The Buffalo Bills’ defense was inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at Florida Gators’ linebacker Antonio Morrison.
According to WKBW’s Joe Buscaglia, the Buffalo Bills are bringing in Antonio Morrison for an official pre-draft visit. A three-year contributor and captain for Florida’s defense, Morrison racked up 260 tackles, 19 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception while being named 2nd Team All-SEC in 2015.
Antonio Morrison has an uphill battle to be the mid-round draft pick most believed he would be just a year or two ago, as he was arrested twice—once for punching a bouncer and again for barking at a police dog—with both charges dropped. He also suffered a torn meniscus in 2013 and a torn ACL that required two surgeries in 2014. The fact that he played such a significant role on the Gators’ 2015 defense (78% of snaps) is a testament to his toughness and leadership.
Antonio Morrison Size/Athletic Ability
At the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Antonio Morrison measured in at 6’0” and 232 pounds, which isn’t bad, but his 30 3/8” arms are a concern. From an athletic standpoint, Morrison is limited in what he’ll be capable of doing at the NFL level as he lacks ideal lateral agility to change directions when dropping into coverage, and doesn’t have the explosiveness you look for in a run-and-chase linebacker. At his Pro Day, Antonio Morrison ran a 5.1-second 40-yard dash, a 4.6-second short shuttle, a 7.69 three-cone, while posting a 30” vertical leap and a 9’3” broad jump—all of which are pretty horrible numbers. However, he shows good speed and instincts on tape and it’s important to take his knee injuries into consideration when looking at his raw workout numbers.
Antonio Morrison Run Support
Despite weighing roughly 230 pounds, Antonio Morrison is a physical force against the run. He’s ferocious when taking on blockers, as you can see in the following play against Alabama. Morrison anticipates the snap and launches into the guard before shedding him and bringing down Derrick Henry at the line of scrimmage.
In the following rep, Ole Miss is running a quarterback draw with the H-Back attempting a “Wham” block, pulling across the formation to seal out Antonio Morrison. Morrison explodes downhill, defeats the block and brings the quarterback down for a short gain.
When his defensive line can keep him clean, Antonio Morrison shows good burst, closing speed and instincts to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield. In this play against Ole Miss, the Rebels are attempting a run to the right side of the formation. With the edge set, the running back cuts back to the left. Morrison is already coming downhill but doesn’t overpursue the run—instead redirecting and positioning himself to make the tackle in the hole.
The plays shown above illustrate the type of impact Antonio Morrison can have when working within the tackle box, but he struggles when tackling in space at times, missing nine on the year.
In the following play against New Mexico State, Morrison does everything you don’t want to see a linebacker do when making a tackle. He’s in perfect position to make a huge play for a loss, but lowers his head and leaves his feet to launch himself at the ball-carrier, completely whiffing.
Morrison can take bad angles when pursuing the run, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to recover and change direction, leading to more missed tackles like the one below.
He’s an aggressive player that brings physicality in the middle of a defense, but his aggressiveness can be exploited by opposing offenses at times. Here, Antonio Morrison bites way too hard on the quarterback option, allowing the running back to walk right into the endzone for a score.
Antonio Morrison Pass Coverage
Antonio Morrison is at his best when playing in short-to-intermediate areas where he uses his anticipation, closing speed and instincts to make plays on passes in front of him.
Here, Mizzou has trips to the right of the formation in a bunch set. Antonio Morrison drops into a shallow zone before picking up the receiver coming over the middle. He breaks on the ball and delivers a hit to break up the pass from the receiver.
Morrison has the speed to cover running backs in the flat, which is extremely important—particularly for Bills’ fans who remember the devastating losses to the Giants and Bengals because of opposing running backs in the passing game. Against Ole Miss, Antonio Morrison flies to the sideline and brings down the running back for a loss after catching the swing pass.
As he can tend to be overaggressive against the run, Morrison can be faked out on play-action passes as he does here against East Carolina. At the snap, Morrison bites on the play-fake and moves forward as the slot receiver easily gets behind him, making himself an easy target for the quarterback and moves the chains.
Potential fit with Buffalo Bills
Antonio Morrison’s style of play fits the exact mold that Rex Ryan loves in his linebackers—energetic, physical leaders that set the tone for a defense. Morrison is a team player that can be used in the “stunt-man” role that Bart Scott thrived in—blowing up lead blockers and allowing the rest of the back seven to swarm to the ball-carrier, or he can make plays as a run-and-chase defender, as long as the defensive line can keep him clean. He’ll make an immediate impact on special teams and will be a valuable role player for a team as a late Day 2, early Day 3 selection.