NFL scouts throw out all kinds of odd questions when they evaluate a draft prospect, and many of those are intended just to observe how he handles an uncomfortable situation. One player at this month’s Combine said he was asked whether he was more of a cat or a dog.
The one many of them used to poke at Notre Dame defensive end Isaac Rochell was much more conventional. They wanted to know why his Fighting Irish were so bad last season.
“The major question that almost everybody asks me is why did we go 4-8?” Rochell said. “Teams ask me about individual things, like how do I see myself as a player, and where do I see myself playing at the next level… Aside from all that, almost every team will ask you the very generic, ‘Tell me about your family’ or ‘Have you ever been in trouble or suspended?’ But the main question is: Why did you finish 4-8?”
Rochell talked about a variety of reasons why Notre Dame struggled and kept his cool. He’s trying to move on from that frustration and zero in on showing teams what he’ll give them as a pro.
In a draft class loaded with defensive talent, he’s a player who appeals to teams looking for defensive linemen in the later rounds of next month’s NFL Draft. Defensive end is certainly on the Dolphins’ shopping list, though they have more pressing needs. Rochell is expected to go on Day 3, and they have three fifth-round picks and a seventh rounder.
The reason Rochell might interest Miami is that it’s not absolutely necessary to land an immediate contributor in the draft—certainly not compared to the urgency at linebacker and safety, and offensive guard might be a higher priority as well.
Regarding the defensive ends, the Dolphins re-signed Andre Branch to a three-year deal this month, have 35-year-old Cameron Wake under contract for two more seasons and traded for the Rams’ William Hayes.
Rochell is a 6-foot-4, 280-pound prospect who has natural gifts but will require patience and development to become effective at the next level. He’s good against the run, but that’s not enough to make it in the NFL.
“It’s becoming such a pass-oriented game, so something I have definitely continued to work on is just developing my pass rush,” he said. “You have to be an elite pass rusher to play this game, and if you want to stay in the game you have to continue to do that.
“So I’m just watching elite pass rushers and unique individuals like J.J. Watt, guys who have been successful in pass rush because he does the little things right and plays with tremendous effort.”
He’s got a lot of work to do to reach that level. Rochell broke through as a starter for Notre Dame in 2014 and totaled 156 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his final three seasons. Those are pedestrian numbers for someone who was on the field as much as he was.
His Combine performance wasn’t spectacular, either. Rochell ran a 4.89 40-yard dash and 25 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. He was not among the top 10 defensive linemen in any category.
Draft website Walter Football has him as the No. 19 defensive end in this year’s draft, and ESPN ranked him 15th at his position and 164th among all players. Todd McShay argued last season that the sack totals don’t fully illustrate how disruptive he is and he wrote that he “shows the ability to occupy multiple blockers in the run game and still make plays.”
Rochell has to get faster and stronger as a pass rusher to convince teams he has a bright future, and he believes that’s possible. It took him some time to acclimate at Notre Dame and that could be the case again in the NFL. Nonetheless, he remains confidence.
“Ultimately I think I have the skillset and the ability,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting it all together and being able to display it.”