The Buffalo Bills head to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday at 7:00 P.M. for a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Where an ordinary preseason game wouldn’t feature an especially compelling storyline, this match holds some special significance due to the nascent (and more aged) cross-pollination of rosters. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is a native son of Philadelphia, growing up in the area and spending thirteen seasons on the Eagles’ coaching staff. The Bills traded for superstar running back LeSean McCoy three years ago, one of the most iconic modern day Eagles. Juan Castillo, David Culley, and Leslie Frazier make up the former Eagles coaches in Buffalo, while Philadelphia’s defense is coordinated by Jim Schwartz, who spent a memorable season in Buffalo finding new heights of quarterback pressure with Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes in their primes.
That’s not to mention the most notable story of all: the trade, which occurred less than a week ago, of Bills cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles in exchange for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third round pick. The events lost some of their luster after Matthews suffered a chip fracture in his sternum during his first Bills practice, but Darby is already working with Philly’s first string and will play against his old team on Thursday.
Bills fans are well-versed with Darby’s ups and downs. Who else should they keep an eye on? These are the Eagles to know.
QB Carson Wentz
Philadelphia spent a ransom of picks to trade up to the second overall pick for Wentz, and the North Dakota State product had a mixed bag of a rookie season. While he completed 62.4 percent of passes and threw for nearly 3800 yards, it was at a measly clip of 6.2 yards per attempt, and he nearly threw as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (16). As a quarterback, Wentz is a tantalizing combination of size, athleticism, and arm talent, but his lack of experience reading complex defenses and refining his footwork often held him back last year.
Doug Pederson‘s offense is structured to make things easy for his quarterbacks. Using motion, misdirection, play fakes, and simpler passing concepts, he structures plays that force defenses to show their intentions and create basic decision trees for the passer. Here’s a classic example of a Pederson play, run during Philadelphia’s first preseason game of the year:
The Eagles fake a run to the left side while Matthews jets across the formation in the other direction. Wentz shows the ball, turns his back, then hits his receiver in stride with space ahead.
Wentz showed encouraging signs of his processing speed during his first game of the season. With two seconds remaining on the playclock, he successfully identifies a blitzing defender here, gets the snap off in time (barely), and delivers to the receiver vacated by the blitzer.
Wentz has had an issue, dating back to his college days, of standing like a tree in the pocket. He’ll take the snap and put down roots. The lack of footwork would make it impossible for him to accurately throw beyond his first read, or to lead defenders away from his target. Heading into his second season, it was crucial that he figure out this part of his game. Wentz only played one drive in the Packers game, but each pass he threw either put him on a bootleg to get him in space, or saw him successfully stepping around the pocket. On this play, Wentz steps up against edge pressure, uses his strength to escape a tackle, and identifies an open Matthews, delivering the ball for a first down.
Wentz’s most exciting play of the day came on his touchdown pass to rookie receiver Mack Hollins. It showed off his athleticism and his ability to create plays under pressure. Dom Capers throws a confusing look at Wentz pre-snap. Linebacker Clay Matthews is lined up as a defensive tackle, there’s a linebacker sugaring the B gap near the right guard, and safety Josh Jones is at a depth of five yards, as if he were a middle linebacker.
As the weird look indicated, this play turned into a blitz. Jones stayed in coverage, but the four down lineman, the sugar linebacker, and the slot cornerback all rushed Wentz. Matthews ran a stunt, coming behind the linebacker and getting free range at Wentz.
Wentz ducks and manages to sidestep Matthews, and keeps his eyes downfield. He notices Nelson Agholor pulling Jones to the sideline, opening up room in the middle for Hollins. Wentz delivers the ball, with Hollins making a nice grab without breaking stride, and the rookie takes care of the rest.
The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to free agent deals this offseason, but lingering injuries have limited Jeffery’s time on the field so far. Third year receiver Agholor will see plenty of time on the field, both outside and in the slot. While he managed to outlast Matthews this season, he’ll need to cure his catching woes if he wants to stick with the team.
Agholor is a very athletic receiver — he ran a 4.42 forty yard dash at the Combine, combined with a 125″ broad jump and 6.83 three cone drill at his pro day. His combination of speed and size gives him the versatility to work inside and outside (with Matthews gone and Smith and Jeffery on the field, Agholor will likely spend large amounts of time in the slot), and he can also work as a moving chess piece in the offense. On this play, the Eagles use him on a jet sweep:
Agholor deserves credit for effective route running. Playing at the top of the screen here, he doesn’t get targeted (thanks to a sack), but watch the nuance he throws into his route:
This route begins with an in-breaking motion, and as the defender gets inside position against him, Agholor begins to bring his route toward the sidelines. As the defender turns his body, anticipating an out route, Agholor watches him flip those hips and breaks inside for easy separation.
Of course, as Lee Evans could tell you, all the separation in the world can only help if you can be trusted to come down with the ball when it’s thrown your way. Agholor’s hands have a tendency to bounce the ball away. Here, Agholor fails to haul in a potential two-point conversion following Wentz’s touchdown throw:
This is a basic modern NFL goal line pass play. Hollins, stacked ahead of Agholor, will set a pick against the close cornerback, while Agholor runs a slant pattern. The deeper cornerback will be out of position to make a play on the ball, giving Agholor a free shot at the catch. The throw is a bit high, but it careens harmlessly off of Agholor’s hands before a defender makes any contact. If Wentz wants a reliable third down receiver, he’ll be looking somewhere else.
One of the rookie MVPs from the first preseason game was Barnett, the defensive end drafted from Tennessee with Philadelphia’s fourteenth overall pick. Barnett holds the Volunteers’ career sack record, breaking the mark set by Eagles legend Reggie White. No pressure, eh? He didn’t seem fazed by that, tallying two sacks against the Packers.
Barnett isn’t an elite athlete for an edge rusher, but he has two exceptionally polished traits – his ability to bend around the edge without dropping his speed, and an array of handfighting techniques. Building on those, he can be a difference-maker on the defensive line.
Matching up against Packers 2016 first round pick Jason Spriggs, Barnett didn’t win initially. At 6’3″ 259 pounds, he’s not built to win with a bull rush. Spriggs withstood the first blow from Barnett, stayed balanced, and neutralized him.
That’s when Barnett started to take the momentum, by shifting his own momentum. On a subsequent pass play, Barnett started to the outside, clubbed Spriggs’ arms to the side, then ducked back inside. Spriggs was left dumbfounded as Barnett wrapped up Hundley on the sack.
Barnett flashed his ridiculous bend on the second sack, which was more of a lucky trip of the quarterback (but we take those!). He dips to the outside edge and uses a rip move to get underneath the 6’7″ Spriggs. Watch Barnett flex to a nearly 45 degree angle, and even more impressively, stay within about two yards of the initial depth when he began the dip-and-rip. That strength and flexibility is important in a pass rusher, and it’s something Eddie Yarbrough and Jerry Hughes can do effectively, too.
At the moment, the Eagles have Chris Long, Vinny Curry, and Brandon Graham at defensive end. They don’t need Barnett to start for them, but he’ll find his way onto the field before long if he keeps playing like this.
The Eagles spent a second round pick on Washington cornerback Sidney Jones, who isn’t expected to see the field this season after suffering a pre-draft Achilles injury. But third round pick Rasul Douglas, drafted out of West Virginia, is. Until Darby was added, there was an outside chance Douglas could find a starting role over veteran Patrick Robinson, who hasn’t had a great camp. Now, Douglas is more likely going to be used on special teams and as a backup defensive back.
Douglas stood out as a prospect after he notched a nation-leading eight interceptions in his senior season. The 6’2″ 203 pound cornerback has length to spare, and he knows how to use his body like a power forward’s to win at the catch point. On this play against Kansas State, Douglas timed his jump to the incoming pass and wrestled it away from the receiver to snag the interception:
Douglas is a smart player who worked in a mixture of man and zone coverages for the Mountaineers. He can read a quarterback’s eyes, and he took great pleasure in baiting throws that the quarterback would regret. On this play, Douglas sees BYU quarterback Taysom Hill under pressure, stays aware of the hot route, and jumps the pass for an easy pick six when Hill tries to check down.
The weakness to his game is a lack of overall athleticism. With his height and long arms, Douglas looks like an appealing cornerback prospect, but most of his workout numbers would put him closer to safety range – a 4.59 forty yard dash, 33.5 inch vertical leap, and 6.97 second three cone drill are all worse than more than two thirds of NFL cornerback prospects. Because of his lack of speed, Douglas sometimes gives larger-than-ideal cushions on deeper routes. He can also struggle to stop on a dime and contest hitch routes and other quick patterns. On consecutive plays against Kansas State, he gave up chunk yardage because he wasn’t able to stick with his receiver:
The Buffalo Bills kick off their 2017 season against the Minnesota Vikings at The Cap this Thursday at 7:00 P.M. Most people pay no mind to the preseason, but as an avid football junkie I actually love watching preseason games. These are the games in which you get to watch high draft picks live up to their hype. This is where the undrafted free agents make names for themselves. This is when you finally get to see the veteran players compete against an opposing jersey for the first time in too many months. With that being said, which players should you keep an eye on? We have you covered.
RB Dalvin Cook
The Vikings signed former Raider Latavius Murray in the offseason, but there is no doubt that the future of the position is on the shoulders of their second round pick. Cook should see a few series, and he will be quite the test for the Buffalo defense. Cook can run any type of run concept because he possesses so many skills that great backs exhibit.
His vision often goes unnoticed because he had really good blocking in 2016, but there were so many plays during which he could have been stopped in the backfield, or a play was just shut down, and he was still able to make things happen. On this play, #7 Harold Landry has very good leverage inside and #28 (5th round draft pick for the Bills) Matt Milano set a deep edge to contain Cook.
Cook should probably just put two hands on the ball and get up field, but instead he is able to use his quickness to bounce outside and find a very nice rushing lane.
The combination of vision and quickness really shines through on just about every carry he has.
He has some of the sharpest cuts and is able to plant and drive in ways that help set up blocks or make it easier for his blockers to maintain their leverage. Next thing you know, he’s out the shoot and gaining chunk yards.
Cook’s quickness and balance should be on full display Thursday night. There’s a reason he led the nation with 168.2 yards from scrimmage per game in 2016: he is flat-out talented.
With Cook’s abilities, don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur dials up a couple of screens or pass plays to get Cook in space versus the Bills’ linebackers. This will be a stiff test of a unit that some believe lacks top tier ability in pass coverage.
Cook produced against some of the best competition during his college career, and I expect him to play similarly tomorrow night.
WR Adam Thielen
Thielen is another possible starter who may only see a few series, but who is a very fun player to watch. He had his breakout season last year, when he caught 69 balls for 967 yards and five touchdowns. The Minnesota State graduate has sub 4.5 speed, which allowed him to not only average 14 yards per reception, but also to put up just over 300 yards in YAC in 2016.
He was Pro Football Focus’s 3rd-highest rated WR for guys who took 50% of their teams’ offensive snaps. Thielen was only targeted deep 15 times last year, but he made the best of those opportunities. He caught nine balls for 310 yards and two touchdowns, displaying savvy route running and the ability to separate at all levels of the field.
He is a crafty WR who has good hands and body control. In my opinion, he should have another solid season.
WR Stacey Coley
Coley had a very productive career at the University of Miami, registering 2,218 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns. But the seventh round draft pick had a slow start to his NFL career after battling injuries this offseason.
He has 4.45 speed, so he can get behind defenders. In 2016, he was targeted 101 times , 23 of which were deep looks. Of those, seven were caught for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He is a deceptive route runner, the kind of guy that makes it difficult for defenders to anticipate.
He possesses good hand-eye coordination and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.
If he makes the roster, then it will most likely be because of his special teams ability, which is definitely part of his repertoire.
LB Ben Gedeon
On the defensive side, linebacker Ben Gedeon is a guy who, no matter what tape you throw on, you will see him making plays. I don’t expect his first taste of NFL action on Thursday to be any different. He is currently listed as the third middle linebacker behind Eric Kendricks and Kentrell Brothers, but from all reports he has stolen some snaps at weakside linebacker. I believe putting him at weakside linebacker in the Vikings’ defense could really allow Gedeon to flourish.
There are times on film where he flashes his mental processing so quickly, it’s as if he knew the play before the snap. If put at Will linebacker, then Head Coach Mike Zimmer will be giving Gedeon the ability to just play fast, but in less space than if he was playing Mike LB in their base 4-3 defense.
He doesn’t possess the greatest speed (4.72 forty yard dash), but that’s ok, because his ability to diagnose, leverage, and take good angles to the ball more than make up for it.
Don’t believe me? Watch how he keeps his head in the play by staying with his assignment (RB Dalvin Cook). That is just the perfect display of his key and diagnose skills and use of angles to compensate a lack of speed. Gedeon’s play speed is really good.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 9, 2017
The Vikings’ roster is very impressive, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Two final players to pay attention to are left defensive end Danielle Hunter and backup Brian Robison. There is a heated competition going on at right tackle between the Bills’ Jordan Mills and rookie Dion Dawkins, and these two stellar defensive ends will no doubt give whoever is playing against them trouble. It will be a great litmus test for Mills and Dawkins.
Hunter uses good hand placement, his length and a smooth push-pull move to get the sack on Prescott.
Later in game tries the bull rush again, Free anchors, Hunter responds with push-pull to work free, then bends to QB despite hold pic.twitter.com/B12yEEFPC8
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) July 5, 2017
Last year, the Buffalo Bills had the 8th-best pass rush in the NFL. With 39 sacks in 2016, what does the future hold at defensive end?
Andrew Brown (#9), Defensive End, Virginia
Some would consider Brown a defensive tackle and others would consider him a defensive end. With the age of Kyle Williams and the limited depth at defensive end, Brown would make a lot of sense for the Bills. He would bring some much needed versatility to the Bills defensive front. On this specific play, you’ll see him (#9) rushing off the edge. He displays a strong burst and shows proper bend at the heels of the offensive line. This allows him to get a tackle before the running back gains any yardage. Keeping an eye on a player like Brown would be a smart move by the Buffalo Bills.
Last year was a breakout season for the Virginia Cavalier. Brown finished the 2016 season with 38 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and six sacks. He enters his senior season with a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove. I’m predicting that he will have a better year than his last. Right now, he looks like he’d be a solid addition to McDermott’s defense in the middle rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Josh Sweat (#9), Defensive End, Florida State
Next on the list for the Buffalo Bills’ watch list is Josh Sweat. He once was the top-ranked high school recruit and had a multitude of offers. Ultimately, he chose to play at Florida State. Throughout two seasons, Sweat has been consistent in the stopping the run and is starting to improve his pass rushing skills. He finished the 2016 season with 41 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and seven sacks.
On the clip above, you’ll see Sweat work his hands off the edge and sack the quarterback. That’ll be obvious as you watch the play over and over. He also does a great job flipping his hips and bending to the quarterback. If he can consistently do this, then he can become a great pass rusher for the Bills. From a talent perspective, Josh Sweat screams first round, but he doesn’t play consistently enough to be in the conversation yet. With his ability, he’ll certainly be on the Bills’ radar for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Chad Thomas (#9), Defensive End, Miami (FL)
Lastly, we’ve got Chad Thomas from Miami (FL). He’ll be entering his senior season for the Hurricanes in 2017 and has the ability to be dominant. Last year was a breakout season for Thomas, who had 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He needs to get better at working his hands off of his initial burst and will need to develop some type of counter move. There are times when he relies too much on strength and quickness and not enough on his technique. However, he’s an intriguing prospect off the edge for the Buffalo Bills.
On this play, you’ll see Thomas attack the offensive tackle. With a blitzing linebacker, he’ll perform a twist (line stunt) and get through the A-gap with ease, sacking the quarterback. Imagine this on Sundays with Marcell Dareus. Thomas’s ability could earn him a spot in the later rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. Compared to what’s behind Shaq Lawson at defensive end, Thomas would be a marked improvement.
The Buffalo Bills have always been the butt-end of jokes over the years, but it seemed to reach another level when they went out and signed FB Mike Tolbert and FB Patrick Dimarco on March 8. Sure, it was a headscratcher, but most media outlets would rather make jokes then really analyze why they made those moves. With Dimarco, it was fairly obvious. The guy is a top 3 fullback in the league and he is a game-changer at that position.
But signing Tolbert needed to be looked at closer to understand. He’s a Pro Bowl fullback, leader and most of all familiar with new Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott. Post signing, the Bills also hired a familiar face in Panthers G.M., Brandon Beane. So I am sure there were conversations between McDermott and Beane prior to the signing of Tolbert or any of the of the former Panthers. But besides the surface stories what else did they see in him?
When I turned on the film, I analyzed how the Panthers utilized Tolbert in their offense. An analysis of not only his skills but what roles he carried out, in what situations and just an overall examination of how offensive coordinator Mike Shula utilized him. But I then had to look at his skills through the lens of the Bills roster and new offensive scheme and here is what I came up with.
Buffalo needs depth on offense at several positions and I think if on the roster, Tolbert could check several boxes. First as a running back, a number two or three guy. The Bills lost Mike Gillislee to the Patriots. He forced 16 missed tackles and accrued an overall 56.6 elusive rating. Tolbert who is on the downside of his career only carried the ball 35 times and forced 10 missed tackles and registered a a 55.9 elusive rating. Obviously they are different backs and a very small sample but there is no doubt that Tolbert can still force guys to miss.
The Panthers are in a 3×1 set and run power. LB Navarro Bowman (#53) reads it, scrapes and meets Tolbert in the hole. “Dancing Bear” makes Bowman miss with a spin move.
With his size and athleticism most would think that he would be a hammer in short yardage situations, but he really wasn’t utilized as such in 2016. Twenty of his 35 attempts were on situations that were 10 yards or more.
Of those 20 carries he carried it 16 times on 1st and 10. But what was even more revealing was that 24 of his total carries were in the second half of games, so its pretty obvious that he isn’t a guy that will probably carry it 100 times or be a player that will be the runner up behind Shady Mccoy.
Under 2 minutes left in the game, Tolbert is the up back on the zone run.
The Panthers are one of the few teams that utilizes spread formations and pairs them with power run concepts. They are able to do it because of ‘Superman’ Cam Newton‘s mobility and size. The Bills are another team that has the capabilities because of Tyrod Taylor. Buffalo utilized a lot of 2 back pistol sets last season where they were able to run their complex run game. Under Dennison, I expect that trend to continue. I
t may be tweaked where zone run concepts become the primary run concept, but he will keep some of the gap/man concepts that worked last season. At this point in his career he is a better gap runner than zone but because of his versatility and footwork he can be used as the upback in Dennison’s offense. Using formations like the one below, forces defenses to have to defend everyone on the field, on run and pass plays.
Tolbert is the upback and receives the handoff on the gap run. But notice what the threat of Cam as a runner does to the middle linebacker. He flows with Cam and it helps Tolbert get to the second level easier.
But where I think he offers the most upside is as H-back/TE type of role. It’s a role that is prevelant in Dennison’s offense is crucial not just in the run game but the pass game. Right now the number two TE is Nick O’Leary but the number 3 TE position is really up for grabs. Tolbert could help in that area specifically as a receiver. Not only will him being in the game help dictate personnel matchups, but he isn’t a bad option as a pass catcher and the Panthers used him in that kind of role last season.
— Grandstand Sports (@Grandstand_SN) July 27, 2017
He can be used as a U-TE, the moving tight end in Dennison’s offense. Here the Panthers moved him and threw the screen to him
He’s a great player to have on offense. Big, athletic, good feet and decent hands. pic.twitter.com/dBu34pTyWn
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) July 14, 2017
Shula motions him into a trips set, Cam uses his eyes to hold the hook to curl defenders and the Redskins totally forget about Tolbert.
But the biggest surprise that I noticed on film is how Tolbert was the sole running back on several 3×1 formations which if you think about it, is very interesting.
Seeing him on the backside of 3×1 formation was a role that I didn’t expect. Decent runs and receptions from this set. pic.twitter.com/bVwXrfL6lC
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) July 14, 2017
Having a player with this skillset as the lone back creates mismatches. Typically defenses will defend the backside of 3×1 formations. Some teams will just man it off, the corner will take the #1 WR and the safety or LB will cover the RB. The type of RB really dictates what kind of defender is matched up. If the defense mans up with a linebacker, the 31 one year old still has the feet and change of direction to create issues in the pass game.
On this play Tolbert is matched up against current Buffalo Bill LB Gerald Hodges Jr. The play was called back due to offensive holding, but no holding on the defensive back to the trips side?
The Panthers catch the 49ers on a blitz and Tolbert runs a crisp Texas route for a big gain.
If the defense puts a safety or corner on Tolbert the offense can execute their power run game.
But lets face it, he is a role player and that includes the passing game. He was only targeted 15 times last season. He hauled in 10 catches for for 72 yards but also managed to drop two. His sole touchdown may have come in a situation where the Bills could really use him and that is near the goalline. Against the Redskins Cam runs play action and Tolbert slips out of the backfield for the touchdown.
At this point in his career it is pretty clear that Tolbert isn’t a starter in any capacity. The Bills didn’t bring him in to do so. They brought him in because of his leadership and abilities as a role player. A veteran who could pitch in in several areas. As a backup fullback/H-back that can carry the ball as an upback in pistol 21 personnel sets, but also catch it out of the back field on play action passes. A player that could compete for snaps as a depth TE in situations where they want him to chip release or incorporate spread like concepts like this shovel option.
Lastly, if on the roster he could steal reps from the running backs late in games in the ‘closer’ role. Right now Jonathan Williams is the #2 RB and he has a tendency to lose the ball. If games are close and the Bills are up you can’t have your running backs fumbling the ball away in your four or two minute drill.
Overall, Tolbert won’t wow you with his athleticism now a days but due to his size and skill set he could very well carve out a considerable niche for himself in the Bills offense.
— Grandstand Sports (@Grandstand_SN) July 27, 2017
The draft season is over, and most of the 2017 NFL Draft prospects have signed their rookie contracts. That means that scouting departments across the nation are moving on to the next draft class. A big name in that 2018 NFL draft class is senior defensive end from Ohio State, Tyquan Lewis.
According to NFL Draft Scout, Lewis is 6’3″ and 265 pounds, so he is on the big side, as far as defensive ends in today’s NFL are concerned.
Lewis has appeared in 33 games in his three years in Columbus. In 2015, he was just seen as a running mate to future NFL superstar Joey Bosa. When you turn on the film, that is evident.
The first game of this series profiling Lewis is a game from 2015 versus the Maryland Terrapins. It was a multiple sack game for Lewis, in which he registered two sacks and essentially played the game in the Terrapins’ backfield, en route to 2.5 tackles for loss and a total of five tackles.
The first thing you notice when you turn on film is his size, especially in his lower body. He harnesses a lot of power in his lower half. His size allowed former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and now Buckeyes defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano, to move Lewis around.
That included moving him inside on third down passing situations. Schiano kicked Lewis inside, where he could use his short area quickness and power to create pressure. On the first play, Lewis is aligned as a three technique defensive tackle. Post-snap, he loops outside to attack the outside shoulder of the guard. With his speed, the guard must help the tackle protect his gap, and that split second gives the looper the A gap to immediately put pressure on the QB.
On the second exotic look, Lewis is again aligned inside. He crashes hard inside to set up the linebacker blitz. What I like about this play is how he leads with his hands, utilizes good hand placement, and brings power behind his strike.
In the third play, Lewis is lined up at defensive tackle, side-by-side with Joey Bosa. Based on the rushing attack by Lewis, it looks as if his goal was to make sure that Bosa got a one-on-one with the tackle because post-snap, he attacks hard inside. As the QB is forced up into the pocket, Lewis changes his angle of attack and helps bring the QB down.
Here are the plays in full:
Not only did Schiano bump him inside, but he also put Lewis in a two point stance and had him drop to the flats. Lewis looked a little stiff and mechanical, which is probably why this was often done into the boundary. Unfortunately, the offense ran the ball on both occasions, so that is another area to keep an eye on in future film study.
In this game, Lewis definitely reaped the benefits of being on the same defensive line as Joey Bosa. One of Lewis’s strengths is his ability to key the ball on pass rushes. Schiano schemed most major pass rushes for Bosa, so Lewis’s role was often as a rush contain player. This isn’t a bad role for him because if he was unable to beat the offensive lineman with his initial rush, then he turned into a contain player with current Buffalo Bill Adolphus Washington. He is very good in that role, and that can be attributed to his ability to key the QB and his use of hands. His eyes are always up, and his hands are right over his eyes. This allows him to make plays once teammates forced the QB off the spot. Lewis was then there to disengage and pick up the sack. His two sacks were not quality sacks, but his overall role in this game as a rush-contain player is one prevalent in the NFL.
On to a few negatives I noticed in this game: As much as I like Lewis’s ability to use hand placement when rushing the passer, I was not impressed with his use of hands against the run. There were several plays, typically on the backside of runs, where he failed to use his hands to stack the linemen. He attempted to just protect himself, rather than to use his length and power to shed and stay on his feet. With the prevalence of zone runs in the NFL, where backside offensive lineman typically cut on the backside, this is something to keep an eye on. The technique and timing by offensive linemen to cut at the next level is much better, and if Lewis doesn’t improve on that skill, then running backs could have big holes to cut back into.
Finally, I was not impressed with Lewis’s pass rush. He didn’t jump off the screen with his upfield burst. In fact, it seemed below average. His speed, quickness, or explosiveness were never threats to Maryland’s offensive tackles. This was even more concerning, considering how he saw a lot of one-on-ones because of Bosa. Take the following 3rd and 8 play. He takes a good angle to the QB, who is utilizing a 5-step drop out of the shotgun. Then, as he engages with the tackle, he brings that aforementioned power and seems to have the tackle skating. But the tackle recovers, and Lewis doesn’t transition to a secondary move. It is completely unknown whether he was actually playing the contain role, as Bosa was aligned next to him at defensive tackle, but this occurred several times on film. He only flashed a good bull rush move in the game, and not once did he show a secondary pass rush move. This will be something to keep an eye on as we continue to analyze his film.
Overall, although he had a very good game from a statistical perspective, the quality of those plays versus average competition was very underwhelming. At times, it appeared to be due to the scheme and his role within it, but it will certainly be something we continue to study.
Strengths-Versatility (DE and DT), Use of hands versus the pass (hand placement, power), bull rush, timing and lateral movement on stunts and twists.
Weaknesses- UOH vs, the run, speed, quickness, explosiveness off the edge, pass rush moves/plan (failed to display), counter pass rush moves.
Over the last few days, I’ve delved into his film. Here’s what I found:
In my opinion, Lewis has one of the biggest weaknesses a defensive lineman can have. That weakness is being slow off the football. Continuously watching this play, you’ll notice that Tyquan Lewis is the last player off the football. The only way he gets up field is by beating Erik Magnuson, who struggled with inside leverage all year, with an inside move. Either way, Lewis didn’t look prepared on this play, at all.
This play is a simple pass rush being executed by Lewis. Again, he’ll get inside on Magnuson, but he struggles to execute any type of technique. It’s a quick step outside to inside, and this allows him to straight rush the quarterback. There’s zero movement from his hands, and he doesn’t touch or engage the offensive lineman. It’s understandable that not every pass rush will be perfect. However, if you don’t go through the basic mechanics from engaging or working your hands, then what good can come from it? The answer is nothing.
On this particular play, Lewis is lined up in a 7-technique. He’s tilted off the edge, and his point-of-attack is the outside shoulder of the right tackle. If it’s a running play where the running back gets the ball, then Lewis has to get leverage on the right tackle and squeeze him down. This prevents a running lane from forming between the right guard and right tackle. If he plays it tight enough and the running back bumps to the outside, then he should be able to string it out and make a tackle. Finally, if it’s a passing play, then Lewis will have to get hip-to-hip with the right tackle and follow through his technique. That technique would be to post-club-rip. Engaging the offensive tackle and having active hands is always important when rushing the quarterback.
Displaying proper balance and bend, Lewis gets the best of the right tackle. This was by far the best play I had seen from him in two games. He followed through his technique from start to finish, and ultimately, it led to a sack.
Like I mentioned, this play ends in a sack. Lewis follows through with everything he needs to do and makes a huge play. You won’t see this from him on every play, though, and quite frankly, you won’t see it very often. His best games from the 2016 season were against Indiana, Maryland, and Michigan State. Overall, those three games included 12 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
The biggest flaw I see with Tyquan Lewis is that he lacks consistency. From being too slow off the ball to not following through with his technique, he has a lot to work on. He doesn’t display elite strength or athletic ability, either. Where would he rank on my defensive ends list? Far from the top, but not at the bottom.
Possible Bills Fit
If the Buffalo Bills were to pass on a defensive end in the first round, I believe that Tyquan Lewis could be a fit for them, whether it be in the later part of round two or the middle of round three.
Mainly, he’d be a fit for the Bills because of how limited they are off the edge. From a size perspective, he fits in with what the Bills have listed on their roster. Lewis is listed at 6’3″ and 260 pounds. With those measurements, Derek Barnett comes to mind from the 2017 NFL Draft. Statistically, Barnett is the better prospect among the two.
From a scheme perspective, Lewis is an ideal fit for a weak side defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Periodically, the Buckeyes do send a stand up defensive end off the edge, but Lewis doesn’t play from the position. As mentioned, mock drafts at this time are irrelevant. However, I hope this analysis gave you a clearer understanding of a potential target for the Buffalo Bills and their future NFL Draft plans.
The Buffalo Bills have added several wide receivers to their offense via free agency, the draft, and even the undrafted free agent market. New offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is overhauling a unit that was once known just for stretching the field. He’s looking to turn the Bills’ passing game into a more efficient, ball control passing game. In order to do that, he needed to add receivers with different traits, traits that would help carry out his scheme, but that would also help get the most out of his quarterback. Undrafted free agent WR Daikiel Shorts is the kind of player that both the offense and Tyrod Taylor need.
Shorts is a QB’s best friend. At West Virginia, he was their version of ‘Mr. Reliable’. Anytime the offense needed a big play, he was their go-to guy. He possesses great hands and mental toughness. On 4th down, the Mountaineers go for it. Shorts manages to find a soft spot in the back of the end zone, corral the high throw, and get a foot down for the touchdown.
Being reliable is one thing, but that isn’t tested in any circumstance more than over the middle, an area in which Shorts excels. As a slot wide receiver in Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense, Shorts lived in that quadrant. His quarterback, Skylar Howard, trusted Shorts over the middle on the most critical downs. It’s 3rd-and-9, and the defense drops into cover 3 buzz. Howard and Shorts are on the same page. Howard anticipates the throw.
He threads it between three defenders for the first down. If Shorts doesn’t catch that, then it’s most likely intercepted by the safety.
Bills fans are probably screaming, “Tyrod Taylor doesn’t make throws like that!”, and they aren’t completely wrong. However, in 2016 there were several reasons he didn’t make those throws. Heck, there were several reasons why they were rarely called. Taylor was cautious with the ball, both by habit and by design. He had the best run game and was typically ahead of the chains, so he didn’t have to take risks like throwing into tight windows. However, the main reason he wasn’t asked to throw into tight windows over the middle was because he didn’t have a guy like Shorts. He didn’t have a reliable target. WVU’s QB Howard in an 11 game sample from ’16, targeted shorts 30/74 plays, 29/74 were from 0-19 yards over the middle (courtesy of Krossover). How did he fare? Shorts put up 379 yards out of 711 total yards over that 11 game sample.
The Bills’ number one target was Charles Clay, who had 81 targets and 57 receptions. Clay had a 10.94 drop rate, having dropped 7 out of 64 catchable targets. That was the second-highest drop rate for tight ends in the league. Ex-Bills wide receiver Robert Woods caught 19 passes over the middle, but also dropped two of his three drops on the season in the very same quadrant. Taylor lacked the rapport, weapons, and most of all, trust in his wideouts. Shorts could help relieve those worries.
Daikiel can run the shallow drags or the 12 yard digs, curls in the middle of the field that the offense needs to beat zone defenses. This is something they see a lot of because of Taylor’s mobility. The short-to-intermediate area is where he makes his money.
The high/low concept paired with the screen action opens the middle up, which is where Shorts sits, catches the ball, and spins away from the defender.
Due to the type of offense that Holgorsen ran at WVU, the offense saw a ton of zone defense. The Air Raid offense depends on its receivers to read coverages and run the appropriate routes, which could be completely different from coverage to coverage. That is especially the case for the slot receiver. As a result, Shorts is well versed on reading coverages and doing what he is supposed to do.
He sees the inverted cover 3, sits in the window, catches it, and gets up field.
He makes reading coverages look easy, and he can do it on the fly. On 3rd-and-4, Shorts is running a crossing pattern. He notices the middle backer staying shallow to protect vs. a checkdown, but notices the opposite field linebacker clearing out with the seam route.
He slightly deepens his route to gain depth from the middle backer, which gives his QB a window to throw to and allows him to gain some yardage after the catch.
Having receivers like Zay Jones and Shorts on the roster should improve the offense in the short-to-intermediate area, but most importantly it will give Taylor peace of mind. Shorts, much like the Edelmans, Welkers, Landrys and Amendolas of the league, are able to sense when a defender is losing leverage in pass coverage. He knows how to sell a crossing route, but then sit, show his numbers, and convert. This ability to uncover in confined spaces is a difficult trait to find in a slot receiver.
Slot wide receiver who is reliable and can find windows in zone coverage… Sounds familiar Daikiel Shorts pic.twitter.com/FOwEu07Ebw
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) May 9, 2017
He does a good job of plucking the ball out of the air and doing what he can.
Many believe that WR Daikiel Shorts may be a long shot to make the roster, but he is a player that I think, if given the reps, can make the squad. He is the perfect blend of intelligence and reliability that the offense and Tyrod Taylor need. He reads defenses as adeptly as anyone in the draft class, and he is a dependable target in the middle of the field. There’s a reason the Bills went out and got a big bodied wide receiver like Andre Holmes and a productive, intelligent slot receiver in Zay Jones in the second round. They needed to reshape the receiving corps. They needed to transform it from a set of guys that depended on just physical talent to separate to one that used intelligence and route running. Shorts is a player that could very well round out the back end of the unit.
Undrafted free agent wide receiver Brandon Reilly is in a familiar situation coming into Buffalo Bills training camp. That is, once again, Reilly has to prove himself. He primarily played hockey in high school and started football late, but he was still able to earn an all-state honorable mention his senior year. Reilly had offers from several small schools to play football, but he chose to walk on at Nebraska.
He chose to redshirt his first season at Nebraska (2012) and put in the work to hone his skills, which earned him a scholarship prior to his sophomore season.
His mental toughness and willingness to compete to earn every rep was his path to the NFL. It’s not the most common path, but he is the type of guy that obviously caught the eyes of some of the Bills’ scouts, so lets take a look at some of the things that the Nebraska native will be bringing to Buffalo. In order to do that, we have to give some context to how he was utilized at Nebraska. Here is his ‘heat map’, thanks to Krossover:
What stood out to me were his targets (volume) in the short area and deep quadrants. In the short game, Reilly was targeted 21 times. This is an area in which he could help Buffalo. His decent size, 6’1 1/2″ and 212 lbs, is average, but he does play bigger than his frame.
Reilly runs a drag route across the middle on third down. The defender lines him up for the big hit. Reilly absorbs the blow and converts the first down.
In 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, Reilly averaged 1.9 yards per route run, which isn’t necessarily impressive. However, it was better than Jehu Chesson (Michigan), Noah Brown (Ohio State), and even Speedy Noil (Texas A&M). He isn’t creative with the ball in his hands, but he knows how to utilize his body to shield defenders. Just because he is matched up against more athletic players doesn’t mean he can’t win.
On this play, he runs a nice route on third down. The corner breaks hard on the comeback route, but Reilly is able to frame the pass while shielding the defender — another 3rd down conversion by the senior. Having a receiver that can be counted upon to body a defender in critical situations could do wonders for Tyrod Taylor.
I watched every target by Reilly from his senior season, and he was consistently converting first downs, and typically doing so in traffic. He is an intelligent player who always knows where the chains are and how he needs to adjust his route in order to convert. On this play, the defense plays cover 4 as Reilly runs a deep in-breaking route. The safety and corner are reading the release of the #2 receiver. If the #2 receiver doesn’t get vertical, then the safety is taught to help over the top of #1. As a result, Reilly is bracketed, but he still manages to find a soft spot in between the two defensive backs. He does a great job of adjusting to the ball, as it is thrown a little off target and on a rope.
On film, Reilly won’t wow you with his straight line speed or burst to make splash plays down the field, especially if you are trying to translate those traits to the NFL. However, if put in the proper situations, then he can make plays deep. On this play versus Wyoming, he does a great job of gaining inside leverage versus the defensive back and laying out to make the catch.
The ability to adjust to inaccurate throws while the ball is in the air is one of his strengths, and one that could also help the oft inaccurate Tyrod Taylor. Reilly makes it look natural. On this play, Reilly is in the slot on 3rd and 9. He easily beats the slot defender deep, but the ball is severely under-thrown. Reilly displays his ability to track the ball and adjust to throw, all while using his frame to reel in the pass with a defender draped on him.
The traits displayed by Reilly on the previous play are really what the Bills saw on film. He continuously shows the ability to track, adjust, and bring in passes. He was often utilized in the slot, responsible for running seam and vertical routes, very similar to former Bill Chris Hogan.
He is able to keep his eye on the prize and bring in passes with soft hands, even in situations in which a QB may be leading him into a big hit.
Tyrod Taylor didn’t have quite the success on deep passes in 2016 that he did in 2015, but most of that had to do with WR Sammy Watkins being out of the lineup for half the season. Taylor had to rely on WR Marquise Goodwin, who is not a multi-dimensional receiver. Goodwin only ran 2-3 routes in a route tree, and his number one trait was his speed. So, if he didn’t separate with his speed, then he was nonexistent down the field.
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Reilly brings a different sort of down-the-field weapon arsenal. As mentioned earlier, he won’t lift the top off a coverage; he is going to win down the field with his ability to track and adjust his body to the throw. This is an element the offense has been lacking with Taylor at the helm. Besides Watkins, Taylor has not trusted his receivers enough to just throw back shoulder passes or jump balls. The only WR Taylor trusted to do so last season was the one pass to Justin Hunter versus the Jaguars.
Reilly doesn’t have the height or overall athleticism of Hunter, but he does show an aptitude for making plays while covered. Taylor can trust in Reilly to compete for the ball all the way through the process, even when he is not open. This is a trait that often falls by the wayside when discussing receivers.
Brandon Reilly may be a long shot to make the roster, but he is going to put up a fight. That’s just who he is. In fact, decided to join the Bills due to the competition at the position:
“Definitely the roster. They don’t have too many veteran guys. They lost a couple guys that played last year. They drafted one receiver in the second, but they said it’s open competition and that’s exactly what I wanted to hear. That’s what I did at Nebraska is earn a spot, and I hope to do that again.”
Not only will it be an open competition, but the skills that he is bringing to the Bills line up perfectly with what they want to do schematically, and they can help third year starter Tyrod Taylor. He will have to flash those skills as often as possible in his reps once training camp begins.
The Buffalo Bills’ roster underwent a dramatic makeover this offseason, especially in the secondary. The Bills were not only looking to fill starting positions, but also looking to add depth. On June 1st, the organization signed 6’2″ cornerback Greg Mabin. The former Iowa Hawkeye has already had an uphill battle since going undrafted this year. He initially signed as a UDFA with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was subsequently released, before finally signing with Buffalo.
His path has been a rocky one, but if you look at his career at Iowa, he was solid. He played in 35 games in three years, and that was with his 2016 season cut short due to an ankle injury. Throughout those 35 games, he did show flashes.
Mabin comes from a well-coached defense led by Phil Parker. Under Parker, the Hawkeyes’ defense was ranked 13th in total defense and 19th in pass efficiency in the NCAA. You can tell that Parker, who is also the secondary coach, preaches tackling. All 11 defenders get downhill and are not afraid to lay the lumber. That includes Mabin, and I imagine this trait is what caught McDermott’s and the staff’s eyes.
He doesn’t shy away from contact, whether it is a pulling tackle or a fullback coming to blow him up. However, he is able to disengage and make the tackle. On this play he reads run, flies to the ball, leads with his hands, absorbs the blow and recovers, and is still able to get his body into a position to uncoil his hips into the back.
The coverages executed by the Iowa defense weren’t overly complicated like those at Clemson, but the players were obviously well-versed in the concepts. Mabin showed the ability to play just about any coverage, but his strength was definitely in zone coverage. Specifically, he excelled in off zone coverage. It allowed him to get his eyes on the QB and read the depth of the drop, all while keeping the receiver in his peripheral. On the following play, Mabin does just that. He understands the down and distance, and he sees the quick set by the QB in conjunction with the short hitch by the receiver. Parker often puts his defensive backs in a shuffle, rather than a backpedal. Here, it allows him to break quickly on the ball and use his long arms to get a piece of the pass.
His 2016 season was average; he didn’t really get his hands on the ball too often. However, if you go back to his junior season, where he reeled in two interceptions, you can see why the Bills organization wants to see if their staff can develop him.
The first one occurred on a double reverse pass. As the #1 WR motions to receive the jet sweep handoff, Mabin tightens his alignment to the tight end. The ball is snapped, and he doesn’t chase the sweep action. Instead, he immediately gains depth to stay in his deep third.
The Illini receiver, Geronimo Allison, receives the second pitch and throws it deep to the tight end. This allows Mabin to make the easy interception. Mabin displayed very good zone eyes and execution on this play.
His second interception of 2015 was even prettier. The offense runs play action with a post-dig route combination, otherwise known as the ‘NCAA’ concept. In essence, it is a high-low concept attacking the single high safety. If he jumps the dig, which he did on this play, then the QB throws the post. Due to the blitz and the vulnerability of the coverage, the safety jumps the dig (possibly by design).
Mabin continues to gain depth because he recognizes the route combination. He gets on his horse and high points the ball for the interception.
I don’t think it is a secret that Mabin is a long shot to make the roster, but he does possess some traits that the coaches are looking for in their cornerbacks. Of those traits, tackling is first and foremost. Mabin possesses not only the willingness to come up and make a tackle, but also a surprising aptitude for it. He uses really good form and is able to get his body into position to explode through the offensive player. This should be of no surprise, since he played under Kirk Ferentz, whose teams are always technically sound.
Cover 4, Cover 3, soft press and tight man coverages
Mabin is still considered a project player, but he’s a player with a skill set that, if sharpened, could help him make a roster one day.