When the Buffalo Bills selected Central Florida nose tackle Torell Troup in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft (at No. 41 overall), it's fair to say that more than a few eyebrows raised around Western New York. With several big-name players on the board, including another highly-rated nose tackle in Alabama's Terrence Cody, the logic of the selection was sound (if also controversial), but the reaction was somewhat mixed.
It's not hard to figure out why Buffalo chose to add some beef to its run defense early in April's draft - they've stunk at stopping the run over the past decade, and were particularly inefficient at it during the 2009 season.
Troup joins the Bills in a pretty unique situation; he enters the league as a known commodity from a playing talent perspective, which is rare for a player his age (Troup turned 22 just a week ago today). The 6'3", 315-pound rookie is very stout at the point of attack with excellent strength, and endeared himself to Bills brass with his endurance, as 3-4 nose tackles typically are not three-down defenders. He's not a superb athlete, which is why most draft experts expected him to be a third-round pick at the earliest, but for the role he'll be asked to play in Buffalo, he's an ideal fit and a safe investment.
As Matt Warren reminded us only yesterday, Buffalo's focus defensively this off-season was to get better at stopping the run. That's an admirable goal, considering that two of the NFL's top five rushing offenses from a year ago - the Jets and the Dolphins - both play in Buffalo's division. (New England was a respectable No. 12, by the way.) That's why players like Dwan Edwards, Alex Carrington and Andra Davis were brought in - to shore up one of the league's worst run defenses. That's imperative if the team wants to become more competitive within their own division.
Stopping the run starts with nose tackle play, however, and with all proper apologies to Kyle Williams and Lonnie Harvey, Troup by default is already the Bills' best run-stopping nose tackle. With 3-4 veterans Edwards and Davis in place, it's fair to expect the Bills to improve against the run, but those veterans alone won't guarantee significant enough improvement in this area.
There's a lot of pressure on Troup to perform not only because he's a second-round pick, but because of the caliber of prospects the Bills passed on in order to secure his services. No one is sure how much upside Troup has, but this piece isn't necessarily about that point in time beyond 2010 when he realizes his full playing potential - it's about his impact this season. If Troup struggles to adapt to the NFL game and is handled by the AFC East's solid group of centers (Nick Mangold, Dan Koppen, Jake Grove), the Bills will be forced to do more platooning at nose tackle on run downs, which will hinder the team's overall progress against the run.
It's tough to call a player so young and likely with only a part-time role the fifth-most important player on any team, and there's merit to that line of thought. Kyle Williams will certainly be a part of the nose tackle picture on Sundays, so it's not absolutely imperative that Troup become the three-down defender he was drafted to be. That said, even if he's a two-down defender, he needs to be more than a presence on the field - he needs to be up to the task of handling interior linemen to open things up for the Bills' solid inside linebackers. Without that, not much will have changed - and for all of his fine attributes, Williams simply isn't up to the task of being a two-gap space eater.
Improving against the run is an absolute must, and Troup is the centerpiece of those efforts. For a likely part-time player, his development holds a great deal of importance for the 2010 season and beyond.
Ten Bills To Decide 2010
10. G/C Eric Wood
9. ILB Andra Davis
8. CB Leodis McKelvin
7. RB Fred Jackson
6. FS Jairus Byrd