After finishing second in the nation in sacks in 2014 with an improbable 18.5 for the Utah Utes, pass rusher Nate Orchard made himself impossible for NFL scouts to ignore. His feel for bending the edges or slipping off blocks to find the quarterback looks instinctive. The season he had led to Orchard being honored with the Ted Hendricks and Morris awards. The only question left heading into the pre-draft process was whether Orchard was only a 4-3 defensive end.
There were concerns about his range and athleticism defending the pass. What would his footwork be like dropping into coverage as an outside linebacker? Was he capable of playing without his hand on the ground?
Orchard answered a lot of those questions at the Senior Bowl to the satisfaction of at least a handful of NFL clubs. The Utes' team captain created problems in one-on-one drills for some of college's best tackle prospects and proved himself capable of dropping and covering. The value of that Senior Bowl exposure was not lost on Orchard.
"It helped me out huge," he said. "Not having a bunch of prospects there kind of put the shine on me. It was good to be out there with the competition and the offensive linemen from different conferences. It was fun and made me a better player."
Perhaps even more impressive than Orchard's range in coverage were his hands. Showing some natural catching ability improved his value, as well as the tape measure. Orchard's hands measured an expansive 10 ¼ inches.
Those big hands also let few quarterbacks escape from Orchard's clutches last year. His two most productive outings came against UCLA when he sacked fellow draft prospect Brett Hundley four times in a two-point win (30-28) and had 3.5 sacks in a three-point win over Stanford (20-17).
"Sacks win games at the end of the day," said Orchard. "That's what teams are going to bring me in for, and that's what I'm going to perfect."
Though he prefers being a 4-3 defensive end, Orchard realizes that showing adaptive traits to a 3-4 outside linebacker makes him attractive to a wider range of NFL clubs.
"I've had my hand on the ground for the last 10 years, so I think that's probably where I'm most comfortable," he said. "But a transition to outside linebacker wouldn't be a problem just because I've been dropping into coverage a lot. It's something I'm used to. I'd say probably a good 10 to 15 times a game. Throughout my career I did a good bit of dropping.
"Whatever the scheme is, I'll adapt to it. I'll definitely be good for whatever team drafts me."
What still gives NFL talent evaluators pause are his combine numbers. A 4.8 40-yard dash time, a 31.5-inch vertical and a nine-foot six-inch broad jump are all below the five-year average for outside linebackers at the NFL combine.
Most scouts however, will go back to the game tape and find that Orchard's eyes might be his best asset. They enable him to get to the ball faster than most other defenders on his team with anticipation and when he wraps up there aren't any missed tackles.
Self-motivated with a young family including a wife and daughter, Orchard is fully committed to an NFL career.
"You always have to keep working on your craft," he said. "You've always got to get better. Guys I'll be going against will be bigger and stronger, so the training has to be a little different. But you can always work on your technique and perfect that.
"(I'm) married, got a little girl. So I'm doing all the right things. Just taking care of my family is my main priority. I'm ready to be the best at the next level."