The Bills went into day two of the 2017 NFL Draft with three picks: one in the second round and two in the third. They moved up to pick 37 by trading away their 44th and 91st choices to the Los Angeles Rams to select WR Zay Jones. But the wheeling and dealing didn’t end there. At the end of the second round, Buffalo sent their 75th, 149th, and 156th picks to the Atlanta Falcons in order to acquire tackle Dion Dawkins from Temple University.
At the time, the trade itself got the best of my emotions. By the end of this trade and pick, the Bills would only have three picks left. This was quite the change from the start of the night, when they had seven choices. But the selection itself, Dion Dawkins, was never an issue.
That is because he is a solid player, a player that one would hope could start at right tackle immediately. Many don’t believe he can play tackle, but most think he could be an all pro guard.
Regardless of where he ends up along the offensive line, you can understand why the Bills moved up to get him. He is a big, strong lineman whose arrow is still pointing up. He started 44 games in his career. In fact, he is one of four tackles to start as a true freshman in 2013, a list that also includes 2016 first round draft pick Laremy Tunsil of the Dolphins.
Dawkins comes from a diverse run scheme, and he excelled regardless of what concept was called. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 7th most successful run blocker, at 94.1%.
He is a unique blend of power and speed, which allows him to help his teammate gain leverage on interior defenders, but he possesses the speed to carry out his assignment along the second level.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) May 1, 2017
He has incredible strength, and it comes in handy when the offense wants to run gap runs like this counter trey. Dawkins blocks down on the front side of the play to open up a running lane for the touchdown.
His 35 inch arms, strong hands, and leg drive allow him to move defensive ends with ease in the run game. On the following two plays, the offense runs what appears to be an isolation play (man scheme) to the weak side of the formation. If Dawkins is one on one with defensive ends and the play is to his side, he is able to move defenders easily.
Most of you are probably thinking: “But wait, aren’t the Bills and new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison going to be a zone run team?” Of course they are, but that transition isn’t going to be as quick as you think. The offensive linemen in place are predominantly gap/man blockers. They’re big, powerful, and effective guys in tight spaces. Zone offensive linemen are usually the opposite: lighter, quicker lineman who use angles to get the job done. Dawkins is a really nice blend of both styles. He is equally effective as a zone blocker. Take a look.
Dawkins gets his hands inside, drives and turns 2nd round pick Tyus Bowser to seal the edge.
Dawkins clearing the edge vs. 2nd round draft pick Tyus Bowser. Bowser went 16 picks ahead of Dawkins. pic.twitter.com/QQ6HDu5wJb
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) May 1, 2017
On this inside zone run Dawkins uses his length, grip and natural strength to lock out the defensive lineman, which springs the back into the open.
On most zone runs, offensive linemen start off by combo blocking with the adjacent offensive lineman, then moving on to the second level. Dawkins is very effective in both areas. He’s able to help widen the hole, help his teammate, but still have the speed to get to his assignment
He is an athletic kid for his size, and his ability to quickly scoop to the second level will make life easier for the Bills’ running backs. In zone run schemes, offensive linemen on the backside of wide zone runs must climb and pick up linebackers in order for the backs to find cutback lanes. That is the goal of a wide zone run. It is meant to be cut back. Look at the ground Dawkins can cover and just imagine Shady cutting back against the grain into an alley sealed by the former Temple Owl.
There’s a reason why many scouts believe he will be an All Pro if moved to guard, and that is because he is an athletic guy. He has good run blocking footwork and is quick off the ball. This allows him to seal outside zone runs. On this play, the tight end kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage while Dawkins swings his hips play side to create a big hole for the running back.
In the passing game, his quick footwork and length are also assets. An upgrade is needed at right tackle, as the Bills’ current right tackle Jordan Mills gave up eight sacks, three QB hits, and 46 QB hurries in 2016. I mean, it shouldn’t be difficult to find an upgrade over that. It should be even easier when you have the talent that Dawkins possesses.
Schematically, Dawkins at right tackle should help the offensive coordinator to devise ways to make Tyrod Taylor’s life easier. Specifically, he can do this by calling plays that help Taylor see the field better. We are all aware that Tyrod was trigger shy when it came to throwing to the middle of the field. Part of the problem was that Taylor is a shorter QB and has limitations with his field vision. Well, one way in which we covered to help him see the field better was by giving him deep drops and maintaining the depth of the pocket.
The pocket for TT over the last couple weeks have been really nice. Look at the depth of it. Helps shorter QBs. This is the TD to Sammy. pic.twitter.com/JF1OiohkdK
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 25, 2016
Having a healthy Cordy Glenn and Dion Dawkins as tackles should allow the staff to scheme to have those players block solo more often. This will allow the three interior players to account for the two down lineman. Interior defenders are responsible for the depth of the pocket. If they are getting pushed back into the face of Taylor, the passing game is in trouble. The tackles are responsible for the width of the pocket, which Dawkins is good at. Notice the 5 step drop from gun. Dawkins is one on one with the defensive end, and the deep pocket allows the 6’1″ QB Walker to see the field and deliver.
The depth of the pocket should definitely help Taylor see the whole field better. More specifically, he should see the middle of the field clearly. Deep drops plus putting your tackles on islands is a tactic that the Seahawks and Saints have used in years past to help their QBs see the field better.
Dawkins is also very good at 45 degree angle sets, especially on play action, of which the Bills will be running many. On this play, he kick slides on an angle to meet the defensive end.
There is certainly a ton of upside to Dawkins’s game, but there are a few things he needs to work on. At times, rather than using his long arms, he leads with his head.
Yes, his head. That minimizes his length advantage and causes him to be on his toes and leaning.
Being on your toes and leaning allows a defender to easily push or pull you off balance, much like this play versus Penn St.
It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time he becomes impatient. Dawkins will give in and make the first move. Here, his weight is on his toes as he brings up his hands to engage. The defensive end easily swats them down, en route to the strip sack.
A bigger issue that is totally correctable is his tendency to have bad hand placement. When offensive linemen bring their hands up to punch, you want them striking inside the frame. Dawkins has a tendency to place his hands outside of the frame, which makes controlling the defender ten times more difficult. The lack of control or leverage on the defensive end allows the him to get under Dawkins’s pads, making it impossible for him to anchor vs. the bull rush.
Dawkins biggest issue is his susceptibility to giving up inside rushes. This can be an offense killer. It tends to occur when defenders use stutter rushes and plant hard inside. Dawkins gets caught mid kick and has trouble quickly transferring his weight from his set foot (left) back to his post foot (right). His feet stop, and it causes his base to become too wide.
So, as the defensive end plants to attack the inside gap, Dawkins must first regain his balance and plant of his set foot. By then, it’s too late.
It will be interesting to see where Dennison and Castillo place Dawkins. I asked a few scouts where they believe Dawkins fits best, and they said guard. If the Bills planned on putting him at guard, why move up to draft him? I believe the Bills plan on having him compete versus Jordan Mills and or Vlad Ducasse for the starting right tackle position. He then becomes a safe pick, because if he doesn’t work out at tackle, he then can be shifted to guard to replace Richie when he decides to hang up his cleats. Dawkins has the mean streak, length, and athleticism that will allow him to excel at guard. However, if the Bills want to improve their passing offense, then they need better play from the right tackle position, especially on third down. Dawkins was the 3rd-best pass blocking tackle (pass blocking efficiency-98.7%) on third down in this draft class. Taylor tends to hold onto the ball for extended amounts of time, and Dawkins should also help in that department. He had the 4th-best pass blocking efficiency when his QB held onto the ball for more than 2.6 seconds. Philip Walker, the Temple QB, is also a mobile QB. As a result, Dawkins has experience playing with guys that can extend plays in and out of the pocket.
It’s pretty clear: the Bills are giving QB Tyrod Taylor a fair shot by adding all sorts of receiving options. But by trading up for Dawkins, the Bills are making it clear that they want Tyrod to win from the pocket.