2014 NFL Draft: Linebacker Options to Fix Buffalo’s Run Defense

Trent Murphy could add a run-stopping presence at outside linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro — USA Today Sports)

More Day 2 Prospects

Hayes Pullard, LB, USC

A quality run defender, Pullard tackles well downhill. He tracks the ball well and consistently squares up to get ballcarriers down. He adjusted well to USC’s change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme this year, becoming another linebacker who can play in multiple fronts.

Pullard spent most of his time as an interior linebacker this season but is not just a traditional thumper. He is strong in coverage and was frequently asked to cover running backs on screen routes. Pullard is not a flashy player, but he is strong and well-rounded.

Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU

Barrow has good explosiveness which he uses to quickly read plays and fill gaps. He takes good angles in pursuit, cuts off cutback lanes and flows nicely on plays run away from him. He does a good job finish plays with tackles. He wraps up nicely and has a strong frame to bring runners down.

Close to the line of scrimmage, Barrow shows great strength to shed blocks to make plays. He sometimes plays a bit too high, but when he gets low pad level, he can use his quickness to beat blockers and bring ballcarriers down.

Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford

Strong as both a run defender and pass rusher, Murphy is simply not a coverage linebacker. He has great discipline and patience in run support, allowing him to pursue down the line of scrimmage and take away cutback lanes. He is a high-energy player who takes solid angles and has no problem engaging blockers at the line of scrimmage.

Murphy will need to be hid in coverage, but with Alonso’s excellence in that area, Murphy could be a good Day 2 gamble for the Bills.

Stopping the run is the strength of Connecticut inside linebacker Yawin Smallwood’s game. (Photo: Howard Smith — USA Today Sports)

Day 3 Prospects

Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut

Smallwood reads plays quickly and gets into position well to stop runs, which is what he is best at. He anticipates running plays well, plugs holes and brings runners down. During Connecticut games this year, Smallwood seemed to be around the ball on nearly every play.

Smallwood shows tremendous intelligence to not get fooled by play action passes and keep himself square to the line of scrimmage. He is good at getting off blockers but has a bad habit of arm tackling more than he should. Smallwood isn’t an exceptionally hard hitter, but he is tough to break free from even when he uses poor technique.

Devon Kennard, OLB, USC

After spending three years as a rush end, Kennard became a linebacker and showed real skill against the run in his senior season. He has a strong ability to hold the edge and disengages well from blocks, yet also has the quickness to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield.

Kennard’s biggest asset is his speed, but he also tends to overrun plays. He is a reliable tackler who is also an elite pass-rusher, making him a strong hybrid linebacker despite some weaknesses in coverage.

Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State

Barrett does a great job working his way inside in run support and collapsing on plays. He does a solid job using his hands to shed blockers, and can overpower tight ends or give himself space to move against larger lineman. His range is deceptive because he does not look fast; however, he can cover a lot of ground and is frequently involved in plays because he takes good angles.

Barrett plays with a lot of energy and aggression. His biggest problem is struggling to read run plays quickly: He often gets into poor position initially or is pushed out of a play altogether when he misdiagnoses. He has also shown skill as a pass-rusher, however, which gives him some value in a hybrid defensive scheme like Buffalo’s.

Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame

Shembo is a good run defender who plays with solid technique and discipline. He sets the edge when needed to turn runners back inside. He is a good tackler, both in the open field and close to the line of scrimmage.

He plays with high energy while keeping control and not over-running plays or missing tackles. Shembo is a bit tight as an athlete, however, lacking the quickness to consistently make plays in the backfield. That will likely restrict him to being a two-down, strictly inside linebacker in the NFL.

Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech

Tyler does a good job finding running lanes and getting to running backs. He is a good athlete and sure tackler who does a good job getting through the mess at the line of scrimmage to make plays.

He tracks plays well side-to-side and fills in cutback lanes as well, which makes up for his lack of strength. Despite his high energy and solid instincts, he is limited in coverage and is a bit smaller, listed at 6’1″ and 230 pounds by Virginia Tech’s official athletics website, than a prototypical NFL linebacker.

Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville

Brown is a big-bodied, physical player who comes downhill aggressively. He can fight through blocks near the line of scrimmage and shed the blocks of bigger offensive linemen to make tackles. He is a sure tackler who has piled up huge numbers in Louisville’s scheme. He gets downhill quickly, closes gaps and makes a lot of tackles around the line of scrimmage.

Despite his lack of overall quickness, Brown is comfortable in coverage, able to track linebackers and keep good angles. He has also been in multiple systems during his time at Louisville, which would make him a good late-round fit as a depth player in Pettine’s defense.

 

If I had my druthers, the Bills would use a first-round pick on Mack, Barr or Mosley, then use a third-day draft pick on a player like Smallwood or Brown to improve the overall depth of the unit. Regardless, linebacker is a position that needs to be addressed, with many options available to do so successfully.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Adrian Hubbard, Alabama, Anthony Barr, Buffalo, Buffalo Bills, BYU, C.J. Mosley, Chris Borland, Christian Jones, Colorado State, Connecticut, Devon Kennard, Florida State, Hayes Pullard, Jack Tyler, Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Lamin Barrow, Linebackers, Louisville, LSU, Notre Dame, Preston Brown, Prince Shembo, Run-Stoppers, Shaquil Barrett, Shayne Skov, Stanford, Trent Murphy, UCLA, USC, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Yawin Smallwood

6 Responses to “2014 NFL Draft: Linebacker Options to Fix Buffalo’s Run Defense”

  1. Grif says:

    It just really depends on what Pettine thinks we need. If Pettine thinks we need a guy that can hold the edge and rush the passer in certain situations than he’s obviously going to go with more of a 3-4 OLB like Barr or Mack. But in my opinion he’s just going need more of a 2-down thumper, so he might like Smallwood or Lamin Barrow.

    • Eric Samulski says:

      I agree with you here. I wouldn’t be upset to see a guy like Barr or Mack because they are real defensive difference makers. In terms of strict need, I think a two down thumper is perfect. Kiko can play OLB in run situations and help in coverage on TEs and then move back inside in pass rush situations.

  2. TJ Never says:

    The linebacker “class” seems to be thinner than last year.

    There just don’t seem to be Round 2 linebackers to go after. No Bobby Wagner or Lavonte David quality of players.

    That being said, I hope the Bills go after at least one solid LB in free agency, failing that they may have to draft Mosley. But hopefully after trading down to about 15th.

    • Eric Samulski says:

      I think you’ll be surprised by the depth once the testing gets done. A lot of these guys are far more athletic than people think. Also, in terms of the Bills need, I think there are some 2nd and 3rd round guys who will emerge as real candidates to simply beef up the run defense, not be 100+ tackling machines.

  3. Eric Samulski says:

    Also, keep an eye on Carl Bradford from Arizona State who just declared.

  4. John C says:

    Any thoughts on Andrew Jackson (ILB) from Western Kentucky as a thumper?


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