2023 Stock Watch – DL DeMarvin Leal – Stock Up

Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.

Player: DL DeMarvin Leal

Stock Value: Up

Reasoning: The rookie defensive lineman played more than I believe many expected that he would in 2022, especially notable given the fact that he spent six weeks on the Reserve/Injured List. While he often looked like a rookie, he has the potential to take a big second-year jump.

The Steelers do not know who their starting defensive end will be across from Cameron Heyward in 2023 as of this moment. Larry Ogunjobi, the man who occupied that position last season, is a pending unrestricted free agent. It is unclear how serious the team intends to pursue re-signing him.

That could be impacted at least in some small way by how they feel about DeMarvin Leal, their third-round draft pick out of Texas A&M last year. That pertains not only to how good they think he can be but also what position he’s ultimately destined to play.

While they’ve started him out on the defensive line as an end, his size still leaves him in that ‘tweener’ realm. It’s not impossible that his long-term position is ultimately as an outside linebacker in their scheme, which would still have him playing on the edge in the base nickel front.

Leal dressed for every game for which he was healthy, outside of a six-game stint he spent on the Reserve/Injured List in the middle of the year. He played a fairly important role early on, logging time as an extra lineman while outside linebacker T.J. Watt was on the Reserve/Injured List himself and filling that niche, in part.

He ultimately logged 175 defensive snaps by year’s end in 11 games played, even playing 17 snaps in the season opener before Watt was even hurt. He did have 14 tackles, including one for loss, but did not register a sack or even a quarterback hit despite showing some flash as a one-on-one matchup at the line of scrimmage. He also had three batted passes, which is a good sign.

There is still a lot for him to learn—veteran lineman Chris Wormley described him as a typical rookie “knucklehead”—but the Steelers don’t rely on year-one contributions from many of their rookies, particularly in the defensive trenches.

Still, realistically how big of a jump can he make from year one to year two? They won’t be counting on it, I’m sure, at least as it concerns their interest in the position during the draft. The draft may even influence how they feel about where Leal ultimately plays, depending on who they land.

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