December 2017. Shockwaves were sent through the college football world as Jimbo Fisher officially resigned as the head coach of Florida State to explore a brand new opportunity at Texas A&M. Winning a national championship and building his legacy in Tallahassee, a new challenge awaited him in College Station.
His first order of business was to put together and stack recruiting classes that would eventually help him turn around a program that was highly inconsistent. The 2019 recruiting class is tabbed as the one that's helped Fisher turn the program into one of the best in the country. That group included key contributors such as running back Isaiah Spiller and versatile offensive weapon Ainias Smith. However, the class was spearheaded by DeMarvin Leal.
A consensus 5-star recruit, Leal was the most hyped out of the bunch and he enters his true junior season with heightened expectations not only from the coaching staff and fan base but also evaluators who will now have a close eye on him now that he’s draft-eligible. A starter in 17 of the 23 games that he’s played in, Leal saved his best performance for last as he finished his sophomore campaign with a bang during the Orange Bowl victory against North Carolina. Finishing that game with a career-high seven tackles and one tackle for loss, he dominated the game from start to finish as he constantly made his presence felt against the Tar Heels' offense.
The Good: Leal's best aspect is his versatility. The Aggies defense isn’t shy about putting too much on his plate. Using him at all four spots up front, Leal has gained valuable experience at a multitude of spots along the defensive line. His most consistent spot has been as a 5-technique, where he’s been afforded opportunities to both get up the field as a pass rusher and show off his strength at the point of attack.
Because of the feeling that he’s their best player on defense, the scheme deploys him from multiple spots. Forced to pause the screen prior to the snap, there are moments where it takes time to find him because they use him both inside and outside. On third down, he’s capable of being reduced down inside to utilize his skill set against interior blockers.
A key trait of Leal’s game is his strength. Whether he’s aligned inside or outside, his power shines. Difficult to move off of his spots, Leal has lots of reps where he displays plenty of shock and shed strength prior to chasing down ball carriers. A natural trait that he already possesses, the Texas A&M defensive lineman is a ready-made run defender the moment he steps onto the field at the next level.
Not only does he contain the power necessary to stand his ground, but he also has the awareness to diagnose and pursue certain concepts that teams are attempting to execute. The word "dependable" will be used frequently on his scouting report because it describes his game to a T. His hands are always active and pack plenty of weight behind them in order to disengage from blockers. He also adds plenty of energy in ball pursuit as he runs and chases to ball locations until he hears the whistle.
The Improvable: His versatility and jumping from various alignments along the defensive front can be a gift and a curse. In base packages, Leal is deployed as a 5-technique, but because he jumps around so much, it has somewhat stunted his growth as a rusher off of the edge. It can be difficult to see his potential in certain areas because of how many hats that he’s forced to wear. Once Leal’s able to establish a clear and defined home, he could become more comfortable from that spot prior to expanding to more roles overall.
Right now, he’s more of a power rusher than one that will consistently beat blockers cleanly up the field with an arsenal of moves. Leal’s hands remain active, but the subpar twitch in his lower half will likely lead to some teams projecting him inside on the next level.
At the apex of rush attempts, he performs slight and subtle shimmy fakes when given space to close, but his effectiveness with them has been sporadic. Developing counter moves is another area that he will need to add to his repertoire as a pass rusher. He can frequently get stuck when offensive linemen are able to initiate first contact and land inside of his frame.
There are many aspects that Leal can add to his game. Already possessing an impressive foundation from a mental and physical standpoint, he has plenty to build on during his third season in College Station. While Leal may never become a double-digit sack player at the next level, he is a dependable and ready-made interior defender from Day 1. With present traits as a run defender, alignment versatility, and next-level strength, the early-round intrigue surrounding him is warranted heading into next season.
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