The Cincinnati Bengals picked an interesting year to need a pass-rushing defensive tackle. There may be just one drafted in the first round, and the class as a whole isn’t exactly deep.
DeMarvin Leal of Texas A&M might be the most fascinating out of all of them.
If the Bengals stick to their drafting norms, they’ll likely attack the defensive line between the second and fourth round. That’s the exact range where Leal will hear his name called. Let’s learn more about Leal.
Position: Defensive tackle (3/5-tech with edge experience)
Age: 21 (will be 22 years old in regular season)
Projected Round: Second to early-third
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Leal made a name for himself as a junior and senior in high school. Though he was primarily an interior defensive lineman, he also took snaps at tight end on his way to becoming a five-star recruit. The only player rated higher than him in Texas was his future teammate Kenyon Green, who might be a first-round pick this week. The only defensive tackle rated higher than him in the country was Zacch Pickens, who’s now a senior at South Carolina.
Leal could’ve went basically anywhere in the country to play college football, but he chose to stay relatively close to home at Texas A&M. He became a Day 1 contributor and a starter by the middle of the 2019 season. He earned full-time starter status in 2020 and graded highly in Pro Football Focus metrics, but he statistically broke out in 2021, leading the Aggies in tackles for loss (12.5) and sharing the lead in sacks (8.5). He did this despite playing multiple techniques all the way from the edge to nose tackle.
Leal declared for the 2022 NFL Draft as one of the younger defensive tackle prospects. He’s one of Dane Bruger’s three draftable defensive tackles under the age of 22. At the Scouting Combine, he ran a 5.00 40-yard dash, but performed other drills better at his pro day, including a 7.20 three-cone time.
Leal’s impressive three-cone is evident when watching him play because he’s got great bend and flexibility for his stature. Being north of 280 pounds makes him heavy for an edge rusher and light for an interior player, but Leal flashes the quickness and fluidity to win anywhere. When he needs to win with power, he’s got the hand strength to disengage with consistency.
Demarvin Leal jumped off the film in 2019 and 2020.— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) April 16, 2022
For a defensive lineman who played almost every technique for @AggieFootball, I'm surprised he hasn't been talked about more.
First-round grade for us. Could be a surprise 1st rounder. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/tYhcMMvmkF
Leal will have to find a positional home at the next level, but his aforementioned experience at multiple positions has allowed him to learn how to win no matter what gap he’s in.
If you look into the numbers, he was actually more productive rushing off the edge than he was inside, but his competency as an interior grew as he played more, and that arrow should still be pointing upwards.
Naturally, a sub-290 pound defensive tackle isn’t much of an asset against the run, especially as a rookie. Aaron Donald is the obvious exception, but he’s not built like most 280-pound players, and he’s quicker than any defensive linemen in the history of football.
Obviously Leal isn’t at that level and likely never will be. He’s going to make most of his damage against the run on the edge, where he played most of his snaps at A&M. But his usage creates an overall projection as well. Is he athletic enough to win around the edge against NFL tackles, or will he have to become a full-time interior rusher and continue growing there? Sometimes having versatility means you don’t have a true spot.
In regards to his athleticism, he tested below the 50th percentile for speed and in the 10th percentile for explosion, both being adjusted for density. He’s flexible, but his get-off could use some work. Not ideal for a 3-tech.
Leal’s youth and production against great competition gives him a great chance to last long in the NFL. Regardless of his warts, his profile coming into the league is a promising one, and that he’s just 21 gives him plenty of room to grow his game.
The pitfalls are obvious, though. He’s not a great all-around athlete, and his imbalance of playing time between the edge and inside sparks questions as for what to do with him early on. He might be a base end/5-tech that can slide inside on third downs. Every team needs guys who can do that, including the Bengals.
Expect a team to take a chance to mold Leal into a productive rusher sometime soon after the first round. He might fall into the third because of his unknown projection, but in such a weak defensive tackle class, his youth and production make him more appealing than some late-round options.
*Various information courtesy of The Athletic’s Dane Brugler 2022 NFL Draft guide