At the end of the NFL regular season, teams begin poaching players off other teams’ practice squads, signing them to “reserve/futures” contracts that ensures their spot on the 90-man roster prior to training camp. With Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan stating that he was going “all-in” on his defensive scheme in 2016, General Manager Doug Whaley brought in three very intriguing players in edge defender Max Valles, a versatile edge defender/interior nickel rusher in Lavar Edwards and a mammoth nose tackle in T.J. Barnes.
Our staff writer John Green highlighted some of the signings to the offensive side of the ball that you can read here, but today we’ll take a look at three players that could find themselves on Buffalo’s 53-man roster come August.
DE/OLB Max Valles
6’5” 251 lbs, 21-years old, Virginia
Max Valles caught the eyes of many draftniks who were watching fellow Virginia defensive end Eli Harold prior to the 2015 NFL Draft. Harold, a junior, found himself drafted in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers, but most analysts assumed that Valles would return for his junior year to refine his technique and improve his draft stock.
However, the 6’5” 250-pound 20-year old declared for the draft after recording 55 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, eight pass breakups, three forced fumbles and an interception in his sophomore season. Max Valles looks the part of your prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker and has the athleticism to match, posting a 36 1/2“ vertical leap and a 10’1” broad jump at the combine, showcasing his explosiveness.
Valles got by on his raw athletic ability during his two seasons at Virginia, using his speed and burst off the edge to get after the quarterback and his long arms to box out linemen and set the edge against the run. While he is 250 pounds and stands 6’5”, Valles probably should’ve stayed in school another year in order to get stronger—particularly in his lower half—and learn the nuances of the position.
There’s no question that he’s a moldable piece of clay that’s attractive to any defensive coach, as he was drafted in the sixth round, but he needs a lot of work before he can be called upon as a starter.
Nonetheless, Valles does flash the ability to bend the corner, maintain a low pad level and play through the whistle while showing the fluidity to drop into coverage. But, there are times where he looks completely lost and was washed out of plays.
DL Lavar Edwards
6’4” 277 lbs, 25-years old, Louisiana State
Lavar Edwards didn’t see much playing time during his four years at LSU, serving as a rotational defensive lineman behind Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery. However, Edwards is a ridiculous athlete with great size and length that project well to the strong-side defensive end role in an odd front. With 35 ½” arms and posting a 4.77 40-yard dash, Lavar Edwards definitely brings some intrigue to the defensive line.
In his limited role, Edwards managed to rack up 20 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, which is extremely impressive considering how little he saw the field. He played both right and left defensive end in LSU’s 4-3 fronts and would slide inside to the three-technique defensive tackle position in passing situations.
He’s a powerful player with heavy hands and the strength to push the pocket, but has the speed and motor to play off the edge as well.
NT T.J. Barnes
6’7” 367 lbs, 25-years old, Georgia Tech
T.J. Barnes stands out simply because of his enormous size. Probably one of the biggest players in the National Football League, Barnes looks like what you’d want out of a two-gapping nose tackle that can plug up the middle of the defensive line.
Barnes is a decent athlete considering his mammoth frame, posting a 5.22 40-yard dash. He played 53 games for the Yellow Jackets and racked up 75 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and broke up four passes in his role as a backup/rotational lineman.
T.J. Barnes is a giant and routinely eats up multiple blockers—something the Bills need one of their defensive linemen to do, so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks when training camp rolls around.