“With the 30th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select Gregory Rousseau, Defensive End, Miami.”
After a long night of waiting for the Bills’ first selection of the new year, the Bills landed on the lanky pass rusher from “The U” and son of a former Buffalo resident. This pick comes after an unusually down year in overall pass rush production.
Rousseau is an interesting pick for the Bills, particularly with players like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Azeez Ojulari, and Jayson Oweh still on the board. Did they draft the right guy? Especially after Rousseau didn’t play at all in 2020?
Well, Bills fans, I’m here to tell you that this is a great pick for the defense.
Standing at six foot seven inches and weighing just less than 270 pounds, Rousseau is a freak of nature size-wise. The former First-Team All-ACC selection has tree branches for arms, measuring at 34 ⅜ inches. For reference? About a ¼ inch larger than the average NFL offensive tackle. Here’s where that will come in handy:
Rousseau is an incredibly versatile defender. If you watch any 2019 film of him, you’ll see #15 moving all across the line. Seven-tech, five-tech, three-tech, even right across from the center at zero-tech. Having that additional versatility on a semi-skilled line will definitely help. Another example:
But the reason he is coming to Buffalo is to help the pass rush and defend the edge, and Rousseau did just that in his breakout 2019 season. He tallied 15.5 sacks, just behind former #2 overall pick Chase Young.
Other than the size and production, Rousseau has a great football IQ. He’s quick with his play recognition, sniffing out specifically designed plays like a bloodhound sniffing for deer. Rousseau also has a great motor and never gives up on a play.
Like most prospects, however, Rousseau presents a few red flags. Let’s first address the elephant in the room: he opted out of the 2020 season. And the year prior, he missed a majority of the season with an injury. But a whole year without football, whether or not due to injury, typically represents a step back for any player.
Nonetheless, just because Rousseau didn’t see the field for 365 days doesn’t mean he was sitting on his couch eating chips. By all accounts, Rousseau prepared for the next combine to the best of his abilities, just like any player would.
Another soft spot for Rosseau is his speed, or more precisely, his lack of it. An unimpressive 4.71 40-yard dash definitely set off alarms for some scouts. An edge defender with below-average speed? Not ideal. It’s also important to note that most of his sacks came from the nose-tackle position (zero-tech). Who knows if he’s fit to be five-technique in this league?
But the main question on everyone’s mind: “Why pick Rousseau, who sat out an entire year, when you could have had JOK, Ojulari, or Oweh?”
To be 100% honest, JOK would’ve been a great pick. However, it would’ve been hard to get him on the field right away. JOK played more snaps at linebacker than at edge defender while he was at Notre Dame. From the analytical point of view, the Bills run a 4-2-5 (four linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs) more often than not. With Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano getting a majority of those snaps, JOK would only receive a handful of opportunities to play. Why use your first pick on a guy who won’t be on the field for a majority of the game?
By contrast, Ojulari fits better in 3-4 defense, which is the exact opposite of the Bills’ 4-3 (or 4-2-5) structure. And while it’s not impossible to make the jump, adding a player who is already familiar with a similar defensive front is a good thing.
As for Oweh, even though I’m a current Penn State student myself, a season with zero sacks as an edge defender is a glaring red flag. If you’re going to question Rousseau’s production, just know that he had the same amount of sacks as Oweh did. He was also unfavorably compared to fellow Penn State alum and former Bills first-round bust Aaron Maybin.
Rousseau is definitely going to be a project for Leslie Frazier and the Bills. But that’s the story of the draft, right? Other than guys like Trevor Lawrence, almost all of the prospects are NFL-ready. They all have their red flags, the intangibles that they can’t change, and a whole host of issues that need fixing to achieve their potential. Rousseau is no exception. Nevertheless, with the right coaching and guidance, Rousseau has the tangibles to be great.
And not to toot my own horn, but:
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