Led by Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, the Buffalo Bills defensive tackle spot won’t look much different than it has recently, but there are a few intriguing backups who find themselves in a much more appealing defense in 2017.
Here’s the tight end installment of our Buffalo Bills 2017 roster evaluation series.
Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington, Jerel Worhty, Deandre Coleman, Marquavius Lewis, Nigel Williams
2016 Stats: 39 tackles and 3.5 sacks on 38.9% of Bills defensive snaps (417) in eight games.
PFF Grade: 80.8
PFF Ranking: 23rd out of 127 defensive tackles who played at least 250 snaps.
Analysis: Let’s start with Dareus’ on-field ability. He was drafted to be a penetrating, one-gap defensive tackle, someone who could consistently get into the backfield to disrupt run plays and pressure the quarterback. Due to his impressive size — 6’3”, 330 pounds — and upper-body strength, he’s much more than a quick interior defensive lineman who wins solely with explosion. He can eat blocks and dispatch most of them to make plays as more of a stationary run-stopper too. However, using him as the latter — which is what Rex Ryan did over the past two seasons — is willfully neglecting the attributes he possesses that translate to the most production. Pro Football Focus gave Dareus a run-stopping grade of 82.4 last season, the 10th-highest among defensive tackles. His pass-rushing grade? Just 59.0, which placed him at No. 57 at his position... he simply wasn’t asked to rush the quarterback often. In Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 in 2014, Dareus was a first-team All-Pro. This season, he’ll find himself in a very similar defense, playing a very similar role. Yes, there have been a variety of off-field issues for the supremely talented Dareus, but if those are troubles are behind him, he can be an elite, game-changing defender. He’s in the prime of his NFL career at 27 years old.
2016 Stats: 64 tackles and five sacks on 74.1% of Bills defensive snaps (794) in 15 games
PFF Grade: 82.7
PFF Ranking: 16th of 127 qualifying defensive tackles
Height / Weight: 6010 / 299
40-Yard Dash: 5.18
Short Shuttle: N/A
Analysis: Williams has always been an overachieving, high-motor, twitchy athlete who thrives in every type of defense. He’s clearly best when “attacking,” and he’ll find himself doing that often in McDermott’s defense. At 34, he’s not as impactful as he once was, but truthfully, his play hasn’t slipped that much over the past few seasons. The only main difference now is that he shouldn’t be asked to play 70% - 75% of the defensive snaps. From that, I think he can be an outstanding “pass-rush specialist” who occasionally sneaks into the rotation on early downs to show off his run-stopping prowess. In my estimation, Williams is a future Bills Wall of Famer. He’s been that good for that long.
2016 Stats: 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks on 30.8% of Bills defensive snaps (330) in 15 games
PFF Grade: 47.1
PFF Ranking: 72nd out of 127 qualifying defensive tackles
Analysis: Washington was never a reliable run defender at Ohio State — he wreaked the most havoc as a pass-rusher. Last year, I thought he held his own as mainly a two-gapping defensive lineman. That’s not him though. He’s not big enough or strong enough for that role. Like Dareus, his talent would be most accentuated with predominantly “upfield” responsibilities. Washington will probably never be an All-Pro, and he may never get a Pro Bowl nod, but he has the overall skill set to be a sound rotational interior defensive tackle for the Bills, especially in McDermott’s one-gapping 4-3 alignment.
2016 Stats: 12 tackles on 13.9% (149) of Bills snaps in 13 games
PFF Grade: 64.4
PFF Ranking: N/A
Analysis: I plan to write a detailed evaluation and projection for Worthy at some point this summer. In short -- he has the most explosive burst off the ball of any interior defensive linemen on Buffalo’s roster, boasts refined hand usage, and plays with a desired mean streak. Worthy was barely on the field a season ago because he was a poor fit in Rex’s micro-managing defense. In McDermott’s more “freeing” system, Worthy will find himself in an exquisite position to succeed in the final year of his contract.
2016 Stats: Three tackles on 4.3% (46) of Bills defensive snaps in five games
PFF Grade: N/A
PFF Ranking: N/A
Analysis: Coleman played even less than Worthy last season. However, there were some Dareus-ian flashes from No. 98. He’s actually bigger than Dareus — 6’5” and 341 pounds — and demonstrated an impressive ability to shed blockers with ease. Coleman’s a former four-star high school recruit with NFL-caliber skills. Based on what I saw in his minimal action in last year, I wouldn’t be shocked if Coleman becomes Dareus’ primary backup in 2017.
Height / Weight: 6036 / 276 (from Pro Day in 2017)
40-Yard Dash: 5.02
Short Shuttle: 4.68
Analysis: Lewis had 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his two seasons at South Carolina. Clearly he’s lacking slightly in the athleticism department. He has a fair amount of talent in front of him too, so he’ll need a superb training camp to sneak onto Buffalo’s final roster. At his size though... he could kick outside to end in the Bills 4-3.
Height / Weight: 6022 / 296 (from Pro Day in 2017)
40-Yard Dash: 5.11
Short Shuttle: 4.15
Analysis: Mainly due to injuries, Williams wasn’t able to build off two strong seasons to begin his college career at Virginia Tech. His lack of progress and injury history likely led to him going undrafted. He has some quickness, which could help him at camp, but he’s a long-shot to make the roster.
This is a position on Buffalo’s roster in which I’m much higher than most. Dareus and Williams are the obvious and deserving headliners, but I think Worthy is a sleeping giant, and Coleman has the ability — mainly due to his immense size and strength — to be a quality second-stringer. Washington is now in a system that fits his skill set too, which bodes well for the Bills defensive tackle depth. If Dareus stays out of trouble — yes, it’d now be classified as a “big if” — and he doesn’t get injured, it’ll be the first time he’ll be on the field in Week 1 since 2014. McDermott should like what he has at this important position in Buffalo’s defense. You’ll see better overall play from the Bills defensive tackles this season than you did last year.