In one of the most widely-anticipated pairings of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills selected Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips in the third round. What about his background made him a great fit for Buffalo, and how does he fit on the team?
Phillips grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He was a three-time state champion wrestler, and named the state’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year as a senior. A three-star recruit, Phillips had offers from Nebraska, Kansas State, and UCLA (among others), but settled on Stanford. He played as a reserve during his freshman year, and a torn ACL ended his sophomore season after one game and led to a redshirt. As a redshirt sophomore, Phillips recorded 46 tackles (9.5 for loss, 6.5 sacks), and he exploded in 2017, assisting on 65 tackles as he totaled 102. Phillips also tallied 16.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks this season, being named All-Pac-12 first team and a finalist for awards that celebrate high-character athletes, like the Bobby Bowden award.
Phillips graduated with a double major in sociology and science, technology, and society in December 2017, allowing the redshirt junior to enter the draft. He was a Senior Bowl invitee, and put up 42 bench press reps at the Combine (which led the class).
Phillips has a great motor, always attacking through the whistle. He plays with good awareness and keeps his head on a swivel, helping him read blocks and misdirection.
Phillips has plenty of torso power, built up from his days working out and wrestling. He has enough burst to defeat reach blocks and squeeze into the backfield. He’s willing to try different approaches to his rush from play to play, showing a rip, an arm club, a swim move, and a spin move among the options in his arsenal.
In one-on-one situations, Phillips has enough lower body strength to hold the line of scrimmage. He has fast hands, and if he wins off the snap, he does a good job of rebounding off an opponent to wind up in a position for a tackle.
Right now, Phillips doesn’t play well against double teams. He gets knocked off balance by the second lineman and winds up in the dirt. He has trouble re-establishing an anchor when he’s been moved off his spot.
Phillips also needs to improve his hand usage, which is decent now, but doesn’t fully utilize his impact power off the snap. He could improve each of his pass rush moves to become more effective at disengaging from blockers.
Phillips’s burst is inconsistent from snap-to-snap. Sometimes he summons up a tremendous cut for a tackle in the backfield, then he’ll go ten plays with his feet in the mud.
Phillips isn’t a perfect fit for the weaknesses in Buffalo’s depth chart, projecting better as a backup for Star Lotulelei than as an eventual replacement for Kyle Williams. As a fit for the team Buffalo wants, however, he’s exceptional. As a rookie, he’ll probably struggle to win one-on-one matchups, but if he continues growing his play strength and improving his hand usage, he has the upside to be a disruptive starter on Buffalo’s defensive line. Best of all, he has the mental makeup to reach that ceiling.