Ross Jackson

Setting the Scene: Rick Leonard

Michael C. Hebert/Scott Threlkeld/ASC Illustrations

At long last, Setting the Scene continues with a look at Saints fourth-round surprise pick, Florida State RT Rick Leonard. Leonard is a converted defensive end, he changed positions when he went into the coach’s office to ask how he can help the team. After switching to offensive tackle throughout a single offseason, he won the starting job at FSU, but lost it after the first three games of the season. He then went on to start the final three games and the entire 2017 season at RT. Giving him a small sample size of 19 games. Which means that scouts didn’t have a ton of tape to look at, but he’s got a lot of tread left on the tires. His experience as a defensive end is valuable as he has a ton of athleticism and knows what to look for and counter from opposing ends.

As always, I’ll highlight each of the Saints incoming draft selections, discuss some pro comparisons and give a best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and my expected stat lines for their first years. Just like last year, I’ll rule out the injury bug and give each prediction as if they were healthy from game 1 to game 16. I will, however, use the practice squad or possible preseason cut as options. Be forewarned, I didn’t spend as much time with the combine on Tre’Quan’s because there were other parallels I was more interested in.

As a refresher, here are the selections and their draft positions:

Round 1 Pick 14: UTSA EDGE Marcus Davenport

Round 3 Pick 27 (91): UCF WR Tre’Quan Smith

Round 4 Pick 27 (127): FSU OL Rick Leonard

Round 5 Pick 27 (164): Wisconsin S Natrell Jamerson (CB with Saints)

Round 6 Pick 15 (189): Boston College CB Kamrin Moore (S with Saints)

Round 6 Pick 27 (201): Louisiana Tech RB Boston Scott

Round 7 Pick 27 (245): LSU OG/C Will Clapp

Worst Case Scenario

There’s not really a need for a pro comparison for this one. It’s pretty obvious. A blatantly unseasoned and under-developed prospect trying to make the transition to the NFL will never be an easy road. Payton, Loomis, and Ireland liked what they saw from Leonard in private workouts, but the fact remains this his gameplay catalog is severely limited. Whatever they saw in Leonard at their workout is an entirely different context from what can be seen on film. He has, however, 19 games of film to his resume, a successful run game behind, and some top competition against Florida, against whom he didn’t allow a single sack. Despite those positives though, the fact remains that he is raw. There’s certainly time for him to develop in the long-run and there’s no way that the Saints give up on his after one offseason. So it’s completely possible that they risk placing him on the practice squad in order to inspire potential Arthur Maulet-type development over this season.

Stat Line: Practice Squad

Best-Case Scenario

T.J. Lang began his NFL career as an offensive tackle after playing on the defensive line in college at Eastern Michigan his freshman year. His sophomore year, he converted over to offensive tackle and played 36 games there as a starter. He then translated that new skill set to the NFL when drafted as an OT by the Green Bay Packer in the 4th round, just like Leonard. Lang started 3 games his rookie season, playing in all 16. In his three starts he did allow three sacks, all in one game against Minnesota to Jared Allen. Outside of that, Lang served a reserve role only allowing three additional sacks throughout that season. Since then, he earned a pay day and extension from the Packers and has moved over to the Detroit Lions. He just made his second pro bowl in a row in 2017. Lang is an example of success after swapping from the defensive line to the offensive line while in college. Though he was undersized playing Tackle at 6’4”, Leonard’s 6’7” frame aligns him perfectly with elite size at the position.

Stat Line: 16 Games Played (2 Starts), <5 Sacks allowed, Lead the way to 4 touchdowns (Jumbo Packages)

Ross’s Expectations

Leonard is the project that people consider Davenport to be. He’s got barely any in-game experience and only began to learn his newest position two years ago. Some might see that as a negative, but if you look at what the Saints have done with a player like David Onyemata who hadn’t played football at all until college, there’s a track record of training raw prospects successfully. Now I know that Leonard is at a different position on the opposite side of the ball, but there’s precedent that this team, specifically Dan Roushar who helped develop Andrus Peat and get Ryan Ramzcyk off to a hot start. Now, am I projecting Leonard to become a pro-bowl caliber starter year one? Absolutely not. Nor does he need to be. His quick feet, strong punch at the line, and knowledge of pass rushing moves and counters will help his development over time. But for now, Sean Payton has referenced him as a possibility for jumbo packages and the backup tackle spot. Leonard has played a total of 39 total snaps and allowed only 2 pressures as a rookie so far this preseason. He currently sits as the top-ranked rookie offensive lineman in pass protection and the second as a run blocker among those who have played 30 or more snaps, according to PFF. Across all NFL linemen that meet that criteria, he’s rated 6th in pass protection and 4th as a run blocker. Now, analytics are far from the end all, be all and there are still preseason week 2 games left to be played. But there’s something favorable in regards of his development in those numbers. My expectations of Rick Leonard are simple. He makes the 53-man roster as a reserve and plays on field goal units and, at times, jumbo packages in short yardage and goal line situations. He’s not going to have a Ryan Ramzcyk kind of rookie season, but he’s not supposed to. He’s a future investment and we won’t know his value for a few years. I don’t think that the front office, who really like this guy, are going to risk him being poached from the practice squad.

Stat Line: 10 Games Played (0 Starts), <5 Sacks allowed, Lead the way to 1 touchdown (Jumbo Package)

Next Time: Fifth-Round Pick (164) CB Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin

Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC