On Saturdays here at Buffalo Rumblings, we like to watch videos. I've been meaning to talk about this one for a while now - and since I'll be away from the computer all afternoon, I've got a feeling that the Buffalo Bills will sign a linebacker and render this post utterly useless this afternoon. No, I'm not guaranteeing it, and no, I don't have any "in the know" knowledge. I'm just unlucky with timing like that.
We are all aware of who the most-referenced draft prospects are when it comes to predicting which player the Bills may select in April's NFL Draft. I'm here this morning to say that of every player available this April, the two best schematic fits might just be teammate linebackers from USC - Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing.
Why? It's simple. USC runs a zone-based defense. Therefore, Trojan linebackers need to be good in coverage, and they need to be aggressive. These two players are studs. We've got two videos - one of each prospect - for you this morning, and we'll try to point out some notes we took while doing a little film work on these guys. Mute your computers, head on in past the jump and get ready for a little Saturday prospecting. And yeah, Big Blue View totally beat us to this yesterday, but we don't care. Check out their leg work as another great source for more first-hand info on these two linebackers.
Here's Maualuga's video. Some points of interest:
- Keep an eye on the depth at which Maualuga lines up on most plays. This is exactly how Buffalo lines up Paul Posluszny on a routine basis, particularly on passing downs. Maualuga just looks like he takes up more space in coverage. He's a lot faster than I anticipated, and he makes plays on the ball.
- Most of the time when folks mention Maualuga, I get the sense that he's perceived as this big, lumbering linebacker that only plays downhill. That just simply isn't the case. He's not the most fluid athlete you'll ever encounter (you may notice him struggle shifting his hips and dealing with wiggle), but he's a super athlete for his size, and he supplements his big hitting with above average cover skills. His strengths monumentally outweigh his weaknesses.
- I've said it before and I'll say it again - Maualuga can quarterback the type of scheme that Buffalo runs. He's a smart, instinctive player - just watch him blow up screen passes. He's very adept at sifting through traffic up front and making hits at or near the line. He delivers hits even when he's a step late in coverage. He's a near-ideal fit at MLB in a Tampa 2 scheme.
And here's Cushing's video. More notes:
- How many outside linebackers can include a kickoff return for a touchdown on their NFL resume?
- Where Maualuga lacks fluidity, Cushing more than makes up for it. Simply put, there isn't a more athletic linebacker available this year. Like most USC linebackers, he excels making plays sideline to sideline - you'll see him run down a reverse frequently at the NFL level. Perhaps most importantly, runners stick to this guy; when Cushing makes contact, they're done. There are very few broken tackles with this guy.
- Cushing has more positional flexibility than does Maualuga. Where Maualuga is a middle linebacker, Cushing can play any position. I'd tentatively say right now, however, that he'd be most comfortable at the WILL spot in Buffalo, where his superb blitzing skills and aggressive demeanor won't be as easily exposed by opponents.
Before you get all hot and bothered, no, I'm not advocating that the Bills draft either of these players. I'd even go so far as to call it unlikely at this point, considering the number of linebackers that have passed through the doors of One Bills Drive within the past week.
But if anyone tells you that Maualuga or Cushing isn't a fit in Buffalo, laugh in their face. Each has played a version of Buffalo's scheme for four years. They're two of the most well-rounded linebackers available this year in terms of playing both the run and the pass well. There are undoubtedly prospect(s) that each of us prefers the Bills to consider in the first round. But you'd be wise to get used to these names, folks. They're well-rounded, high-upside playmakers with a background in our scheme. There's a strong chance that the Bills will view one or both of these men as smart investments come April.