Draft linebackers to know for Bills, Part 1

Draft linebackers to know for Bills, Part 1
Posted at 5:36 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 17:48:37-05

The NFL Draft is just one piece of the puzzle for the Buffalo Bills, but with such an importance placed on next season, they’ll need to get their first few picks right. The Bills want the postseason, badly, and making the right moves in late April could be the key to the playoffs.

Each week, 7 ABC Buffalo will go through and outline some of the players you should know in this year’s draft process. If Nigel Bradham isn’t going to be re-signed, the Bills will have to find a new inside linebacker to play next to Preston Brown in 2016.

So, some names to keep an eye on for the Bills in the 2016 draft? The first of four installments of some linebackers to know:

Myles Jack, UCLA
6’1”, 245 lbs.
What he’s all about: One of the top names in the 2016 NFL Draft, the thing that jumps off the screen is his incredible athleticism for a player his size. Jack has an explosive first step, fluid hips, great movement ability in open space, and can cover with the best of them. It also helps him in how versatile he is for the defense. They can line him up at outside linebacker, inside linebacker, back as a hybrid safety — really anywhere. Jack’s versatility helps him into the discussion of one of the first players drafted. However, the two things working against him: he can still get bigger, and, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in September. How that knee responds for teams in the pre-draft process could determine how high he ends up being drafted. If he can show the similar athleticism that he had before the injury, Jack can go as early as the top five in 2016.

How he would fit the Bills: Myles Jack would be an incredible fit into the Bills, or to any team’s defense for that matter. Specifically with the Bills, Jack would slot in next to Preston Brown, and the Bills would have a more suitable linebacker for the 3-4 that can get after the runner, and cover in open field while occasionally rushing the passer as a blitzer. Unless his knee tells teams otherwise, though, Jack will be long gone before the Bills select at 19.



Su’a Cravens, USC
6’1”, 225 lbs.
What he’s all about: It’s almost fitting that Su’a Cravens and Jack are the first two mentioned, because both are similar in a lot of different aspects. Cravens, like Jack, is only 20 years old. He’s long-limbed, athletic, and versatile for what he can do on the field. Not only is he solid in coverage, but he’s shown to be good against the run, and can even offer some fire in attacking the passer on a blitz. Like Jack, he’s a great mover in space, and can stick with whatever man he’s defending. On the downside, Jack has about 20 pounds on Cravens, so he needs to get a bigger — specifically in the lower half so that he doesn’t get pushed around and off his spot. He also struggles to disengage much more than the UCLA star does. At this point, Cravens is probably a second round pick.

How he would fit the Bills: Cravens would fit the Bills defense extraordinarily because he can do so many different things in the scheme. As Preston Brown could be used more to pick up blocks as an inside linebacker, that could free up Cravens as the weakside inside linebacker to make plays and move around as he sees fit. Cravens could also help the Bills avoid matchup problems, by being able to stay on the field against smaller offensive sets. Cravens could also shift back as a hybrid safety, and a weapon to help cover tight ends where Brown struggles. If he’s there in the second round, Cravens would be a fantastic fit for Rex Ryan.



Antonio Morrison, Florida
6’1”, 232 lbs.
What he’s all about: As you dig deeper in the linebacker group, Antonio Morrison’s name is one that teams may consider in the middle rounds. Morrison is an edge player, showcasing a bunch of emotion into his performance and never slowing down on plays, regardless of the outcome. Because of it, he mixes his good movement abilities with showing off an explosive closing speed in getting to the ball carrier. However, Morrison is a bit on the smaller side and may not be as versatile as some other linebacker prospects available. He also is more reactionary than instinctive, and will struggle to disengage from blocks from time to time. Morrison also has some off-the-field concerns that teams will need to do some digging on. He’s likely a Day Three selection.

How he would fit the Bills: Not having much versatility for where he would play in Buffalo, his lack of ability to get off blocks would dictate that he’s likely a weakside linebacker in the Bills’ scheme. However, the Bills would need that player to play in coverage, to which Morrison isn’t entirely well-versed at this point. Even still, if the Bills declined to address the linebacker position until the fourth or fifth round, Morrison could serve as a special teams asset and a potential down-the-line starter if he develops.



Nick Vigil, Utah State
6’2”, 230 lbs.
What he’s all about: After a productive two-year span, Vigil decided to leave Utah State with one year of eligibility remaining. Vigil relies mostly on his instincts against the run game, and that helps him in both diagnosing the play properly and in his reaction time in getting to the ball carrier. That has helped him to two straight seasons of racking up over 100 tackles for Utah State. However, Vigil lacks speed and isn’t the best mover, which would put him as a bit of a liability in coverage. He’s a likely Day Three selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.

How he would fit the Bills: Vigil doesn’t offer a lot of versatility, and his best fit is likely in a defense that the Bills are moving away from in 2016. Vigil looks the part as a 4-3 middle linebacker, while the Bills are committing themselves even more to being 3-4 base defense. Even if Vigil did fit in, Preston Brown offers up a lot of the same — and better characteristics that Vigil does. To add to the linebacker room, the Bills would likely be best suited to look elsewhere.



Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia