The Need: Over the last 3 games, the Bills are tied for last in the NFL in Sacks Per Game with 0.7. Over the season, they’re 27th. Jerry Hughes (career 285 tackles, 39 sacks), drafted by the Colts RD1#31 in 2010, and traded to Buffalo in 2013, has a $10M/yr-cap-hit contract that makes him a free agent in 2020, but in 2017 he’s tied for 57th in sacks with 3. Hughes is the Bills’ lightest EDGE player, so he “bends the archetype” on size, if you will. Also a free agent in 2020, Shaq Lawson (32 tackles, 4 sacks over 2 years), the Bills’ RD1#18 in 2016, is on a 4-year deal, and is still learning the NFL game. Shaq’s tied for 83rd in sacks this year with 2. Lorenzo Alexander, a hybrid OLB/DE, (316 tackles, 23.5 sacks), age 35 next year, is only contracted through 2019, and is also 83rd in sacks. Eddie Yarbrough’s a human-interest story, but his 1 sack won’t renew a 1-year contract. We also brought in 6’2″/260 Ryan Davis, a Jaguars UDFA/Cowboys FA, who signed a 2-year contract for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The time seems right to draft a newbie in the same mold — except there are two molds: a strong-side OLB/DE/rush-backer/special teams ace (Alexander) and a “see ball, get ball speed rusher” with quintessential quickness, a sack artist who’s best in a 4-3 (Hughes, Panthers DE Mario Addison). The two molds could quite possibly be fused into one player.
The Archetype: Sean McDermott uses apropos adjectives about Jerry Hughes: flying off the football, relentless, competitive, gets pressures on the QB, has bought into the system. He’s glad Hughes is back in a 4-3, in a “situation for him to be his best self”. Even in training camp, McDermott gushed, “I do like how Jerry Hughes is playing. His motor was running all night long.” However, he cautioned that “post-whistle penalties won’t be tolerated” (see: unsportsmanlike conduct penalty vs the Jets). McD admired Shaq “for who he is as a person”, a “team player who is 1/11 of the defense”. McDermott liked Shaq’s attacking style, winning match-ups“. In McDermott’s past, he has used other descriptors for his EDGE rushers: tough, hard worker, versatile, intense. A D-lineman’s number of pressures seems to be important in selecting the archetypal player. Agility is, too; Hughes and Lawson both have 20-yard shuttle times that are 80%ile or higher. Longevity (number of games played in college) seems to matter. Size and weight may be a factor. The average EDGE in Carolina and Buffalo has been 260-265 lbs, and 6-2 to 6-3 in height. The sum of an edge rusher’s career sacks plus tackles for loss would give us a measure of disruption over length of the college career. That’s the number in parentheses following each player’s name.
What players in the 2018 NFL Draft fit the Bills’ archetype?
(Total of their sacks plus tackles for loss over their college career in parentheses)
Arden Key LSU (44.5)
6-5, 265, 4.74
Last year, Key had 55 tackles and set the team record for sacks with 12 in 11 games, so there’s your consistency. This summer, media pundits were comparing Key to Von Miller. The old Bills regime liked Miller, but I think that role is not the best way to use Key. He’s a DE who could drop into coverage if asked, and Key could assume the Lorenzo Alexander role, or you could unleash Key from either end of the D-Line. As character matters to McDermott, the Bills would have to thoroughly vet Key’s leave of absence from LSU in February 2017 for undisclosed personal issues, and the medical staff would have to check Key’s shoulder (summer recovery from shoulder surgery, not unlike Lawson’s). McDermott talks about disruption that sometimes doesn’t lead to sacks, and that’s Key, literally and figuratively. Bucky Brooks likens him to Mario Williams in his prime. I was disappointed in Key’s poor game vs Syracuse, and that’s another tick down on the McBeane-O-Meter. Key has one more year of eligibility left. If he declares for the draft, then Arden Key’s numbers would equate to top 3, but below Landry and Chubb. He’s been scouted once by Bills scouts.
Fit For the Bills: B
Harold Landry Boston College (73)
6-2, 250, 4.72
The 73 “sacks plus tackles” number is impressive, isn’t it? With 48 tackles for loss and 25 sacks racked up in his career as a “see ball, get ball” rusher, Landry could be seen in that Jerry Hughes role, but he also has the chops to be a OLB/DE like Lorenzo Alexander, all fused into one player. Landry’s a college senior who seems like he’s been at BC for a decade. His playing weight, speed, and hand moves are more Jerry Hughes-esque than anyone else on the Bills. Landry was seen by Bills scouts at 2 games last year; they ended up taking Matt Milano from that defense. At times, Landry can over-focus on his man instead of the ball. In college, Landry won with above-average speed and hand moves. That will be more of a challenge in the NFL.
Fit For the Bills: B+
Bradley Chubb NC State (78)
6-3, 273, 4.86
Which Chubb will get drafted first, Bradley (EDGE) or Nick (RB)? My money’s on this one. Chubb has been wreaking havoc for the Wolfpack’s imposing defensive front, notching 53 tackles for loss and 25 sacks in his career, as of this writing. His performance against top OT Mike McGlinchey and chasing Lamar Jackson give us glimpses into what he’d be like at the next level. He just beat Mario Williams’s sack numbers at NC State, and he has two more games to top it off. Chubb’s a senior with three straight years of stats, so McDermott will like the experience, physicality, intensity, and ability to bend the arc and get to the QB quickly, which has been missing of late. Chubb mentions the “brotherhood along the line” as one reason he returned for his senior year. Kentavius Street on the opposite end is a candidate for this list in his own right. Bills scouts have been to 2 Wolfpack games, and Chubb will be the first drafted. Chubb’s the incumbent Defensive MVP for the Wolfpack, and will likely be re-crowned in 2017. He’s tallied 21.5 TFL so far this season, leading the conference by a whopping 7. Chubb plays with a nasty streak, but has a flair for the comic (see his towel snatch). Not sure his antics would totally synch with the McBeane persona, which knocks him down a grade, and his forty time needs a shave.
Fit For the Bills: B+
Tyquan Lewis Ohio St (54.5)
6-4, 266, 4.78
Sam Hubbard Ohio St (35)
6-4, 265, 4.76
Lewis is one of ten Buckeyes who may be pros next year. Scouts have seen at least 2 games officially, but who did they come to see? All five on the defensive line (Sam Hubbard, Michael Hill, Dre’Mont Jones, and Lewis) could be taken in R1-3, so how do you choose? Let’s apply the archetype listed above. Lewis (33.5 TFL, 21 sacks in his career) is the fifth-year senior with 41 games over 4 years (Hubbard’s a 4th year junior with 3 years and 35 games), both are multi-year captains, and both have improved every year. Pragmatics might come into play for Brandon Beane; EDGE might not be one of the Bills’ first-round positional priorities, and Hubbard may be gone on ceiling alone. Lewis has the higher floor, though; he is the most polished of the group, and not a consolation prize, at all. Taking Lewis in RD2 still gets you the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year of 2016, successor to Joey Bosa.
Fit For the Bills: Lewis A+, Hubbard B+
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo Oklahoma (52)
6-1, 245, 4.64
“Obo” decided to return to Stillwater instead of opting for the NFL. He’d had only one year as a starter (remember Eric Striker?), and he had only one more semester until he got his degree. Okoronkwo has matured since his earlier years, when Coach Stoops often had to read him the riot act for missed classes and tardy arrivals for meetings. He’s morphed into a team leader, now leading the newbies, citing experiences of his own to guide them. His teammates noticed; they made Obo a Sooners Team Captain. Okoronkwo has EDGE/OLB/ILB versatility, but NFL teams might like his explosion off the edge and quickness to the QB the most, as evidenced by the 32 TFL and 20 sacks over his career. At 6’1″, he’s just under the archetypal height to swat down swing passes, and his 245 pounds is a few chicken wings shy of ideal for the EDGE position, but Okoronkwo is the speediest of this group (his comp, Jerry Hughes, was 4.69). McBeane will be drawn to the character of this Lott IMPACT Trophy semifinalist, given to the football player who best exhibits “integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community, toughness, and tenacity.” Sounds like a McDermott man.
Fit For the Bills: A
Clelin Ferrell Clemson (40)
6-5, 255, 4.78
A redshirt sophomore who has two more years of college eligibility, Ferrell does have two seasons’ worth of stats over 26 games, with 26.5 TFL and 13.5 sacks in his career. Ferrell looked otherworldly against NC State, with his 12 tackles, a career high, five TFL and 1 sack. He also looked unstoppable vs Syracuse, with 9 tackles and 5½ TFL, 3½ of which were sacks. Ferrell doesn’t have the body of work the Bills’ braintrust usually seeks, but the physical specs, effort, and results are undeniable. Bills scouts have been at 1 game this year, and at least 3 games last year.
Fit For the Bills: B-
Austin Bryant Clemson (32.5)
6-4, 265, 4.83
This quote of Austin Bryant should tell you all you need to know about the McBeane fit: “It’s about eleven guys that care more, and care about their teammates, put in the work, put in the effort, the intensity, relentlessness, and play.” Bryant, who has 21 TFL and 11.5 sacks over 26 games, and Clelin Ferrell (see above) already have their National Championship ring, but have another year of eligibility.
Fit For the Bills: A
Porter Gustin USC (37)
6-4, 260, 4.73
Gustin will most likely go to a 3-4 team and play OLB, but you’ll hear Gustin’s name in the EDGE conversation, so I include him here. Gustin leads PAC12 OLB34 in run stops, and you see Gustin showing versatility as he flips sides, depending defensive call and player matchups. McBeane will like Gustin’s relentless nature and his knack for pass deflections. His body of work is the same as Ferrell’s — 28 games — so draftniks will compare the two in that way. Gustin has another year of eligibility. Bills scouts have seen him in 2 games, but they were there for Darnold, Cameron Smith, Ronald Jones, and Iman Marshall, too.
Fit For the Bills: C+