Probably the most recognizable name in the Buffalo Bills' group of undrafted free agent signings is Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker. The Sooner gained notoriety for beating Cyrus Kouandjio in the 2014 Sugar Bowl won by Oklahoma, but will his lack of size hold him back in the NFL?
Striker was born in Tampa, Florida, and attended Armwood High School. He was a multi-spot athlete there, and set the school record for career sacks with 42. Rated a three- or four-star recruit, he committed to the Oklahoma Sooners.
As a freshman, Striker played in all 13 games, but only recorded stats in one of those contests. His sophomore season was his first time as a starter, and he collected 6.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three passes broken up. As a junior, he upped the ante to nine sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and five pass breakups. Returning for his senior season, Striker had 7.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, an interception, a forced fumble, and three passes defended.
A political science major, Striker's favorite team growing up was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he doesn't see the big deal about chicken wings. He also made an emotional speech to his family after going undrafted, and you should definitely watch that.
If Striker finds a home in the NFL, he'll do it in spite of the scouts who like to suggest that a player will succeed or fail due to his measurables. Standing 5'11" and 227 pounds, Striker is built more like a strong safety than a linebacker. He's not playing with NFL athleticism, either. His 4.8-second 40-yard dash, 30-inch vertical leap, 7.3-second three-cone drill, and 4.46-second short shuttle are all extremely underwhelming results from the Combine.
Striker's tool chest isn't completely empty, though. Even if we ignore the cliches like "heart" and "hustle," there are two attributes which elevate Striker above his contemporaries on occasion: quick reflexes, and an excellent ability to time the snap.
Run stopping and block shedding
Striker isn't built to take on blocks from offensive guards or tackles, but he does a good enough job bouncing away from tight ends to bring the runner down. Although his situational reads aren't always perfect, he does a good job of staying in position, sifting through traffic, and making tackles. That said, his short wingspan hurts him in this department. I've seen him whiff on a few tackles because he wasn't able to wrap up the player right in front of him.
Pass coverage and fluidity in space
In spite of his slow playing speed, Striker is surprisingly comfortable dropping back into coverage. I haven't seen many snaps where he was targeted in coverage, and the website CFBFilmRoom agrees. They charted Striker with only six targets last season, which resulted in two catches, two passes defended, and an interception. He does a good job of mirroring his receiver in man coverage, but his lack of speed makes him more of a matchup-specific assignment. The Sooners preferred just to rush the passer with him instead.
Pass rushing aptitude
Much ado was made about the 2014 Sugar Bowl, which put Striker on the map for collecting three sacks against future NFL-ers Kouandjio and Austin Shepard. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we understand that those players were not nearly as good as their hype suggested, so we should adjust our assessment of Striker's potential here accordingly.
Striker's best gift is his skill for making a read at the snap. He times his movement extremely well, and can be one or two steps ahead of any of his teammates off the ball. He needs this ability, because his overall burst on the field is average. Small with short arms, Striker is totally neutralized if an offensive lineman grabs hold of him. He does a great job of bending the edge, and has figured out a "dip and rip" technique that works well for him.
Striker simply isn't built for playing the edge full-time in the NFL. But he could be successful as a part-time blitzer, playing the wide-nine technique while stacked with Shaq Lawson or Jerry Hughes, or perhaps ducking through the A gap.
Although he comes in with plenty of positive press, I think it's unfair to place a large burden on Striker in his rookie training camp. He's a flawed player with some natural gifts, and he may not find a home in Rex Ryan's defense. His blitzing ability and ability to move in space might make him an asset on special teams, and I could see him sticking around as one of the final active members of the roster.