This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills. Keep up to date on our Baker's Dozen series here.
Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers will embark on a big week starting tomorrow. Friday is his long-anticipated pro day, in which he'll attempt to answer questions about a knee injury that has impacted his draft stock. A week later, on April 8, he'll fly back to Indianapolis for another Combine medical re-check that will have a big impact on his draft stock, as well.
The knee concerns are (justifiably) overshadowing the fact that Bowers is a supremely talented football player coming off of an outstanding junior season. We've been discussing Bowers as a potential good fit with the Bills of late, projecting him as a player that could alternate between 3-4 end and 4-3 end as a pass-rushing, on-the-line complement to the team's best player, Kyle Williams.
I asked Dan Kadar, who heads up SB Nation's NFL Draft blog, Mocking the Draft, if he believed that Bowers playing end in the 3-4 was feasible - particularly knowing that they like to mix in a lot of 4-3, as well.
"Of all the natural pass rushers in this class - I don't consider Marcell Dareus or Nick Fairley in that discussion -Bowers has a much better chance to fit that role than any other player," Kadar said. "Bowers is unique in that he's coming out of college with power and some edge speed. There were a few players like that last year (Alex Carrington, Corey Wootton, and Carlos Dunlap to a degree), but none have nearly the level of natural talent like Bowers does. One thing that no one seems to talk about with Bowers is his ability against the run. Everyone looks at his pass rush ability. He has the power base to maintain gap credibility as a three-technique, for sure. He may not be as natural as Cameron Jordan or Dareus in that role, but he could fit there."
I also asked Kadar how Bowers compared to Jordan - viewed by many as a classic five-technique - in terms of run defend and fit in the 3-4 at end.
"Comparing him to Jordan here is probably more apt than comparing him to Dareus," Kadar said. "Bowers and Jordan are similar, but Bowers is a little quicker and a little more powerful in his base."
Finally, I asked Kadar about what I consider the most important factor in any pro-Bowers-to-Buffalo argument: whether or not he'd make sense as a schematic fit alongside the aforementioned Williams.
"The best way to use Bowers is how you're alluding to it with your questions - by moving him around with different looks," Kadar said. "If the Bills were able to pair Bowers with Meatball, it would give them extreme scheme versatility. That would be especially true if they could add a big natural nose tackle later in the draft. Maybe not a guy who plays a lot, but enough to allow Williams to kick outside to a three-technique to hold one end while Bowers pushes forward into the backfield."
(By the way: that nose tackle role Kadar outlines here? Sounds pretty unbelievably perfect for Torell Troup, no?)
To wrap up, Kadar offered up a couple of caveats to the idea of adding Bowers to a defense that plays a lot of 3-4: his belief that Bowers may never be an elite pass rusher, and that the team will need to complement him with a strong outside linebacker.
"Ultimately, though, the Bills will have to figure out their outside linebackers to get the most out of Bowers if he's drafted," Kadar said. "Bowers may fit a little better in a 3-4 because he's not a quick-twitch pass rusher. With that said, I don't know that he'll ever develop into a premier pass rusher in the NFL. He'll be very good all around, but maybe not a terror getting after the quarterback. With that in mind, Buffalo would have to pair him with a linebacker who can also defend the run and pass rush. Shawne Merriman can be that player, but for how much longer?"
That's a great question if I ever did hear one.