Back in May when the Saints had selected a LB out of the University of Florida with the first of their two 5th Round choices in the 2014 NFL Draft, alot of folks were left scratching their heads trying to figure out who the young man from California was. However, having heard of him previously as the former number one ranked overall high school player in the entire nation as well as having profiled him in an article of mine in my work at a previous website, I knew EXACTLY who he was; but I thought his selection was a bit of a gamble by Saints management. Now as the final cuts loom large for several players whom are attempting to make the Saints’ final 53-man roster, I will say this: So far, I think that the Saints have hit the jackpot — their gamble on rookie LB Ronald Powell is paying off.
Ronald Powell got 39 snaps on D, and 10 snaps on ST’s. I think he is making the 53.
— Ryan (@datboywolf) August 25, 2014
Prior to the Draft sometime back in April, Powell had been projected to go at some point in Round 5, and back at that time I had said that in my opinion Powell would qualify as the poster child for the expression “high risk, high reward” (borrowed from the old phrase “low risk, high reward”). I felt that his courage for overcoming adversity (I’ll get to that in a moment) was very admirable in my eyes, but I questioned his wisdom for coming out a year early; especially since I believed (as did some NFL Scouts and several draft analysts) that he would have benefitted most from having a senior season under his belt.
When I appeared on New Orleans radio station WTXG Sports’ “Overtime Sports Talk” show this past Wednesday night, I mentioned briefly to hosts Nader Mirfiq and Thomas “Big T” Gaspard IV that Powell had a picture of his role model hanging on the inside of his locker door this past season at Florida, and he’d make it a point to look directly right at it every single time when dressing or undressing before and after each practice or game.
It sounds fairly innocent to the casual observer but for the true football fan, the reason behind it makes a lot of sense. You see, the picture is of Minnesota Vikings perennial All-Pro RB Adrian Petersen — and the reason is because like the Vikings RB, Powell had to overcome some incredible odds after suffering back-to-back devastating knee injuries to the very same knee (actually only within months of each other, and eerily similar to the very same one just suffered by Rams QB Sam Bradford on Saturday night); that nearly ended his football playing career.
#Saints LB Ronald Powell was No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school, according to ESPNU. But torn ACL derailed career a bit.
— Mike Triplett (@MikeTriplett) May 10, 2014
Now of course, things weren’t always this hard for Ronald Powell. Back in 2009, Powell was a 5-Star High School All-American recruit (the number #1 ranked overall prospect by Rivals.com) and burst into the national spotlight when he won MVP honors in the 2010 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He was lured out of Moreno Valley, California by then-Gators coach Urban Meyer. Powell was a 2-way star, as a pass-rushing DE and a TE; at that time Powell’s role model was San Diego Chargers TE Antonio Gates. He played in 13 games as a true Freshman and was named to the All-SEC Freshmen team. He followed that up as a sophomore in 2011 with a solid season that featured 9 tackles for loss behind the line of scrimmage, to go along with 6 sacks.
Powell was poised for a “breakout” year after switching from DE to LB in the Spring practice of 2012, but then the unthinkable happened. Powell suffered a torn ACL during the Spring Game, and then reinjured the very same knee in Fall practice. At that point, most observers felt that Powell was done. There were whispers around the Gators program that Powell’s playing career could be in jeopardy. Powell took a medical redshirt for the 2012 Season (obviously), and then literally “threw himself” into a mode of intense rehabilitation — with his goal to come back and start at LB for Florida for the 2013 Season.
Powell subsequently returned last year and started in 8 out of the 11 games that he played in, and led the Gators with 4 QB sacks and 8 QB hurries. Instead of coming back for a senior year in 2014 however, the 6’3, 235 lb. Powell declared for the Draft in January of this year. There were several scouts and analysts that agreed with the assessment that Powell was the ideal example of the proverbial “high risk, high reward” type of prospect and that some team would likely have to take a gamble on taking him with the understanding that he possibly wouldn’t be able to adjust to the speed of the pro game. I think it’s probably fair to say now that the Saints’ gamble on Powell has paid off —- and the reward may be that he becomes the Saints’ OLB of the future.
Ronald Powell has solidified himself on my #Saints 53 man roster. Question is, can his knees hold up?
— Deuce Windham (@RevDeuceWindham) August 24, 2014
After Saints starting OLB Junior Galette went out with an injury against the Colts Saturday night, Powell filled in admirably and recorded 6 tackles. As Saints and NFL analyst Walter “Deuce” Windham (who provided me with this “screen shot” in his evaluation of Powell’s performance) mentioned to me yesterday, “Powell had the best performance out of all the LB corps in that game, and he specifically showed up in the run game which was something he needed to work on since the first week of the Pre-Season against the Rams. He is still young, still raw and still has a room to improve in pass coverage. Nevertheless, it was a very strong performance from the rookie.”
Included in those six tackles were a stuff of Colts RB Trent Richardson for a 1-yard loss, and then a magnificent wrap-up and tackle during the Saints’ goal-line stand late in the 2nd quarter. Prior to the game against the Colts, Powell finished with two tackles against Tennessee and started his NFL career with a sack and a special teams tackle against St. Louis in the first preseason game.
There’s absolutely no question (at least in my mind, anyway) that Powell has unlimited potential, and honestly the only thing that I could see derailing him would be the injury bug yet again. If Ronald Powell can avoid the near career-ending type of injury that he endured and overcame while at Florida, then I truly believe that the sky’s the limit for him and his future NFL playing career. It also means that the Saints stand to be the biggest beneficiaries —- as their gamble on the rookie has already began to start paying off……….