a full-time professional, and he can man that swing tackle spot with a chance to become a starter, perhaps even special.
Thank-you so much for your time and insight, Rob!
Saints fans, make sure you check out Rob and the rest of the hard-working guys’ work over at Tomahawk Nation. You can also follow their work on Twitter @TomahawkNation. You can follow Rob on Twitter @Ricobert1. As always, you always follow me on Twitter @dunnellz.
What do you think about the Saints controversial 4th round pick in the draft? Do you feel better or worse about Leonard’s chances as a starting offensive lineman? Do you think that he sticks with the Saints? Tell us in the comments. Send me presents.