Ellis could have impact as rookie role player (Photo Source)
It's always about the "big names" - which, for an organization like the Buffalo Bills, is fine. Big names sell tickets. In this off-season's case, big names very likely will go a long way toward shoring up a shoddy defense. Names like Marcus Stroud, Spencer Johnson, Kawika Mitchell and Leodis McKelvin have Bills fans excited over the potential that this defensive unit has.
Is it possible, however, that one player that's rarely mentioned in the same breath as these "big names" will have as big an impact in 2008?
The Bills are certainly hoping so. Lost amongst the shuffle of the veteran names and the team's top two draft picks (McKelvin and WR James Hardy) is rarely-discussed third round pick DE Chris Ellis. The rookie out of Virginia Tech - who has remained relatively anonymous throughout spring practices - enters his inaugural NFL season very likely to play an important role for this Bills team.
The 2007 season saw the Bills' depth at defensive end tested in severe ways - recurring injuries to Ryan Denney and a suspension to Anthony Hargrove crippled the team's depth at the beginning of the season, and the duo of Eric Powell and Copeland Bryan did little to resolve the issue. Starters Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay (2007: combined 9 sacks) return, and Denney is healthy, but outside of Schobel, this group is rather underwhelming when it comes to creating a consistently good pass rush.
NFLDraftCountdown.com's Scott Wright calls Ellis a "rangy athlete and productive pass rusher". He'll need to be exactly that in Buffalo right out of the gate, as well. Currently listed at 6'4" and 261 pounds, Ellis is a bit raw from a technique standpoint, but he is the fastest, strongest and most fluid athlete out of Buffalo's current defensive end stable - including Schobel, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. Ellis is in an ideal situation in Buffalo; with three veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, he'll have the opportunity to work on refining his technique; he'll very likely still see enough field time, however - especially on passing downs - to make an early impact.
One other encouraging note about Ellis' first two months as a Bill is, in fact, his anonymity. Entering the league with some questions about his character, Ellis has remained out of the public eye (thanks in large part to other issues the team has faced). Keep your fingers crossed for his continued anonymity - this kid might be the secret key to the Bills' defensive success this season; he won't be able to fulfill that promise if he gets in trouble.
Don't forget the big names. They're clearly important. But don't overlook the name "Ellis", either. On a team in desperate need of a situational impact pass rusher with the tools to dominate, Ellis is a perfect fit. If he can perform as a rookie, he may end up being the most important defensive addition of the 2008 off-season.