By: Glenn Gifford BBD Contributor
We are 5 days into Free Agency as I write this article. The Buffalo Bills have been quiet, very quiet! Our only Free Agent signing to date has been former 1st round talent from North Carolina State Manny Lawson. Lawson is an individual who has spent time with both San Francisco as well as with the Cincinnati Bengals. It appears that Lawson was not utilized properly in Cincinnati where he was primarily a LB in a 4-3 defense. Buffalo Bills DC Mike Pettine has stated that he will use a variety of defensive fronts in Buffalo. The Free Agent signing of Lawson I feel represents a shift from the vanilla, non-blitzing 4-3 base defense of Dave Wannstedt to a more aggressive; exploiting 3-4 defense of Coach Pettine. Because of the multitude of different fronts used throughout his time with the Jets some have referred to Pettine’s defensive system as The Amoeba! As a sidebar, I love typing the word Amoeba!
I think that term fits well as it pertains to Pettine’s defense. The question for Bills fans is how will the Amoeba look on the field moving forward from a personnel standpoint? I think it is safe to say that the Lawson signing will represent a return to a more 3-4 defensive look. I would ask true Bills fans to please refer to the wonderful 2 piece article that Buffalo Bills Draft Editor Matt Elder did shortly after Pettine was hired. Included in the links below is a very detailed examination of Coach Pettine’s scheme. Part 2 is exceptional!
The primary focus of this article will be looking at some of the defensive prospects in the upcoming April draft that may fit into the Pettine Amoeba. I think I will spend the majority of this article focussing on some later round prospects. I say this because I am of firm belief that Buffalo will draft both a Wide Receiver and a Quarterback in the first 2 rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. Now I realize that Free Agency is on-going, but I believe that Picks # 8 and #41 will be dedicated to getting some stability on Offense. That said I also understand that if both Matt Barkley and Geno Smith are snapped up before pick #8 the Bills could easily opt for a Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan or Ezekiel Ansah. I am also aware that intriguing LB prospects like Arthur Brown from Kansas State and Khaseem Greene from Rutgers may be available for Buffalo at #41. I still think the Bills hold off and address defense in the later rounds. I may be wrong, but here is my list of Later Round Pettine Amoeba gems. We’ll start at Outside Linebacker.
Outside Linebacker (primarily 3-4 players)
Jamie Collins – Southern Mississippi
Wow is Collins an intriguing prospect. He is on the rise but may hang on to the 3rd round. Here are some of his notables. He is just under 6 feet 4 inches and runs a 4.6 40. He led his group in 5 of the measurable categories at the combine. Another interesting feature about Collins is that he also practiced at the combine as a DE as well. The versatility that he offers as a player who can play as an OLB and have his hand in the dirt as a DE is exactly what Coach Pettine would covet in a defender. I guess the question remains will this “freak” last until the 3rd round? With over 45 tackles for a loss and a great blend of size, speed and athleticism look for Collins to be an ideal pick up for Buffalo.
Chase Thomas – Stanford
I think many would have been shocked to refer to Chase Thomas as a later round prospect. The Stanford prospect seemed sure to crack the top 2 rounds earlier this year. His combine numbers however were a little disappointing and Thomas has really cemented himself as a late 3rd or 4th round pick. Why? It comes down to measurable for Thomas. He’s 6’3” 244lbs but he runs a 4.91 40. That’s almost as slow as Mike Glennon people! Many are worried that this lack of speed will prevent him from being successful at the NFL level, especially at the OLB position. Thomas is a sure tackler and his instincts are good. His Senior Bowl performance was average and his combine numbers reflected the same. He is a bit of a paradox in that Thomas’ numbers are not elite but his performance on field and his instincts have served him well. The later in the draft he goes the bigger the value. If Buffalo could get him in the 4th or 5th round in April, scouts would’ve thought that crazy back in November.
Ty Powell – Harding
I’m biased in that I love D2 prospects that make it. Powell will be the 1st player drafted from Harding in 30 years! He is 6’2” 246lbs and runs a 4.6 40. He has played a variety of positions while at Harding but looks to be an OLB at the NFL level. Another factor that makes me like Powell is that he clocked just under 7 seconds for his 3 cone drill at the combine. This sub 7 second time is usually a decent measuring stick for LB success. His 3 cone drill was one of the highest in his group. He has good instincts and may be lingering around anywhere from the 5th to 6th round. Yeah, I don’t want another Danny Batten either, but this kid has some hops!
Gerald Hodges – Penn State
Hodges was snubbed by the Senior Bowl. He did participate in the East West Shrine game and did very well. He has been a 2 year starter at Penn State and has firmly established himself as a mid- level OLB prospect. I think the main issue with Hodges is his size. He is just under 6’1” and weighs 246 lbs. His 40 time was 4.78. He personally opted not to try and improve his 40 time at his pro day. He is a sound tackler and good at setting the edge. I think recent developments have GM’s questioning his effort and work ethic. Those who have seen him play may think otherwise. Bills fans may be somewhat leery of OLB’s from Penn State. But let’s be clear, Hodges is a tough football player who has a bit more meat on his bones than Aaron Maybin and will be floating around anywhere between the 4th – 6th round.
Kenny Tate – Maryland
Fear the Turtle! Tate played safety in College for the Terps but projects as an OLB in the NFL. He will be a very late round pick. Considering Buffalo does not have a 7th round pick this year, look for Tate to get a call from an NFL team as a UDFA. What do I like about Tate? He’s 6’ 4” 230 and runs like a deer. He will be a bit raw at the OLB position but led his team in many statistics as a safety. With 58 solo tackles and 100 team tackles, 3 picks, 2 forced fumbles and 8.5 tackles for a loss Tate has a nose for the football and may be worth the phone call on “DAY 4”. I know Bills fans may be wary of drafting a player who will play another position at the next level, but haven’t we been doing that in the draft anyway for the past few years? As a UDFA Tate’s rewards are well worth the minimal risk.
Eric Martin – Nebraska
Martin is another DE turned OLB whose stock is starting to rise at the right time. While he is only 6’1” 237 (very similar to Hodges from Penn State) he is significantly quicker and had a fantastic 3 cone drill. His 40 time was 4.53. Martin’s accolades for the Cornhuskers really grew as this season progressed and he has worked himself into the 2013 NFL Draft. The only difficulty is that Martin played ILB initially, moved to DE and was very productive. His size and height do not translate well to the NFL so he is seen as an OLB in the same mold as an Arthur Moats. The only difference I see between Martin and Moats is College production. Sorry James Madison people. Winner = Martin. Perhaps Martin could be a 6th round pick up or a UDFA.
Again, there are several prospects and potential candidates. I have only chosen a few that may be around 3rd round or later. There are a few early round guys that I mentioned previously that double as DE and OLB’s that could be real impact players in a Pettine defense. Depending how the Draft plays out, they too could easily be Bills. I’d love to hear your thoughts prior to putting together my mock draft. Now, on to Safeties!
Again, a brief disclaimer for safeties like Kenny Vaccaro, Matt Elam (my personal favorite) and riser Jonathan Cyprien, all 3 talented safeties who I believe will be gone by the 3rd round. Here we go!
Shamarko Thomas – Syracuse
I love this kid’s handle. Say it with me, Shamarkoooo…Thomaaaas…Love it! You know who else loves this kid? Doug Marrone. I think Marrone may be a little pissed at Shamarko for going lights out at the Combine. Thomas’ performance has vaulted him up draft boards across the NFL. What Marrone thought of as a lock for a 4th or 5th round steal at Strong Safety is now in serious play in the early 3rd round. Thomas is a fire hydrant. At 5’9” 217 Thomas is a human missile who loves to punish people with the football. That “stocky” build (sorry Shamarko…you know I love you) does not slow this kid down. Thomas blazed through his 40 time with a 4.42, which turned the heads of many scouts. He is a work out warrior and a high character kid. He would make a great Bill. The only knock is that guys who hit like Shamarko usually end up battling injuries throughout their career. I’ll take that chance! Pencil me in for Shamarko Thomas.
Duke Williams – Nevada
The Wolf pack had very few bright spots on their defense this year; Duke Williams was one of them! He’s another guy with a great 1st name. All Hail the Duke, A #1. Excuse my Escape from New York reference. Duke is another player who comes in a little short. At 5’11” 201lbs he is a bit lighter than Thomas. He is however every bit as fast. He had over 100 tackles as a senior, 5.5 for a loss. He forced 3 fumbles and recovered 2 others and had 8 pass break ups on a really sloppy defense that only generated 15 turnovers all year. Williams is slated to be a 6th or 7th round pick. Personally we will have to see what this guy brings in the area of run support but he stood out for the Nevada defense.
Earl Wolff – North Carolina State
Again, I like this guy for the name as well as the skills. I get a definite Pulp Fiction vibe from Earl “send in the” Wolff. At 6 feet and 207 pounds with a 4.4 40, Wolff is a good tackler and good in coverage. A blend of skills that could assist in the Amoeba! He was a standout at Strong Safety in the East West Shrine game practices. He led NC State with over 130 tackles. It also seems for some reason that the Bills are on a Wolf pack run. If Buffalo has not addressed the safety position early in the draft or through Free Agency, look for the Wolff to make an appearance in the later rounds. He has four games this year with at least 17 tackles and a 19 tackle game against Clemson! That tells me that Earl knows how to both find a football and make a hit. These are qualities that any coach or fan would like in their strong safety.
I can see this article going well longer than most people have patience for. Because of this I am going to eliminate the positions of Defensive End and Defensive Tackle. I feel that we are all set at DT. I also feel that DE, if addressed, would be filled by a hybrid type of end who would also be able to stand up (Dion Jordan, Ezekiel Ansah or Jamie Collins). Remember the Lawson signing.
Also we have to remember that 2 players on the Bills roster were drafted back in 2010 with the intention of playing in a 3-4 Defense. Alex Carrington, who has moved all over the place over the last few years, was initially drafted as a classic 5 technique Defensive End. Also, Torrell Troup was drafted as a 3-4 NT. Reports say that Troup is healthy. Yeah, I’ll wait to see that. Because of so many other holes on the Bills, I feel that DT and DE will be much the same of what we have now. So, where else do we have holes on Defense? Let’s delve into the realm of Inside Linebackers!
I like Kelvin Sheppard as much as the next guy and I wait for a time that he is dominant. With that statement yet to come true I will modify it by saying: I wait for a time where Kelvin Sheppard can get off of a block. Still waiting! The Bills will need help at the ILB position. I think it is safe to say that they are going to need someone to be able to come in and contribute right away. That said ILB might be a position that Buffalo addresses early, possibly 2nd round. I will stick to the premise of the article and look at 3rd round prospects or later. The ones I will list I hope to be able to come in and contribute (like Nigel Bradham). I will keep players off this list that will come in and play special Teams only. I want contributors and so do you!
Jon Bostic – Florida
At 6’1” 245 Jon Bostic was a force in the middle of the Gator Defense. He recorded 62 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 2 interceptions, 2 pass break ups, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Here is the kicker for me. He is tough against the run. I should end it there. He is a 2nd team All SEC Player. Buddy Nix loves drafting from the SEC. He clocked a 4.61 40 time and just snuck in under the 7 second mark for his 3 cone drill. This 3 cone statistic is important for me in the area of linebackers. I think he is the best of the 3rd round prospects and could come right in and fill a hole or sub in for a few of our ILB’s who are tired. He will be a contributor in the NFL!
Kiko Alonso – Oregon
Alonso did not participate in the Combine because of a wrist injury. Clearly worried about how this might affect his draft stock, Alonso did well for himself at Oregon’s recent Pro Day. Alonso, a 6’3” 237 pound LB clocked a 4.68 40. He also finished just under 7 seconds on his 3 cone drill. Alonso is an interesting prospect in that he does have good instincts, is a good tackler and has great height. I am of the opinion that Alonso will need to add a few pounds and really dedicate himself to the weight room to put on a few more pounds of muscle. If this is accomplished, Alonso, with his wrist injury, could fall to the 4th or early 5th round. At that point he really would represent decent value.
Steve Beauharnais – Rutgers
With so much attention on Khaseem Greene over at Rutgers many have forgotten about Beauharnais. He is 6’2” 240 and ran a 4.84 40. He did come in under 7 seconds in the 3 cone drill and does display a good burst. Is Beauharnais a sideline to sideline player? Not sure. Here’s what I do know. He never missed a game in 3 years. So he is durable. He is seen as more versatile than Greene in that he can play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. Greene seems to be slotted in as a 4-3 WIL Linebacker. Beauharnais is also effective in coverage as evidenced by his three interceptions. He is a fiery competitor and a natural leader. His height and frame make him ideally suited as an ILB at the next level. For my money, this kid can contribute at the next level and would be a great 6th round steal.
Some other honorable mentions at ILB that could sneak onto the Board for Buffalo could be Jonathan Stewart from Texas A&M, Kevin Reddick from North Carolina, A.J Klein from Iowa State and Nico Johnson from Alabama.
We will end our analysis with the Cornerback Position. Now I realize Bills fans are about up to their ears with cornerbacks. We took Stephon Gilmore last year. In my opinion, he has played well for a rookie and will prove to be quality selection. With all of the needs that we have (remember we have not even looked at our Offense) Cornerback might not be addressed until the later rounds. In particular for Pettine, a quality Nickel corner being brought into the fold would serve us well. Also, there are so many CB’s in this draft with high grades on them it will be difficult to speak to all of them. I will stick to my Board and give a few late round gems. No the players about to be mentioned are not Dee Milliner and Xavier Rhodes but may contribute in the later rounds a little bit more effectively than say…..Justin “why me” Rodgers. Here we go!
Sanders Commings – Georgia
Commings is a 6 foot 207 pound Cornerback who runs a 4.41 40. He has been a good steady player for the Bulldogs and can easily make the move inside to safety. Being a tall corner with ideal size make him a natural to play in a Nickel Defense. Why did I choose Commings? Well folks, he comes with a little baggage. He was suspended for a few games because of a domestic violence charge. This charge will likely hurt his draft stock, ask the Honey Badger. He recorded two interceptions against Tennessee and recorded 5 solo tackles. That game earned him Week 5 SEC Co-defenseman of the week. He is a much more valued prospect than what his draft stock represents. Commings could be had in the 5th or 6th round and would represent excellent value. I hear his personal issues have been resolved and he has made an effort to change those factors in his life. I’ll forgive you Sanders, now contribute!
Adrian Bushell – Louisville
Bushell had his best year at Louisville this year. He is a 5’10’ 185 pound Corner who ran a 4.5 40. He had 59 tackles, 1 interception and 11 pass break ups. He was voted on to the 2012 All Big East 1st Team (as selected by the coaches). He displays a versatility that will make him a good NFL player. He also is a contributor on special teams. Read up on this guy Bills fans. Snagging him in the 6th round would be great value.
Marcus Cromartie – Wisconsin
Cromartie was a little miffed when he did not get invited to the Combine. Marcus took that disappointment and used it to fuel his Pro Day. To coin a baseball term, Cromartie went yard at his Pro Day. At 6 feet 190 pounds Cromartie blazed his 40 time at 4.38! His height and measurable have made him a late riser in the draft process. His Pro Day has given the once thought UDFA a 7th round grade. Coaches and scouts are intrigued by his measurable and his on field awareness. He trained with Pittsburgh Steeler CB Ike Taylor and is seen as someone who may be able to work his way onto an NFL roster. He can play a variety of positions given his height, weight and speed! If Cromartie is not drafted in April expect him to be one of the early calls for several NFL Teams about 5 seconds after the draft ends.
Well folks, there you have it…So many players and so little time. Remember, this represents just a snapshot of the many players that may fit into a Mike Pettine Amoeba defense. I know as Bills fans we realize the state of our franchise and that with so many needs it is very difficult to gauge where Buffalo is going to go in this year’s draft. I think it would be prudent to have a look at where we are after Free Agency (please Buffalo do something else), and re-assess our needs in an upcoming mock draft. That way we can go from the vague to some more specific positional needs. I look forward to doing this on the Offensive side of the ball as well. Like you Bills fans, I wish our draft strategy would be easier and more specific. I hope we can stick with a defense and see it work. I hope we hit on all of our upcoming draft picks, although history shows that we will be lucky to get 3 contributors. I pray those 3-4 contributors are impact players that will get this once storied franchise on the road to recovery. Baby steps start at the draft. Stay classy Buffalo!