In the 2012 class, then-Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong uncovered a consensus mid three-star prospect in Georgia name Sheldon Rankins. Four years later, Rankins is universally considered a first-round draft pick. And 247Sports believes that the arc of Texas Longhorns defensive end signee Malcolm Roach could follow a similar trajectory.
"Roach is a Louisiana native that -- like Rankins -- didn't receive an offer from the in-state power," writes 247Sports' Barton Simmons. "Like Rankins, he's probably not a day one contributor at Texas but he has the kind of raw ability to blossom in Austin."
If Roach does manage to fulfill that comparison, he would hardly be the first Strong-recruited prospect to join Rankins in rising from the relatively neglected ranks of second-tier prospects to become an NFL prospect. In last year's NFL Draft, 10 Louisville players came off the board and two three-star prospects considered defensive ends out of high school were among that group in BJ Dubose and Lorenzo Mauldin.
Roach isn't quite a direct comparison to Rankins, however. Where Simmons admits it would have been extremely difficult to project the 6'2, 260-pound Rankins as a future first-round pick in the NFL Draft at defensive tackle after a weight gain of 60 pounds, it's even more difficult to tell where Roach's body will take him after he gained 30 pounds between last spring and last November.
And there's also the fact that Texas took five defensive tackles in the 2016 class -- unless several of those players wash out, there's no particular reason to hope that Roach ends up at a position with that much competition when a clearer path to playing time exists at the strongside defensive end position and at Fox end.
When the 6'3, 257-pounder arrives in Austin from his home town of Baton Rouge, he'll first have to adjust to playing along the defensive line full time after serving in a hybrid role as a senior that allowed him to line up in multiple different positions, including outside linebacker, middle linebacker, and defensive end.
What stands out in watching Roach is that he managed to maintain all of his quickness as a senior after his significant weight gain and showed excellent short-area burst. Most heartening for his projection closer to the ball, he flashed violent and explosive hands that should allow him to make a natural transition to taking on offensive tackles or even interior linemen if he grows into a defensive tackle.
The violence in Roach's hand usage extends to his tackling efforts, as he can sink and explode just as naturally in his lower body as he can with his hands, making him a vicious tackler who can consistently stop opponents in their tracks.
Competition caveats apply in assessing Roach's impact for Madison Prep as a senior, but there's no denying that his stats are eye-opening -- 143 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 12 more tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, five pass break ups, two interceptions, two blocked punts, and 20 quarterback hurries. The previous season, his efforts produced similar results in recording 134 tackles, 20 sacks, 27 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, seven forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns.
Somehow, despite impressive senior film and incredible production, Roach was still ranked as a mid three-star prospect on National Signing Day, the No. 588 player overall, the No. 28 strongside defensive end, and the No. 28 player in Louisiana, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. However, 247Sports had a higher regard for Roach, slotting him as a near four-star prospect with a grade of 90 and considering him the No. 18 strongside defensive end.
All of those rankings seem relatively low after watching his senior film.
As for a position projection at Texas, Roach has enough proven ability in pass coverage with 14 pass break ups and two interceptions that he could be a Fox end candidate if he can keep his weight down. In fact, that's the position that he expects to play in Austin.
"I think that position fits me a lot," Roach told Horns247. "I'm not a traditional linebacker who stands up and covers a slot or stands up and covers a tight end. I could cover a tight end, but I'm best coming off the edge trying to get sacks and dropping back every now and then."
However, it does seem likely that he'll eventually grow into a defensive tackle like Rankins. Based on Roach's quickness and overall level of violence, it wouldn't be surprising to see him eventually grow into an NFL prospect, too.
Strong just has a knack for identifying these types of guys.