Stefan Charles hasn’t played many snaps this year. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year, but Charles has shown that he fits the scheme and should be re-signed.
Stefan Charles was born Oshawa, Ontario, Canada about 2 hours north of Buffalo. He played 3 seasons at the University of Regina. In his fourth and final season in college, he injured his hand and missed most of the season. Having grown up in Canada, Charles had to take a different route to the NFL.
After his senior season Charles was highly regarded by Canadian Football scouts. His size, strength and ability to get into the back-field made him one of the top players coming out of college. The Canadian scouts rated him as the 2nd best player in the whole draft. He was drafted 10th overall to the Edmonton Eskimos, check out some of his highlight reels.
Stefan was highly rated as a Canadian prospect, but by NFL standards he was a developmental prospect. Charles had his sights on playing in the NFL. According to Charles “everybody always tells you, you have to have a plan A but you should always have a plan B. I don’t believe in that, because if you have a plan B that means that you can’t put 100% into your plan A”. Charles would soon get a chance to capitalize on his plan A, to play in the NFL. Although he was drafted into the CFL, Charles attended a NFL regional combine before the 2013 NFL draft but was not drafted into the big leagues. But soon after he was signed by the Tennessee Titans. But during that 2013 season, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and the Bills plucked Charles off of the Titans practice squad and signed him to the 53 man roster.
Charles has played in multiple schemes and has gradually developed into a good role player. The system that Rex Ryan runs, fits Charles body type really well. Stefan is listed at 6’5″ and 327 pounds. He is a typical “2 gap” player, a space eater. You can see that he has worked at filling out his frame. His strength and first step has improved since entering the league in 2013. Is he a starter in the NFL? No, I don’t think that he ever will be, but he is a textbook role player that you need to fill out your team.
Here are his career stats thus far:
Courtesy of ESPN.com
With one game left in the 2015 season, Charles has only played in 221 snaps on defense. The “2 gap” player is rated as the 92nd best interior defender according to Pro Football Focus. But his type of game is one that doesn’t really show how much of a difference a guy like him can make.
In the Cowboys game, Charles in my opinion was one of the top three players on the Bills. But if you look at the box score he only registered 1 tackle, but “2 gap” players like Charles don’t show up in box scores often. His role is to occupy lineman so linebackers can make the play. Take on the double teams, to free up play-makers. As you will see in the film from the Cowboys game, he did just that.
On this play the Bills are in a true 3-4 defense. Charles is lined up at nose tackle right over the center. The Cowboys’ center Travis Frederick is a top 5 center in the league. His is a smart and quick lineman that can do it all. PFF has him rated as the second best center this year. He has very good footwork, but as you see here, Charles gets the best of him. The Cowboys are in their base offense with 21 personnel. On the snap Charles beats Frederick with his first step to the weak-side A gap. Stefan’s first step, size and strength lead to the holding penalty and a big hit on QB Kellen Moore.
Rambo has Witten in man coverage, but Witten blocks so Rambo drops into a zone. IK has the RB in man coverage but the RB stays into block so he drops into zone.
The Bills are in a 4-6 defense on this play. They rush four defenders. Charles is again lined up right over the center. The Cowboys knew that the Bills would be in this defensive alignment based on prior plays, so they decide to throw against it. Charles isn’t known as a pass rusher, that is not his forte. But he uses his strength to push the pocket into the face of Moore, forcing him to throw it as soon as he hits the top of his drop. A play that may not look like much, but pressure up the middle is the #1 cause for concern for any QB.
On this play the Bills are in a 3-4 Okie front. This alignment wins the play before the ball is even snapped. Charles is in the 0 technique. In this alignment, the defensive lineman (Bryant, Charles and Mario) are true “2 gap” players. As a “2 gap” player Charles is responsible for the A gaps depending on the direction of the play. Based on the direction of the play run by the Cowboys, Charles should have the play-side A gap to his right. That does not happen, but that is by design. The Cowboys are a zone run team. Simply stated the offensive lineman work to block defenders to their play-side gap. Center Frederick fires to his play-side gap and climbs to the second level. As you see, the “2 gap” players crash the back-side gaps instead. This is a common tactic used by coordinators to defeat the zone running scheme. The defensive line and linebackers basically exchange gaps to confuse the offensive lineman. So, right guard Zack Martin is responsible for Charles. But he his unable to completely reach block Charles and control him. The play by Charles in conjunction with the defensive design free up ILB Brown to run free. Linebackers Brown and Reddick scrape and squeeze the run lanes and Brown makes the tackle.
The Cowboys are driving and are in the red-zone. Charles dominated this drive. He is aligned as a nose tackle. The Bills are again in a 3-4 okie front. But because of where the Cowboys are on the field, they bring safety Graham down into the box, to the right of the screen. Watch Charles fire off, control the center Frederick with his hands. Charles controls the play-side A gap as designed, but he also keeps his back-side shoulder free. The RB can’t bounce to the defenses’ left due to Charles and good gap discipline by the 5 tech DE-Bryant and Mario outside, but he also can’t bounce outside to the defenses right because of the force player Graham closing in on him. Mcfadden is forced to take what he can get and that is right up the middle for a gain of 1 yard. The Bills win the play because of design and because of execution.
Here is the same drive and this play shows the versatility in the defense but also in Stefan Charles. The Bills appear to be in a hybrid defense. The SAM LB-Lawson is in a 7 technique outside the TE. He sets a good edge, which doesn’t allow the RB to bounce it outside. But the plays are made by the defensive tackles Bryant and Charles. Both are one gap players and are going to be double teamed. Bryant isn’t as versatile as Kyle Williams. He doesn’t have the lower body strength or frame to take on double teams and win consistently. But he holds the point of attack really well. Charles is responsible for the back-side A gap. He is doubled and fights to maintain position. Charles eventually loses his footing but the damage is done, he has held his ground versus the cut-back lane. There is too much congestion for the running back and he is forced to take what he can get. Great gap discipline by the defenders.
The drive stalls and the Cowboys are forced to kick a field goal.
Stefan Charles isn’t going to make many tackles, he won’t flash often on film. But when you study the film you realize that when given the opportunity, Charles executes his assignment. By executing his assignment, he gives other players on the defense opportunities to make plays. That is what Rex Ryan’s scheme often asks of its players, especially when they are “2 gap” players. But most of all, the selfless attitude and play displayed by role players such as Charles are really what you need when you are building a TEAM.