With their first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills selected defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau from the University of Miami. Let’s check out Rousseau’s film. As a reminder, I don’t follow college football and, as such, I’ll be comparing the rookies to my mental archive—which is pretty much all NFL level.
Credit to Dan Lavoie for his annual supply of film to review.
This was the first play that jumped out at me. It may not look like much at first but bear with me. Players are taught to run plays by memory, and there is a risk of getting locked in. The ability to change on the fly is incredibly valuable. Rousseau starts off by approaching this wide, but instantly recognizes when the quarterback starts to move up. Rousseau’s quick action means this is a minimal gain.
This is similar to Play 1, but takes it to another level. Rousseau is further along into the backfield and is more firmly engaged with a block. The ability to stop his momentum is impressive. He also shifts his left hand to the shoulder of his opponent, supplying a small amount of leverage to turn back. It also prevents his man from turning back with him. Rousseau has experience as a receiver and this play sure looks like it.
We need to talk about Gregory Rousseau’s overall lack of refinement/finesse techniques but before we get to the “not great” news, he does show a good foundation for hand fighting. Rousseau clears his opponent’s hands violently and immediately uses the opening to punch at his man’s chest and create an opening. The ball is gone before Rousseau can get home but this is still cool to see.
On the bad news front, his array of moves seems to be limited with little evidence of successful rips, swims, spins, etc. He’s sporadic at best in attempting any of these, and even less frequently able to pull them off for a win.
Ball carriers at the NFL level can squeeze through very narrow lanes. This is made much easier when offensive linemen can lock up defenders and hold them in place. As such, the ability to shed a block is one trait that you love to see. And I loved seeing it over and over and over again in Rousseau’s tape. Certainly, quality of opponent is certainly a factor that needs to considered but Rousseau was consistent in his ability to break free and dive into the play.
Here’s a similar play. Before Rousseau moves to close it, that lane is plenty wide for someone to run through. Despite needing to juggle two blockers, Rousseau sees the play developing, jumps to his right and forces the play wide...where no one else is quite ready for it. But Rousseau did well!
Some things are harder to teach than others and while it may not be as difficult to teach as “height,” it can be very hard to improve cognitive processing speed. This play shows it quite clearly but it’s something I’ve been hinting at all along now. If Rousseau is successful at the NFL level, his ability to read-and-react will likely be the reason.
Time for some bad news. I came away underwhelmed with Rousseau’s ability to push. Infrequently driving his man far enough back to disrupt the play in college, it’s fair to wonder how Rousseau will do when the competition turns things up a notch or three. If there’s any positive, it’s evidenced by this play. Rousseau established decent leverage and drives a double team back a couple yards, which suggests he isn’t weak by any means. Further, it was rare to see him driven back. Overall, I felt technique was just as much to blame as physicality.
He’ll need to work on both strength and technique but, personally, I’d prefer to see a player with small gaps in two areas try to bridge those than a player with a massive gap in any single area.
As is the norm, let’s end on a high note. Rousseau lands a sack here because he’s too fast for the interior lineman and uses his hands to clear away any threat. Coming back to the receiver skill set, this looks like a player trying to run by press coverage. Once he does, it’s full throttle to the sack.
Like everyone else, I’m evaluating Gregory Rousseau on limited tape—and 2019 tape to boot. Physically, Rousseau lives up to his “Groot” nickname with his length by keeping clear of blockers. Rousseau seems strong enough to succeed, but agility and timing may always be his best path to success.
To reach the potential of a first-round pick, Rousseau will likely need to get stronger and will definitely need to work on technique. On the flip side, his incredibly fast processing on the field is the biggest reason to be excited about Rousseau.