Buffalo Bills

Nate’s Notebook: DE and Edge Rushing Options in the 2020 NFL Draft

If you want to win consistently in the NFL, you’ve got to rush the passer. If you give even average quarterbacks plenty of time to survey the field, they will carve you up. The Bills haven’t been bad at getting to the QB this year, but they haven’t been consistent.

What the Bills’ are lacking is an every-down threat off the edge. No defensive end on the roster has more than 5.5 sacks through 12 games. 16 different players have registered at least half a sack.

This week in the Notebook, I’ll highlight a few players that the Bills could target in the first two rounds of the 2020 draft that could boost their pass rush. We’ll assume the Bills will finish in the 9-10 (at least) win range and will likely end up picking in the early 20s. While I know Chase Young would look great in a Bills uniform, there’s about a 0 percent chance he’ll be available when the Bills are on the clock.

First Round Possibilities:

AJ Epenesa, Iowa (6-6, 280 lbs):

This would be the dream scenario. Epenesa is an absolute beast that seemed like a sure bet for the top 10 coming into the season. His stats have taken a bit of a dip this year on a middling Iowa team, and with it, his stock might be sliding ever so slightly. It’d be a surprise if he were still available in the 20s, but if the combine and pro day workouts don’t go as planned, he could be sitting there for the Bills. Otherwise, it’d likely take trading up a few spots, but he’s worth it.

Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State (6’5, 260 lbs):

Man…Chase Young, AJ Epenesa, and now Gross-Matos. The Big Ten is owning the elite defensive end pool. If you’re the Bills, why wouldn’t you want a great pass rusher from Penn State? When has that ever not worked out well? Aaron Maybin? Never heard of him. Gross-Matos is intriguing because he’s a freakish athlete who is still pretty raw as a player. He’s solid against the run and is explosive as a pass rusher. He’s that quick-twitch athlete that NFL teams crave.

He still has some growing to do and needs to add some more weight to his frame to be an every-down player. He also might take a year or two to get his technique to the NFL level. But when he does, he could be a dynamite pass rusher.

Terrell Lewis, Alabama (6-5, 254 lbs):

Here is yet another Alabama lineman bursting onto the scene because he’s an elite talent that has been stuck on the sidelines for two years behind other elite talents. Now, Lewis is getting his chance to shine. He’s undersized for a traditional DE in the NFL and might fit better as a 3-4 OLB. But if he can add 10-15 lbs without losing his lightning-quick first step, he could be an every-down star in the NFL. In the clip below, watch him explode off the line (DE to the top of the screen).

Second Round Possibilities:

Jon Greenard, Florida (6-3, 260 lbs):

Greenard is an elite athlete with first-round skills. His main issue has been injuries. Greenard missed all of 2018 and some of 2019 with injuries. If he stays healthy, some team will get a steal on Day 2. I’d be wary of selecting a player with Greenard’s injury history but at some point, the reward will outweigh the risk.

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State (6-4, 260 lbs):

Willekes has a tremendous story. He arrived at MSU as a walk-on. After several injuries to starters, Willekes was pressed into a starting role as a sophomore. He never gave up that starting spot. After a solid sophomore season, Willekes broke out in 2018 with 20.5 TFL and nine sacks and was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He was ready to test the NFL waters but suffered a broken leg in his team’s bowl game and decided to return to school. He’s a bit undersized and isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s smart, technically sound, and plays with a non-stop motor.

Josh Uche, Michigan (6-2, 250 lbs):

Uche is one of the more intriguing players to watch in the draft. He’s already announced he will be leaving Michigan after the season and he was born to do one thing: rush the passer.

Pro Football Focus grades Uche as one of the nation’s elite pass rushers. In fact, in pressure rate, they rank him #1 in the country, ahead of All American and Heisman candidate Chase Young. He’s fast, explosive, strong and relentless. But he’s a couple of inches too short and 15 lbs too light for the first round. Even at Michigan, Uche only plays about 50-60% of the available snaps. He’s greatly improved as a run defender in 2019, but his bread and butter will always be as a sack artist. I think someone grabs him on Day 2 of the draft and uses him as a pass-rush specialist. Uche has “Dwight Freeney” written all over him.

Watch him embarrass Maryland’s RT who outweighs him by 60 lbs.

The Bills will have plenty of options to choose from to improve their pass rush. It’s not a draft full of high end, can’t miss DE prospects but there is a lot of depth, and Buffalo should be able to find a useful piece in the 2nd or 3rd round if they don’t find one in the 1st. What do you think #BillsMafia? Which one of these players would you like to see wearing a Bills uniform in 2020?

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