One position of need for the Buffalo Bills that’s caught a good amount of steam recently is defensive tackle. While it’s not so much an immediate need for the 2023 season, it most certainly will be a sore spot on the 2024 roster if not addressed. Starters DaQuan Jones and Ed Oliver are both slated to be free agents next offseason as of right now. While that could change, the reality remains that the need still exists.
The Bills have reportedly hosted four defensive tackles for top-30 visits this draft cycle — Florida’s Gervon Dexter, South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens, LSU’s Jacquelin Roy, and finally Michigan’s Mazi Smith. Top-30 visits are not a necessary indicator to say the team is absolutely going to draft said players, but it does show a team has preliminary interest enough to bring them in for further evaluation.
General manager Brandon Beane spoke at a pre-draft press conference earlier this past week, and he voiced how thin the position is scheduled to be in 2024.
Brandon Beane mentions defensive tackle as a position that does not have great long-term depth. The team’s projected top four defensive tackles — Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle and DaQuan Jones — are all scheduled to be free agents after the 2023 season. #Bills— Jay Skurski (@JaySkurski) April 18, 2023
The build-up for the position being selected with a priority pick continues to gain noise the closer we get to draft day. One name on the back end of the first round who seems to have some juice late in the cycle is Michigan interior rusher Mazi Smith. He was named No. 1 on The Athletic’s highly prestigious “Freaks List” produced by college football writer Bruce Feldman each year. The list highlights the 100 best physical freaks in college football. Smith was the biggest freak of all when the article was posted late last summer.
While we know what Smith can do as an athlete, it’s also important to dive into the game film to determine just what the Bills would be getting in Smith if they did decide to draft him as a priority selection.
Mazi Smith Scouting Report
Michigan defensive tackle Mazi Smith is a player who’s going to go to war with any interior offensive lineman for 60 minutes any given week. Smith’s trump card is his strength and it’s very clear how physically imposing and dominant he is almost immediately on film. Smith jars and stuns his opponents if he’s not tossing them to the side on his way to slowing the run game or chasing after the passer. It’s all about power and very little finesse to his game at this time. Smith will need to improve on his get-off when the ball is snapped to avoid quick losses and wasted reps. Improving his pass-rush plan should also be a priority. Smith is a physically dominant player who offers his most useful traits in the run game. But he’s not a useless pass rusher.
Combine Testing: 34 bench press reps; Smith did not do on-field testing at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine due to some minor muscle injuries sustained during the pre-draft process.
- Extraordinary power to displace offensive lineman across from him
- Forces his matchup to the ground often
- Holds up ground at a high level and he won’t get knocked off his feet
- Able to beat up opposing interior linemen with heavy hands to give him the upper hand on his pass rush
- Flashes a very effective arm-over move that works when used properly
- Agile and light on feet to advance around would-be pass blockers once he gets them off balance
- Needs to get a better jump off the snap; slow get-off leads to getting sealed and limits impact
- Pass rush plan is fairly non-existent at this point outside of fighting like a boxer
- Relies more on raw power than truly dropping anchor; that works handling one man, but he will struggle at times at double teams when not dropping his lower half
- Much more disruptor than finisher in the backfield; Misses plenty of opportunities to make a splash play
- More agile than explosive with his first steps
Michigan IDL Mazi Smith is quite good and I still feel like he's not talked about enough in this group of IDL for the 2023 NFL Draft. pic.twitter.com/joNlZaLDSz— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 26, 2023
Why Mazi Smith fits the Bills
Drafting any player in Round 1 of any NFL Draft tends to lend itself to prospects with at least one single dominant trait or aspect to their game that can carryover to the next level. Mazi Smith exemplifies such a trait with his unbelievable power game at the point of attack. There is plenty of tape from Smith facing good competition and tossing grown men in the Big 10 to the ground with ease. For the Bills, that’s the appeal. Smith is not an Ed Oliver replacement, but he can be a 1-tech in the NFL and a potential replacement for an aging DaQuan Jones. The Bills need young, talented bodies at the position however they can get them. While many assume the Bills will want an Oliver replacement, I’m not sure there’s a true candidate who’s likely to be there in the late first round. Smith is a player who grows on you the more you watch him as you come to understand just how much he beats the other team up time and time again despite failing to stuff the stat sheet. I’m not necessarily on board with Smith as the Bills’ first-round pick, but I definitely understand the intrigue and Buffalo needs young talent on the interior defensive line however they can get it.