2020 NFL Draft | Justin Madubuike: Not many people realize how good he is

02/07/2020
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Redshirt junior defensive tackle Justin Madubuike from Texas A&M is a player that many fans may not know about. Draftniks may remember Aggies defensive linemen Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke, both of whom were drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, as they were highly touted coming out but it was actually Madubuike who won the defensive MVP award.

“He kind of came out of nowhere last year (2018)— he had played a little bit, and no one realized how good he was,” Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The Mckinney, Texas, native followed up his strong sophomore season with nearly the same statistical output and chose to leave school early. Given his consistency and skills, who could blame him?

Madubuike finished his Aggies career with 105 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass deflections.

A 34-game starter with his run stopping skillset could be an asset in the Buffalo Bills’ defensive line rotation — a rotation that is going through some changes. Jordan Phillips, last year’s starter at the 3-technique, is set to hit free agency and hoping to strike a lucrative deal thanks to a career season. Ed Oliver will now become the full-time starter, but it leaves very little depth behind him. Currently, the Bills only have three other players at defensive tackle under contract. But Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips and Vincent Taylor are widely seen as nose tackles, not attacking under 3-techs like Oliver. Add in snaps Shaq Lawson saw inside and the retirement of Lorenzo Alexander, a chess piece the team uses at defensive tackle in a two-point stance is a must.

Courtesy of SpotracHead coach Sean McDermott believes everything starts in the trenches, so if the Bills want to improve their 18th ranked defense per Football Outsiders (DVOA metric) adding a defensive tackle to the rotation via the draft to spell Oliver, is one avenue.

As a run defender

Madubuike is a high floor type of player who coaches love because of his versatility of skills but also because of his consistency. Every snap looks the same, especially when we are talking about playing with leverage. It doesn’t matter how big a player is, if he is quick and plays with good leverage and technique, he has a chance for a long career in the NFL. Madubuike has a chance to be that guy. His stance is nearly perfect and it is the starting point to how he wins leverage.

He brings leverage off the snap and pop in his hands, and sometimes it’s too much for an offensive lineman to handle. Especially if they are trying to execute a finesse run concept like this zone run.

But hand placement is more important to winning leverage against an equal opponent. Against Clemson, he wins early by getting his hands inside the guard’s frame. This gives him control and then he begins to walk the guard back to play ball on his side of the line of scrimmage. Mabubuike is grounded, and always gaining real estate but more importantly his power is unrelenting. You can see the opponent’s arms flailing outside of his frame and he is unable to re-fit his hands in order to gain some leverage. He peeks, puts his eyes and helmet into the A-gap to deter the running back from hitting that hole, and as soon as the back commits to the B-gap, he tosses the lineman aside and makes the tackle.

He is one of the quicker run processors in this draft class. He recognizes run blocking concepts, where the running back is intending on going and how to disrupt it and he does just that against some of the best the SEC has to offer. It consistently puts him in close proximity to the ball to make the tackle, which is why he has only missed three tackles in three years.

When the ball is snapped, he is generally one of the first defenders off the ball and the first person he makes contact with feels it. On this play you will see him slant inside and on contact you can see the center’s upper body absorb the blow. Then he once again gets his helmet into the hole which forces the RB wide. Once the back bounces, Madubuike sheds the block and looks to make the tackle. What’s funny is that you can see the linebacker fast flowing downhill in his gap to make the tackle.

But it’s Madubuike who ends up bringing down the running back.

The former five-star recruit makes opposing running backs become indecisive with his ability to not stick to blocks and essentially play multiple gaps. This forces the back to not choose a hole, so Madubuike or his teammates can rally to the ball and make a tackle.

Very rarely does an offensive linemen win in 1-on-1 situations versus Madubuike. They not only have to worry about playing with better leverage, they also have to be quick enough to engage him. On this play versus Ole Miss, the Aggies dial up a run stunt similar to what the Bills use with Jerry Hughes and Oliver. Madubuike is aligned on the outside shoulder of the right guard and on the snap he shoots the B-gap with the edge defender looping inside over the top. His swim move is too quick for the guard and he brings the back down for a loss on the play.

Stopping the run is incredibly important to the Bills defense because it puts opposing offenses in more passing situations which is where the Leslie Frazier unit excels. The Bills were ranked fourth in passing yards a game, surrendering 195.2 yards a game. Adding a strong run defender like Madubuike to the interior rotation should help boost the run defense and put offenses in longer third and long situations. Oliver was the highest rated run defender per ProFootball Focus’ run stop percentage at a 6.9% mark. That put him 52nd among defensive tackles with 25% of the snaps.

More starting snaps for Oliver will go a long way, as will the return of Phillips. But improving the depth at defensive tackle, specifically a defender who can help stop the run on early downs, could pay huge dividends on passing downs.

As a pass rusher

When it’s time to hunt opposing quarterbacks, Madubuike’s game shifts to winning with his quickness. The former defensive end is used all over the defensive line, but none more than over the center in obvious pass rushing scenarios — similar to the way the Bills use Oliver in third down and medium or long packages.

This alignment was typically used when the defensive structure got Madabuike 1-on-1 with the center because it was 5-0, or man on man blocking. It gave him a two-way go, which with his combination of quickness and power, is tough to handle.

His quickness and overall balance flash a ton on film. On this play, he is explosive off the snap, uses a side chop to beat down the hands of the center.

Then he transitions to a rip.

But it’s his sneaky upper body strength that clears him from the hands of the center and allows him to flush the QB out of the pocket.

His teammate rallies to the quarterback and is able to bring him down for the sack.

His club-rip is his go-to move and while his strike zone is still a work in progress, when he does land it he is going to win quickly. He is able to displace blockers and essentially pry open pass rush lanes.

As a starter, his production over the last couple years is difficult to ignore. He’s put up 71 total pressures to go with his 11 sacks.

Career stats courtesy of SportsInfo Solutions

Pass rush production is definitely an area the Bills will need to improve upon as well, because even with the production of Phillips last year, the Bills were ranked 12th in pressure rate per Football Outsiders. Quite the fall from fourth the prior season when they had Kyle Williams manning a starting spot.

2019 stats courtesy of SportsInfo Solutions

Overall, Madubuike is a prospect that’s flying under the radar in a solid interior defensive line class. He’s known as a leverage-winning run defender but does offer some pass-rushing upside as well because of his quickness. His angles and range to the ball on run plays will be challenged from time to time, especially on plays away from him. His pass-rushing effectiveness should improve once he finds some consistency in his striking areas because he does have some whiffs on his initial strikes which can stunt his pass rush plan.

Madubuike is a player Bills scouts should be familiar with seeing him play over the last couple years. Their scouts obviously fell in love with his former teammate and current Bills linebacker Tyrel Dodson and are enamored with receiver Quartney Davis. Dan Morgan, Bills director of player personnel, recently took a trip to Houston, Texas, to take in the Texas Bowl between Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. But, unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to see Madubuike play because he decided to sit out. Will that type of decision be a strike against him for not being a “team player?” Only the organization knows that answer.

According to all reports, Madubuike is a very likable player. He is always smiling according to his teammates and has one of the better sense of humors on the team but he also has the mindset that may appeal to the Bills.

“Every game for me is the same mentality,” Madubuike said at SEC Media Days. “And how you do that is by keying into the little details that Coach Elko and Coach Robinson have been teaching us. Just trusting and believing in your teammates that when we run this stunt, we’re going to run it the right way… when we do this front, we’re going to do it the right way.”

That’s the 1/11th mindset Sean McDermott and his staff preach. Madubuike is a young man who is no doubt still growing and evolving. But he has the perfect amount of run-stopping ability and pass rushing versatility to boost the depth on the Bills. He can likely be had late on Day 2 if the team is unable to address the depth in free agency.

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