Playing in the 2015 Senior Bowl was crucial for both Zachary Hodges and scouts. Playing vs. 260-pound offensive tackles in the Ivy League is hard for any scout to get a true feel for a 240-pound defensive end who will likely have to transition to linebacker at the pro level. With so many of those recent conversions (college rush end to pro outside ‘backer) having produced less than spectacular results in recent years, no team is going to use a first or second round pick (remember Lawrence Sidbury, Vin Curry, Larry English), even with Hodges impressive statistics when attacking the backfield.
Hodges enters the 2015 draft pool boasting 26 sacks and 41.0 stops-for-loss for his career, adding 8.5 sacks as a senior. Still, with such a high amount of hits in the backfield, he has only 118 tackles to show for 39 games, including an unimpressive 26 hits (12 solos) in 2014. Because of his pass rush ability, he will certainly be drafted, but much like Kroy Biermann with Atlanta, he will need to be in the right scheme to succeed.
Hodges uses his burst off the snap to collapse the pocket and knows how to keep his hands close in order to prevent blockers from getting into his chest. When he fires off low out of his stance, he is capable of chasing hard from the backside. He gets his hands up with arms extended to deflect passes at the line and he keeps his feet moving when engaged. He also has the agility to redirect to the inside when the edge lanes are clogged.
With 26 sacks, Hodges is an established and disruptive pass rusher who has a sharp burst coming out of his stance, gaining advantage on blockers with his moves off the edge. The Ivy Leaguer is instinctive in diagnosing the plays, rolling his hips and using his hands forcefully. Still, his sole success comes as a rush end type who gains good leverage by using a cross-face action with his hands when engaging blockers to split the double-team coverage.
Hodges plays with a high motor, showing impressive power behind his strikes, but at the NFL level, he will give up a lot of bulk vs. the offensive tackles and facing those bigger types in college showed that he can be contained when meeting them head on. He really needs to add more bulk to his frame to prevent blockers from engulfing him along the line, but his frame may not have much more room for growth. I am just not convinced that he has the size to defeat double coverage on a consistent basis.
While he’s instinctive, he tends to get too high in his stance at times, causing him to struggle in his attempts to disengage. He’s also a little stiff in his hips, causing a slight hesitation in his initial step when redirecting (has good straight-line speed, but his change of direction is too tight, lacking fluid motion).
If he is to remain as a defensive end, teams have to realize that Hodges gives up a lot of bulk vs. the offensive tackles and can be contained when meeting head on. He tried adding weight last season, but it immediately impacted his once explosive initial burst, seeing a reduction in his ability to pressure the pocket with any sort of consistency in 2014. Right now, it is safe to say that his frame may not have much more room for growth.
As a first level defender, Hodges lacks the size to defeat double coverage and while teams are looking at him as a possible outside linebacker, he lacks experience in pass coverage. At Senior Bowl practices, he seemed uncomfortable working out of a three-point stance, preferring to come off the edge standing up. With 26 tackles (and almost as many missed shots), he gets sloppy with his tackling and loses leverage when being double teamed.
In conclusion, Hodges lacks the size, strength and bulk to match up with NFL offensive tackles as a down lineman. He might be converted to linebacker, but with marginal change of direction quickness, no experience in man coverage and slow feet, he could be a liability covering receivers into the second level.
He has a relentless motor in pursuit, but unless he is attacking the quarterback or chasing down ball carriers on the edge, he will struggle to make plays in trash or at the line of scrimmage. But, if utilized like the Seattle Seahawks do with their situational pass rusher, he might develop into a player who can provide decent pocket pressure.
Zachary Hodges Scouting Combine measurables
6-2/250 (4.68 forty)
34 1/4-inch arm length
9 7/8-inch hands
33.5-inch vertical jump
125-inch broad jump
4.65 20 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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