The New Orleans Saints have struck gold with undrafted rookies several times over the last two decades.
They've found an undrafted rookie contributor at defensive tackle in each of the last three seasons.
Taylor Stallworth played in 16 games as an undrafted rookie in 2018, recording a sack, 2 QB pressures, 2 tackles for loss, and recovered a fumble.
Shy Tuttle had a terrific rookie campaign after going undrafted in 2019.
Tuttle appeared in every game as a rookie and had an interception, 2 sacks, 6 pressures, and 3 tackles for loss.
Tuttle is the favorite to win a starting role at defensive tackle opposite emerging star David Onyemata for the Saints in 2021.
New Orleans had outstanding depth along their interior line last season, but lost tackles Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown this offseason.
The Saints still have top-end starting talent in Onyemata and Tuttle but have questions about the depth at the position.
One player who could provide an answer for their depth concerns is the subject of today's player spotlight.
He's a player who emerged from obscurity as an undrafted rookie in 2020 like Tuttle and Stallworth before him.
MALCOLM ROACH, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
ROACH IN COLLEGE
Roach began his collegiate career at the University of Texas as a linebacker.
He had 3 sacks and 8 tackles for loss among 33 total stops as a freshman in 2016 before being moved to a defensive end spot over the next two years.
After 2 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss for the Longhorns in 2017 and 2018, Roach bulked up even more for a move to defensive tackle.
As a senior in 2019, Roach had a career-high 40 tackles, including 9 stops for loss and 3 sacks.
Despite his versatility and productivity, Roach was not selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Saints snatched him up as an undrafted free agent, where he defied odds by making the roster at a deep position.
ROACH AS A ROOKIE
A native of Baton Rouge, LA., the 23-year-old Roach saw his first NFL action in the season-opening win over Tampa Bay and collected two tackles, one for loss.
He earned significant snaps over the first four games of the year, gathering 2 tackles for loss among 7 total stops.
Roach was inactive during different stretches of the season but still contributed as a rookie to a deep defensive tackle position.
He appeared in nine games and 22% of the team’s defensive snaps on the year. Roach had 16 total tackles (2 for loss) and 4 QB pressures.
Roach is best suited for an interior defensive lineman role in the NFL.
At 6’3” and 290-Lbs., he's a power player with the frame to add upper body strength.
His short arms make it difficult for him to shed blockers once engaged, and he has shown a tendency to wear down under a heavy snap count.
Even with his limited experience as a defensive tackle, Roach plays with outstanding leverage and sets a strong base at the point of attack.
He fires off the snap with good ferocity and quickness, getting an early advantage against opposing blockers.
Roach showed good gap recognition even as a rookie against the run. With the loss of Malcom Brown, Roach will be counted on heavily as a run defender this year.
He isn't a dynamic pass rusher, but has the strength to push a pocket backward and is a challenge to handle with single blocking.
Roach, like Taylor Stallworth and Shy Tuttle the previous two years, was a surprising contributor as a rookie.
His challenge is to continue developing in his second season to make up for the offseason losses of Rankins and Brown and maintain quality depth on the defensive interior for the Saints.
Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.
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