The question with Texas Longhorns defensive lineman Malcolm Roach was always where he fit the best on the Forty Acres. With the 2020 NFL Draft approaching, Roach has a chance to redefine himself at a new position at the next level.
Considered a strong-side defensive end when he signed with Charlie Strong as a member of the 2016 recruiting class out of a Baton Rouge private school, Roach was a linebacker at 255 pounds who looked like a candidate to quickly grow into a defensive end.
However, it was at the hybrid Fox linebacker position during Roach’s freshman season where he was the most consistently disruptive of his Texas career, often playing with Breckyn Hager at a similar position on the other side of the formation. That season, Roach produced eight tackles for loss and three sacks despite only serving as a part-time starter.
When Tom Herman and his staff arrived on campus, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando struggled to find a consistent role for Roach as he battled injuries for two years.
In 2017, a turf toe injury suffered during preseason camp limited Roach to starting only three games as a sophomore. Robbed of some explosiveness, Roach only recorded four tackles for loss and two sacks after starting three games.
As a junior, there was more upheaval — Orlando tried to convert him into an inside linebacker due to a lack of depth at the position, but that experiment didn’t even last into the third game of the season against USC, during which Roach broke his foot. He played defensive end upon his late-season return.
Finally healthy and entrenched as a full-time starter for the first time as a senior, Roach did the dirty work in Orlando’s three-down line, recording 40 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks, and a blocked kick.
At the NFL Combine, Roach ran a 4.84 40-yard dash to highlight his athleticism, though some of his other results were less helpful, like short arms, small hands, and limited lateral mobility.
At close to 300 pounds, Roach is likely to transition inside to the three technique defensive tackle position in the NFL, where he would have the opportunity to play more aggressively attacking gaps and using his quickness and strength off the ball instead of reacting to opponents as a gap-holding defensive end. His stout frame and lack of length to play outside will help him in the former area and won’t be as limiting in the latter as he makes the move inside.
Since the Louisiana product didn’t put much on film as a pass rusher in college, Roach will need to improve in that area to secure and hold a roster spot at the next level, but there aren’t any questions about his strength or ability to hold up at the point of attack — in limited playing time in 2018, Roach established himself as one of the best edge run defenders in the conference.
However, despite the straight-line athleticism that Roach showed in Indianapolis, he struggled on film to break down and change direction, so improving his flexibility and agility was likely a major focus between late February and the planned Pro Day that was canceled earlier this month.
The intangible attributes that Roach possesses make him an appealing addition to a roster — he was team captain and emotional leader for Texas, he played hard, and his father is a high school coach in Baton Rouge who influenced how his son approaches the game.
Those intangibles may make more of an impact if or when Roach becomes a coach himself after his own playing career is over — Herman and Orlando both think highly of his future in that profession — but the injuries and lack of scheme fit throughout Roach’s time at Texas support the argument that he could have a better-than-expected career for someone who projects as a late-round draft pick or priority free agent.