If you’ve been following along with the regular updates from Buffalo Bills training camp, one name has assuredly stood out to you: defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. The second-year free agent failed to survive final cuts with the Denver Broncos last season, and as an undrafted player out of Wyoming, he didn’t carry much in the way of name recognition. Our quick profile from June essentially treated him as “just a guy” among the slew of depth options at defensive end.
You know the story since then. Yarbrough has shown consistent success in just about every practice. Starting with the third string, he played well enough to get a promotion above third-year pro Max Valles. He kept earning sacks in practice. Then Shaq Lawson tweaked his groin and Ryan Davis suffered a concussion. Suddenly, the Bills needed a player to fill in on the first string, and Yarbrough was their man. And he kept delivering. Then the Bills played their first preseason game, and we finally got a live look at Yarbrough’s abilities: they’re legitimate.
Yarbrough exited the game as one of the MVPs, with a sack and two quarterback hurries. Rewatching the first half, where he played against the first and second string, it’s clear that Yarbrough was consistently winning battles, using strength, bend, and impressive technique. The Bills have found a legitimate prospect at the position.
Here’s the first noteworthy play of the night. Note the Bills lining up in a 4-3 Under look, with Lorenzo Alexander on the far left side of the defensive line. In a normal 4-3, Yarbrough is always playing LDE.
Following the play action, Yarbrough kept his eyes on the ball and knows to follow the quarterback. Keep note of his good balance, allowing him to curve and follow the quarterback on the bootleg. Yarbrough’s ability to bend without slowing down is what separates him from a player like Ian Seau.
On the very first drive, Yarbrough announced himself with this sack. What I love about this play is the way he sets himself up for an inside-outside move. Yarbrough plants his right leg and turns his upper body to be pointing at the interior of the line. Then he essentially cuts right past the tackle, using his left hand to knock him astray.
At the tail end of this play, watch how Yarbrough bends at about a sixty degree angle on the approach to Sam Bradford. If an edge rusher can’t maintain balance while his body is tilted like this, he’ll fall or find himself two yards behind the quarterback. This flexibility earns Yarbrough the sack just as much as his earlier positioning.
On the next drive, Jerry Hughes earns himself a sack. However, check out the spin move by Yarbrough! (Also, check out Kyle Williams still being the fastest guy off the line of scrimmage, heading into year twelve)
Working against tight end Kyle Rudolph, Yarbrough sets up to the outside, knowing that Bradford would try to step up in the pocket. Then he plants his left leg and completely frees himself from the block.
Yarbrough tried the same spin move approach against the right tackle on a subsequent play. But this one didn’t work as well. He doesn’t press as far to the outside before working in, and doesn’t make use of his hands to create space from his blocker.
Also, to be fair, he eventually ends up double teamed when 61 comes over to assist.
Right around when this next play started is when I got a sense of who Yarbrough is as a player: He’s a technician. Aside from his ability to bend and his good strength, Yarbrough isn’t a standout athlete for a defensive end. But because he’s learned from veterans like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, and coaches like Wade Phillips, he has an array of combat skills to win one-on-one matchups.
Here, Yarbrough is up against a series of two tight ends. He uses an arm-over move to get past the first, and dips around the edge while ripping upward against the second. Bradford found his target in rhythm with the play before Yarbrough could arrive, though.
This play is noteworthy for Yarbrough’s low pad level. He manges to push the right tackle a solid three yards backward off the snap.
While Yarbrough forces Dalvin Cook to hesitate and bounce his run toward the sidelines, a slightly better play would’ve been to win outside leverage on the tackle so that he could force Cook back inside to the mass of bodies. Still, the defenders in the secondary had the chance to come downhill and limit this to a short gain.
As you might guess by now, I didn’t have difficulty finding individual wins from Yarbrough. Granted, Minnesota doesn’t have a good offensive line. But he was still playing against starters, and consistently coming out on top. Here he splits the gap between two linemen right off the snap:
He arrives so quickly that he wasn’t even prepared to tackle the runner. Luckily, Jake Metz and Jerel Worthy also were in place to clean up the TFL.
Here’s another example of an arm-over by Yarbrough. The technique here is to use your outside arm to push down and to the side against the opponent’s pads, bring your inside arm up like you’re swimming the front crawl, then place your inside hand on your opponent’s back and push him behind you and out of the way.
This play has another dip-and-rip from Yarbrough. I want you to try and pause the video as he’s executing his rip technique. See how angled his body is. That’s the bend I’m talking about.
Granted, this came on a screen play, so the pressure was probably allowed through the scheme. But I want to call out a nice application of the technique regardless.
One more play for you. After winning outside most of the game, Yarbrough shows that he understands how to set up counter attacks. This time, he hits his opponent with an inside rip technique. 64 is in no way prepared for this, giving Yarbrough a free shot to the quarterback.
Case Keenum manages to free his arm and throw the ball away, but it is nearly intercepted.
A legitimate top four pass rusher
The Bills appear to have come up with a gem of a street free agent. Yarbrough, who was the career leader in tackles for loss at Wyoming, had been overlooked by NFL teams amid rumors of a senior-year knee injury. Athletically, he’s “good enough” to succeed at a position that typically rewards the Myles Garrett freaks of the world. Thanks to his developing technique, Yarbrough looks well on his way to being a useful rotational pass rusher in the NFL - with the potential for more down the line.