Draft linebackers to know for Bills, Part 3

Draft linebackers to know for Bills, Part 3
Posted at 4:56 PM, Feb 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-20 17:04:28-05

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 third of four installments of some linebackers to know:

Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
6’3”, 240 lbs.
What he’s all about: One of the most heralded defensive players in the country from 2015, Jaylon Smith is going to be a fascinating player to track through the draft process. Smith tore both his ACL and LCL in the team’s bowl game against Ohio State, which puts him in jeopardy of not being immediately available to teams early on in the season. However, there is a whole lot to like about Smith. He’s incredibly versatile for both defensive schemes, with the ability to play perhaps any one of the seven linebacker spots. His athleticism makes him a good player in coverage, and he’s got the closing speed to go along with it. Really, the biggest question about Smith is where he fits best, and how much he’ll be slowed down by the knee injury. His potential alone will make him a first round pick, and perhaps even an early one despite the injury.

How he would fit the Bills: If Smith were on the board at 19th overall, they would likely have a major temptation to take him — even though he likely won’t be ready to play during training camp. Usually, it takes around nine months to come back from that injury, which would put him right around the start of the regular season. It may be asking him too much to start right away in the year. But, if patient enough, the return could be extreme. Smith could be a three-down linebacker, and used a little bit of everywhere. The Bills need to win this year, but Smith’s talent might outweigh the time they’d have to wait for him to be ready in 2016.



Darron Lee, Ohio State
6’1”, 235 lbs.
What he’s all about: Ohio State defenders will be well represented in the first few rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft, and Darron Lee fits right into that mold. The 21-year old is a fantastic athlete and really excels with his closing speed to a ball carrier, and in coverage against an equally as fast offensive player. He can also be utilized as a weapon coming off the blitz. At this point, though, Lee is still a tad on the small side and has some problems, due to a lack of strength in comparison to other linebackers, to get off blocks well enough. He also has a tendency to overrun some plays, guessing, rather than using his instincts to sniff out the play. He’s being projected as a potential first round pick, but due to the position he plays, it would not be shocking for him to still be available on Day Two.

How he would fit the Bills: Like some of the others built like him, Lee’s athleticism makes him into an intriguing prospect to be a potential starter down the line. In the Bills defense, he would likely play a role quite similarly to the one Nigel Bradham played this year, with the hope that blocks would stay off of him working as a 3-4 inside linebacker. His best fit is probably as a weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He still needs some polish, but if Su’a Cravens is off the board and Lee is available in the second round, he could fit Rex Ryan’s scheme.



Deion Jones, LSU
6’1”, 219 lbs.
What he’s all about: Having only started one year for LSU, NFL teams will likely be quite enamored with the idea of him based on one word: potential. Jones doesn’t have quite the athleticism that UCLA’s Myles Jack has, but he has phenomenal movement ability for a player at his position. With a 6-foot-1 frame, Jones should be able to add some additional strength to his frame. Jones also has the ability to cover running backs and tight ends, and shows the ability to diagnose plays. On the downside, Jones does have a lack of experience which could hurt his ability to step right in for a team in 2016. While he is able to diagnose plays, sometimes he is slow to react and it gets him into trouble by getting caught up by blocks, to which he has difficulty disengaging from due to being undersized. Still, Jones figures to be a Day Two pick for a team looking for a potential starter.

How he would fit the Bills: Jones is a fantastic fit for the Bills defense as the weakside inside linebacker in their 3-4 defense, and they could be right in range to pick him up in either the late second or early third round. They’d be getting a potential replacement for Nigel Bradham, and a player that is better in coverage than Bradham was this past year. If he isn’t ready to play right away, they could use him immediately on special teams and slowly work him into the lineup in 2016.



Jatavis Brown, Akron
5’11”, 221 lbs.
What he’s all about: Although he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, Jatavis Brown has plenty of ability. Brown is a huge hitter, possessing the ability to drive through the ball carrier and to knock him back on any given play. He’s also a good mover and can weave through traffic to get to the ball carrier. His excellent reaction time helps him get in position to always be around the ball, which is what he has a knack for. Despite all those plus characteristics, Brown is a linebacker that is the size of a safety, and doesn’t look extremely comfortable in coverage given his size. He can also get erased by an offensive lineman if he gets caught up in the traffic on a given play. Brown will likely be an asset on special teams, and a Day Three selection.

How he would fit the Bills: With the Bills, Brown would be a special teams contributor and a depth player at weakside linebacker. His size may prevent him from getting a real crack at being a starter in the NFL, but watching him play and how much fire it seems he plays with, it would be foolish to bet against him. In the Bills 3-4, he’d likely be the weakside inside linebacker that would be trusted to cover more than Preston Brown’s spot would.



Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia