In this week's run-up to the 2014 NFL Draft, we'll be publishing Trevor Sikkema's profiles of Florida's NFL aspirants. We continue with linebacker/defensive end Ronald Powell.
Ronald Powell, The California Kid, born in Moreno Valley, California. Growing up, Powell played both sides of the ball: Linebacker on defense, and tight end of offense (averaging over 15 yards per catch, I may add). He was also clocked at a 4.5 40-yard dash in high school. In 2010 Powell was listed as the No. 1 overall high school recruit in the country by Rivals. He also earned MVP honors at the 2010 All-American Bowl. While putting his name into search engines, I also discovered he has a common name for that of medical doctors.
Few true freshmen come into their collegiate careers with more promise than Powell had coming into Florida.
He appeared in all 13 of Florida’s games in 2010 and was selected to the SEC All-Freshman team. Powell made his first start in week 11 against Appalachian State, recording a team-high nine solo tackles and even adding a tackle for loss. After year one, the future was as bright as could be for this young Gator.
"I never thought it was destined for me, even coming out of high school and being the No. 1 player in the country. I never asked for that," Powell said. "I just listened to the good people around me, kept my work ethic and kept God on my side and I just took it step-by-step and I ended up in that place. I always attack myself every day, whatever the case is, I attack myself every day, I want to be better than myself every day."
As a sophomore, Powell started 12 games for UF missing just one game due to injury. His increase in playing time resulted in an increase of production as he notched 32 total tackles, nine tackles for loss and a team-high four sacks.
With two successful seasons in the books and improvement on the horizon, one more year of excellence and Powell may have been looking at the 2013 NFL Draft as an investment worth making.
But 2012 was the low for Powell as he tore his ACL in an incredibly unfortunate injury during Florida’s spring game prior to the 2012 season. He was sidelined for the entire 2012 year – Florida’s most successful season during his time – ultimately because he reinjured the ACL during rehab and was forced to start over.
But 2013 was where Powell began his transformation from the California Kid to the Comeback Kid.
During what would be his final year with the Gators, Powell played in 11 games and led the team in sacks with four, tying his career high (he was also second on the team in tackles-for-loss with seven).
"To tell you the truth, I miss everything about [Gainesville] right now," Powell said. "It’s not an easy place to leave and it’s definitely some place that’s in my heart. I can’t tell you what I won’t miss about this place because right now I’m missing a whole lot of things."
He was honored with the Chris Patrick Courage Award for his determination through injury.
The best NFL coaches tend to out-think the status quo. Coaches like Bill Belichick and Sean Payton have their fingerprints all over the league because of how they revolutionized the standard for offense.
The same can be said for the defensive game, and for that, players like Ronald Powell have a distinct place of impact in certain schemes.
The 3-4 OLB is a position needed in almost any defensive system in 2014. 3-4 OLBs have to be smart in the pre-snap read, focused on winning their match up, productive as an edge rusher and be willing to take on versatile challenges.
What Powell does well is in his natural athletic ability; he’s a big, tall, strong-bodied force who can create disruption off the edge as a pass rusher. What he still needs work on – if he choses to go the path of a linebacker – is diversify his ability to drop back into coverage.
Now, I will say with the specialization movement in today’s NFL, Powell could simply hone in on becoming a package pass rusher and learn to dominate in that facet. This is what I think will ultimately happen with him. However what he needs to learn how to do more effectively at the next level is shed blocks. If left unblocked, or disengaged for even a second, Powell has a good chance of making it to the quarterback. But too often I saw the offensive line properly recognize rushing gaps and stop Powell in his tracks with very limited disruption. This can’t be a trend for Powell if he intends to become a starter.
The obvious elephant in the room is that he’s torn the same ACL twice, and though he did play most of the 2013 season unscathed, his explosion off the ball looked hesitant at times.
Powell started to get into his grove as the season went on, and for that, I think teams are noticing they may have a shot at obtaining that coveted, highly talented pass rusher coming out of high school.
I wish I had the pleasure of evaluating Powell injury free – I wish the same about Dominque Easley – but that’s the nature of the business.
So far, Powell has had a Pro Day workout with the Raiders, and a private workout with the Patriots. But one team seems to be head-over-heels for Powell, and that is the Philadelphia Eagles.
During Florida’s Pro Day, I saw Powell talking with the Eagles’ scout for the majority of his time out on the field. Florida's defensive coaches were, at times, catering to the scout’s requests, knowing how interested they were in Powell. I think the interest is real, and if Powell isn’t selected by the Eagles in the fourth or fifth round, I’ll be surprised.
"I will miss running out of the tunnel into The Swamp and all of the tradition and great rivalries. It has been an honor to be a part of Gator history. I will always represent The Gator Nation and bleed Orange and Blue… Once a Gator, Always a Gator!"