by Justin Byram, special to Breaking Burgundy
Breaking news: The Redskins need defensive lineman and many believe they'll select one in the early rounds of 2016 NFL Draft.
Fine, this long-running discussion isn't exactly new. With Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton officially moving on, the argument for adding a tackle becomes even clearer.
Here's the question: Who fits best in defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s hybrid shoot-the-gap type scheme?
There are plenty of strong candidates in what projects as a deep and talented class. Alabama's Jarran Reed, Baylor's Andrew Billings and Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler are among the more intriguing interior prospects. All are realistic targets for Washington in the first round.
Washington needs a versatile nose tackle big and strong enough to clog the middle yet possess the quickness, hand usage, and wiggle to be a threat on passing downs. With the NFL becoming more and more of a passing league, pushing the pocket from the inside is becoming increasingly important. Go back and re-watch Super Bowl 50 if you need a reminder.
For now, let's start thinking about the future and which of these three massive men make the most sense for the Redskins at 21.
Alabama, Senior, 6’3", 307 lbs
A big, powerful, nasty football player who played under the bright lights of Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the SEC? Sounds like he and Scot McCloughan are a match made in heaven right? Well, not so fast…
Reed is as powerful as they come, using phenomenal lower body strength and a well-timed punch off the snap to be a very effective nose tackle, clogging the middle and filling running lanes with ease. However, although Reed is a high motor player who is willing to chase down a ball carrier or a scrambling quarterback, he has shown limited potential as a pass rusher, and I don’t know that I ever see him being more than a very, very good two down run stuffer.
Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a two down player, with the NFL becoming more and more of a pass-happy league, a first round selection is a bit high for a run stuffer in my opinion. Especially when I feel there are better scheme fits and values that will be on the board for the Skins at 21 and beyond.
Baylor, Junior, 6'1" 311 lbs
Unlike Reed, Billings is not limited to being labeled as a classic “run stuffer”, not that he isn’t big and powerful enough to clog the middle. Billings is surprisingly athletic for a man of his size, and uses solid hand technique to push the pocket and create pressure often. With some NFL coaching, I really like Billings upside as a versatile defensive lineman that you can line up at multiple spots and use in multiple ways.
Billings definitely fits what the Redskins want to do schematically. He uses his athleticism and hand use to shoot gaps, meeting the ball carrier in the backfield often. I really like Billings, because he’s strong enough to be a nose tackle and clog the middle on running downs, and quick enough to have an impact as a pass rusher from a 0, 1, or 3 technique on passing downs. Billings is a playmaker that defensive coordinator Joe Barry and defensive line coach Robb Akey would be giddy to add to the roster.
Louisiana Tech, Senior, 6’4" 323 lbs
Butler may be the only option I like for the Redskins more than Billings, and if both happen to be on the board when the Skins are on the clock at 21, I think McCloughan would have to strongly consider trading down if it’s an option. If that doesn’t work out, you pick whichever player you believe has the highest ceiling long term and is the best schematic fit.
Butler moves extremely well for a man carrying 323 pounds on his frame, Louisiana Tech even lined him up from a linebacker position rushing from a two-point stance in the middle at times. When Butler uses his leverage and gets his hands into offensive lineman’s chest off the snap, he can be damn near impossible to stop. The one thing that I love about Butler that gives him a slight edge over Billings in my opinion is just how versatile he is. Butler can play a 0 or 1 technique nose tackle, shoot the gap as a 3 technique on passing downs and I even think he can play end in a base 3-4 look if Chris Baker or Kedric Golston play some nose. If you put Butler in the right system, with the right coaching staff, to me his potential is unlimited.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In my opinion, this is how I would rank these prospects in terms of value/fit with the Redskins:
1. Vernon Butler
2. Andrew Billings
3. Jarran Reed
Butler and Billings are basically 1A and 1B in my mind due to their versatility and high ceilings. However, I think Butler has a little more to offer as a pass rusher, is a little bigger, and is a senior, so I’ll give the Louisiana Tech product the slight edge over Billings. Like I’ve already stated, Billings is neck in neck with Butler for the top spot. Although he offers the Skins a more traditional nose tackle skillset, the team doesn’t implement its traditional 3-4 look enough for that to be a huge factor in my mind. Billings would be a solid addition, but Butler would be slightly better in my opinion. Reed is a fine player, but his limited upside as a pass rusher makes him far less valuable than the other two.
Follow Justin on Twitter @justin_byram
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