Continuing on our journey of the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine positional review series we stay on the defensive line to cover “edge” defenders. If you missed any of the previous articles in this series find them here:
Here’s a list of draft picks that general manager Brandon Beane has used on edge rushers since he’s been at the helm for Buffalo (2018 draft-current):
- 2019 Draft: Darryl Johnson — Round 7
- 2020 Draft: A.J. Epenesa — Round 2
- 2021 Draft: Gregory Rousseau — Round 1, Boogie Basham — Round 2
We all know that Brandon Beane values building his team up front and he hasn’t been afraid to spend draft capital there, but the return on his investment hasn’t played out as well as we all hoped. The biggest disappointments so far have been the pair of second-round picks, Epenesa and Basham. There’s still time for them to prove their worth — Epenesa is in the last year of his deal and Basham has two more years left, but the immediate return hasn’t been impressive. Rousseau has flashed in each of his first two seasons, but year three is a big one for him. He needs to add more consistency to his game to warrant his first-round selection. There’s plenty of quality EDGE talent in the 2023 NFL Draft. But if Beane wants to use another draft selection on the position, all of Bills Mafia will be hungry for immediate results. With Von Miller still recovering from an ACL injury, I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo add to this group. It’s just a question of whether that happens via free agency or the draft. Let's dive in to see some options that might be available for the Bills in this year's draft class.
- Day 1 = Round 1
- Day 2 = Rounds 2 & 3
- Day 3 = Rounds 4-7
Day 1 Considerations
Nolan Smith, Edge (Georgia)
I wouldn’t consider Rousseau, Epenesa, or Basham “explosive” pass rushers, and until the Bills went out and signed Von Miller last season, they were lacking this type of presence. That’s why I think the Bills may be interested in Smith. Nolan Smith lit the NFL combine on fire by running a 4.39 40-yard dash and jumping a 41.5” vertical. To put that into perspective, his 40 time was the second fastest by a defensive lineman since 2003. He’s also the heaviest player to run a sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash and over a 40” vertical in a decade.
The best part about these numbers is that they translate to the field. He plays fast and physical with a high motor. He also was a leader for the Georgia Bulldogs, which just won back-to-back National Championships. These are all qualities that the Bills look for in adding players. As a pass rusher, Smith has an elite first step off the line of scrimmage, but sometimes he relies on it too much. His quick first step can quickly be converted into power and he also shows adequate bend around the corner. If he further develops in the NFL to equip himself with a handful of counter moves, watch out, he’ll be dangerous. He plays with a mean streak that makes him a tough out in the run game and can often be seen using his power to shock the offensive lineman trying to block him. His outstanding performance at the combine may push him up draft boards, but if he’s still available at pick 27, I’m sure Beane will be considering his services.
The official time for this run was 4.39 seconds.
Day 2 Considerations
B.J. Ojulari, Edge (LSU)
B.J. Ojulari is the younger brother of New York Giants defensive end Azez Ojulari. At LSU, Ojulari was given the privilege of wearing the number 18, which is historically given to a player who has high character and leadership both on and off the field. Given the Bills’ propensity to seek out high-character players to be a part of the “culture” they built, I have no doubt that Ojulari is someone they have on their draft board.
His positive character attributes aside, Ojulari can get after the quarterback. At 6’2” and 248 pounds he is more of a stand-up edge rusher and is similar in size to Von Miller (6’3” 249 pounds). He possesses all the tools to be a successful starter in the NFL once he refines his game. He has elite bend around the corner that can maintain his speed rush while breaking down the edge of the offensive tackle. He lacks a stable of rush moves, but once he develops a better stockpile of moves he will be tough to stop. Ojulari can be solid in setting the edge and containing outside runs, but is lacking in his ability to be a dependable run defender on all downs. His pass-rush upside will likely put him in Round 2, possibly available for the Bills at pick number 59.
BJ ojulari, for my money, is the best and most nuanced pass rusher in the class. Speed, bend, burst, ojulari has a wide array of pass rush moves to win at the LOS. He will need to add strength to hold up consistently in the nfl but the pass rush traits/ability are off the charts. pic.twitter.com/gPLkCLQwUa— K1SinceDay1 (@KSzn2021) February 28, 2023
Byron Young, Edge (Tennessee)
Byron Young went the JUCO route before he wound up in Tennessee, but he’s made an impact ever since stepped foot in Knoxville. He is a little raw for the position but he has shown great progress throughout his college career, and he can be further coached up in the NFL. Running the second-fastest 40-yard dash at the combine (4.43) he provides a twitchy first step that leads to a disruptive pass rush. He sometimes has trouble diagnosing plays, which gets him out of position and out of the play. His hustle and determination show up consistently on tape and give him an opportunity to likely be a Round 3 draft pick.
Day 3 Considerations
Tavius Robinson, Edge (Ole Miss)
Standing at a massive 6’6” and 257 pounds, Robinson’s stature can be compared to Buffalo Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau (6’6” and 267 pounds). Can you imagine Buffalo having these two giants as bookends to their defensive line? Pretty intriguing thought. Even with his stature, Robinson’s no slouch in terms of athleticism, evidenced by his combine numbers:
- 40-yard dash = 4.66 seconds
- 10-yard split = 1.63 seconds
- Vertical jump = 33.5”
- Broad jump = 10’0”
- 20-yard shuttle = 4.62 seconds
- Bench press = 23 reps
Just like Rousseau, Robinson's physical traits are off the charts and are dripping with upside, he just needs to put them into action. He’s long and rangy and displays surprising quickness on tape for his size. Robinson’s disruptive in the pocket and he seems to be ahead of the game with his pass-rush planning. His strength and power are lacking for his size, and he tends to disappear in the run game because he doesn’t consistently shed blockers. Honestly, he may be my favorite edge defender option for the Bills. They don’t have to spend a premium asset to get him and he can develop while Von Miller and Greg Rousseau hold down the starting positions for the time being.
Tavius Robinson spent 2 seasons with the @guelph_gryphons before transferring to Ole Miss during the U SPORTS cancellation year (2020).— PRSVRE (@PRSVRE_) March 6, 2023
Now he’s projected to be a 3rd - 6th round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft #ForTheNorth | #USPORTS pic.twitter.com/wlRPTy51GA
Ali Gaye, Edge (LSU)
Ali Gaye is another physical specimen, standing 6’6” and weighing 263 pounds. The Bills drafted one 6’6” defensive end already, why wouldn’t they be interested again? Gaye is a raw prospect who has much more developing to do than Rousseau did, but he has the traits that are worth taking a late-round flyer on. Even though Gaye was invited to the combine he, unfortunately, didn’t participate in any drills. Hopefully, we get to see him on his pro day. His length is his biggest advantage, and he uses it well — often getting separation from blockers with ease. He is frequently observed playing to the whistle and hustling to finish the play. His big frame hasn’t translated into much power or effective leverage, as offensive tackles with power tend to give him trouble. Overall he is one of those prospects who could explode if he puts it all together, but he needs time to work on his craft and learn how to enhance his game. Maybe One Bills Drive see enough in him to take the leap late in the draft and start the development process.
LSU pass rusher Ali Gaye has been dominant in the first half. Showing off the swipe and speed on this QB hit. pic.twitter.com/bA9YoWkkDo— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) September 26, 2020
The Bills don’t have a gaping hole at the edge position, but there definitely should be some depth added. The free-agency options will be filtered through soon, but the draft provides some intriguing youth for Buffalo to consider. If it were me, I wouldn’t be too keen on spending another early pick at the edge position, but some of the mid- to late-round options would be something to seriously consider. Follow along as I review all positional groups from the NFL draft, with cornerbacks next!