By Paul Wanecski
Following the 2015 preseason, most fans were scratching their heads on the selection of Ronald Darby. He struggled with locating the ball. He got pushed around in press coverage. He was constantly behind on routes. It appeared as if head coach Rex Ryan would be unable to leave him in man-to-man coverage because he was getting assaulted with targets. Darby and Rex proved everyone wrong during the season. This isn’t just the narrative to Darby’s success; more the story behind Ryan as a head coach.
The general manager role with the New York Jets was a disaster, but, what did work was the steady stream of defensive talent that was brought in. Here is a clip, updated, from our article Drafting Defensive Depth at 50 (posted April 20th, 2015)
Now Ryan didn’t restructure the defensive line his first season, but that may have been due to the team having selected Vernon Gholston the year previous to Ryan’s arrival. While the recent history of the Jets reflects a very defense-heavy draft, they have never truly had to overhaul the front line, instead making gradual changes. Here is the draft breakdown of players selected within the first 100 picks:
2009- QB Mark Sanchez – 5th overall (they had only 3 picks the entire draft
- RB Shonn Green – 65th overall
2010- CB Kyle Wilson - 29th overall (they had only 4 picks the entire draft)
- T Vlad Ducasse – 61st overall
2011- DL Muhammad Wilkerson – 30th overall
- DT Kendrick Ellis – 94th overall
2012- DE Quinton Coples- 16th overall
- WR Stephen Hill – 43rd overall
- LB Demario Davis – 77th overall
2013- CB Dee Milliner – 9th overall
- DT Sheldon Richardson - 13th overall
- QB Geno Smith – 39th overall
- G Brian Winters – 72nd overall
2014- S Calvin Pryor – 18th overall
- TE Jace Amaro – 49th overall
- DB Dexter McDougle – 80th overall
In the 6 seasons that Ryan was head coach, the Jets selected three 1st round defensive linemen (4 in total within the first 100 selections when you include Kendrick Ellis who was selected 94th), and making nine out of sixteen picks defensive players. With Ryan’s history as head coach, his team selected a defensive player within the first 100 selections 56.25% of the time. The list of offensive players includes Mark Sanchez, Stephen Hill, Geno Smith, Shonn Green, Vlad Ducasse, Brian Winters, and Jace Amaro. Perhaps it’s best that they draft a defensive player.
While we won’t assume that Ryan made the call on all the players drafted, it is not speculative that the production of the defensive players drafted far outweighs that of the players drafted on offense. What would be the reason that this could happen? Complete luck (unlikely)? Were Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik really amazing defensive scouts (seriously, no way in the universe this is the case)? Is Rex Ryan really just that good at coaching, scouting, or developing talent (that’s more like it)? The players drafted on offense look like laundry list of mistakes; a daunting task to overcome as a head coach. Is this a product of Ryan really not knowing anything about what makes a great offensive player, or, do you blame the general managers tasked with building the roster? It’s a compelling case either way. While it is no mystery that I am not a believer in Tyrod Taylor, I certainly don’t trust Ryan’s opinion, given his history, on who should replace him. What it is easy to believe is that Rex Ryan knows great defensive linemen. With the rebuild along that front only just beginning, it is near impossible to imagine a situation where the Bills don’t draft either a defensive linemen or linebacker in this year’s upcoming draft.
Now, before we go any further, it is important to note that Rex Ryan primarily runs two aggressive schemes, one of which is commonly referred to a the 3-4 (it's not, but we will release an article later on the details). He is also in love with the 4-6 Bear front, which is detailed pretty well in this article from GangGreenNation Assuming that he moves back to the 3-4 front as primary look, this is what we expect to happen.
If the Bills do go defensive line, expect it to be a defensive tackle (or an absolutely massive defensive end) as the team will look to bulk up and grab a player who might fit into a 3-4 defensive end role. Defensive ends in a 3-4 are typically bigger bodies, as the scheme depends on those bigger players demanding two blocker from the offensive line in pass protection. The Bills, from a roster stand-point, will struggle to transition to a 3-4 defense in 2016; watch the type of players they bring in and it is safe to bet that is the direction they will go. Finding defensive ends on the open market is usually a lot easier than finding linebackers.
With that, it is anticipated that the Bills will look heavily at the LB position this offseason. With the Bills holding the 19th selection in 2016’s NFL draft, they will have a prime spot to select, or even trade back, while keeping a keen eye on the linebacker role. In 2015, only two linebackers were selected prior to the 19th pick (Dante Fowler 3rd to Jacksonville who plays hybrid 4-3, and Vic Beasley 8th to Atlanta that plays a 4-3 under). Basically, as far as players who will fit a 3-4, the Bills should have plenty of options if they strike early because in 2015, from picks 22-32, four linebackers were selected. The Bills will need to acquire at least one larger outside linebacker (players fitting this mold typically play defensive end in college, which makes for a tough transition – see Jerry Hughes in Indianapolis as an example). They will also need another inside player, rolling in at a minimum of 245 pounds. Linebackers on the inside of the 3-4 have to be stout as they will have the responsibility of occupying offensive linemen frequently. Resident inside backer Preston Brown will transition just fine, but, he will need a big body next to him. The Bills have a recent history of trolling the 2nd (or later) rounds for inside linebackers since they rarely seen as top 15 talent.. Given the current draft order, using last year as a model, if the Bills were to try and find a linebacker after the first round, they would be looking at selecting 10th best outside linebacker on the board or the 2nd best inside linebacker.
With all this, you can see Nigel Bradham falls on the exterior of the Bills plans. He must either play weak-side linebacker, or, not at all. While he has the speed and size to fill the role, he has demonstrated that his pursuit skills and poor angles will make him too much a liability. He would best fit being moved inside to maximize his explosiveness and limit his errors; however that will not be in a Bills uniform moving into 2016.