Buffalo Bills 2018 Defensive End Draft Targets

08/01/2017
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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?

First and foremost, Shaq Lawson was the 2016 first round pick for the Bills. He played in only 10 games last year and recorded a mere two sacks. However, health was a major concern for him, and there’s belief that he’ll be full-go this season. There’s no reason to believe that he won’t be a starting defensive end for the Bills this year. A primary reason for this is that there isn’t much depth behind him. Two of the names listed behind him are Max Valles and Eddie Yarbrough. Both are young defensive ends who haven’t been on anything but the practice squad. Certainly, they could theoretically¬†compete for a starting spot, but in the words of the Magic 8-Ball, “Outlook not so good.”
The expected starter on the opposite side is Jerry Hughes. After being traded to Buffalo, he’s spent much of his time as a hybrid defensive end. Whether it’s been with his hand in the dirt or standing up, he’s compiled 31 sacks in Buffalo. However, it looks like he’ll be moving to a more permanent role of his hand being in the dirt under coach McDermott. Hopefully, this leads to double digit sack numbers like it did earlier in his career.
As for the depth chart behind Hughes, there’s another small sample size. Ryan Davis joins the team after spending last season in Dallas, but he’s only accumulated 11 career sacks. Before his time in Dallas, Davis signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 after going undrafted. Lastly, there’s Jake Metz, who spent last year playing in the China Arena Football League (CAFL). Metz is looking to rejuvenate his NFL career after spending just four days on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad in 2016.
Needless to say, there’s limited value on the Buffalo Bills’ roster at defensive end. It may sound premature to slot a defensive end to the team right now, but there’s no denying the need for more depth off the edge. With that being said, let’s dive into three of the more intriguing defensive end prospects primed to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. (Please note: all three defensive ends wear the number nine and are from the ACC, by sheer coincidence.)

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

https://streamable.com/4ez84

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)

https://streamable.com/jjmlu

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.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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