NEPD Staff Writer:Mike Gerken
Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone and the college football regular season is coming to an end too. Sure we have a few games left, but teams are transitioning to their conference championship games as well as gearing up for bowl season. This is the time when draftniks start getting busy as well. We’re getting to the point where we can start digging in and combing through hours of tape that we were not able to get through during the weekly grind of the regular season . One guy I have been excited to watch is Harvard’s Zach Hodges and here is what I saw.
Name: Zach Hodges, #99
Hodges is an impressive athlete with a high motor. He is a very aggressive player that will wear down defenders with his relentless pursuit of the football. Hodges plays with a low pad level and good bend and balance, which allows him to get under larger offensive lineman when rushing the passer. He has an explosive first step and acceleration, which makes him a threat to get to the quarterback on every plan. Hodges does not just rely on his first step to beat the offensive lineman however, he has a variety of pass rush moves including a good inside move and very active hands. Harvard has used him in a variety of different positions including DT, DE, OLB, and ILB. This gives him position flexibility at the next level, but most likely he will be a pass rushing OLB. Hodges is very smooth moving forward as well as dropping back in coverage. He is also smart (duh, he goes to Harvard) and shows good awareness, vision, and play recognition. In the first play I’ve highlighted below, you can see Hodges’ impressive speed and burst as he blitzes the passer from the ILB position. In the second play, notice how smooth and comfortable he looks dropping back into zone coverage.
Obviously Hodges plays in a conference that does not have a lot of NFL talent in it, so it is hard to predict if he will be as dominant in the NFL as he has been in college. At 235 lbs. Hodges can at times get swallowed up by offensive linemen and will need to pack on some pounds and get stronger, especially in his lower body, in order to be successful at the next level. I will be interested to see what he measures in at when he gets to the combine because I’m not sure his height and weight are accurate. He also can be overly aggressive at times, which gets him out of position to make the play. In the plays below, you can see that Hodges struggles from time to time to get separation from the opposing offensive lineman.
There is a lot to like about Hodges. So far, he has been one of my favorite players that I’ve scouted and I would have to put him in the draft “binky” category. There is an obvious concern about the level of competition, but he has dominated in every game I was able to watch, and that is all you can ask for when scouting a player from a lower division. His athleticism and smarts will give coaches the opportunity to use him in a variety of positions and situations, which Patriots fans know is something that they covet. I really like that he does not just rely on his speed and quick first step, but rather shows a nice variety when rushing the passer. If he can get stronger and show that he can hold up against the run, then he could be a very special player in the NFL. It is always difficult to predict where small school guys will go and the pass rush DE/OLB class is deep this year, but I personally give Hodges a 4th round grade.