Being almost two weeks away from the 2021 NFL Draft, all we can do now is speculate about how the Buffalo Bills will prioritize improving the roster. We all know the obvious areas for improvement on this roster. However, the priority of drafting a defensive tackle seems to be less than other positions.
After Star Lotulelei opted out of the 2020 season, the depth of the Buffalo Bills interior defensive line was tested. Multiple players were playing out of their natural position because of that opt-out. Players like Ed Oliver, Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, and even Quinton Jefferson were forced to shift their responsibilities.
The Buffalo Bills defensive front has struggled in recent years defending the run. Those same struggles persisted at the beginning of 2020. With that being said, there were some clear improvements throughout the year. Even with those improvements, this is still an area to upgrade in 2021 for the Buffalo Bills.
To set the stage, the Buffalo Bills defensive tackles currently have five defensive tackles on the roster. These players are Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Vernon Butler, Harrison Phillips, and Justin Zimmer. Of these five players, only Lotulelei has shown adequate play in the 1-tech role. The other four are much better playing in the 3-tech role, where they are asked to penetrate run gaps more than clog them.
Of the five defensive tackles on the roster, only Oliver and Lotulelei are under contract past 2021. Given the current construction of the roster, it would make sense for the Buffalo Bills to invest in a defensive tackle in this year’s draft. After his year off, Lotulelei is now 31 years old. There’s no guarantee that his individual contributions will be adequate enough considering the heightened expectations surrounding the 2021 Buffalo Bills.
On The Air Raid Hour, we believe that the Buffalo Bills should be looking to add a 1-tech defensive tackle to the roster in this year’s draft. As the self-proclaimed Alim McNeill fan show, we had to devote a show topic to the big guys on the interior. There has yet to be any news of the Buffalo Bills being linked to Alim McNeill, but we plan to will it into existence. At about 6’1″ and 317 pounds, McNeill has a rare combination of size, strength, and agility.
Personally, I believe McNeill is the best fit in terms of what the Buffalo Bills would want from a 1-tech. His above-average functional strength and high effort level make him a very stout run defender. With that being said, most 1-tech defensive tackles get taken off the field on third down because they don’t add enough value as a pass rusher. That’s not the case for McNeill. Relative to his position, McNeill is above-average in terms of first-step explosion and agility. Combine all that with his go-to spin move, and he could develop into a key piece on this defensive interior next to Ed Oliver.
After McNeill, there are still seven other 1-tech defensive tackle prospects that I have on my radar heading into the 2021 NFL Draft. My personal ranking of these prospects after McNeill is as follows: Tyler Shelvin, Marvin Wilson, Khyiris Tonga, Bobby Brown III, Jonathan Marshall Tedarrell Slaton, and Quinton Bohanna. We hadn’t talked much about Jonathan Marshall from Arkansas much on The Air Raid Hour, so I gave my initial thoughts on him around the 43-minute mark.
In addition to our round table discussion about the big fatties on the interior, we also had Matt Parrino as our special guest. After talking shop with Matt, we jumped into a mock draft in which he would be our pseudo Brandon Beane. As his pseudo-player personnel/scouting department, we were tasked with giving him the requisite information to make the executive decision. If you missed it, check out the replay of The Air Raid Hour embedded and linked above to see our mock draft with Matt.
As always, Go Bills!