After acquiring offensive talent during the 2015 NFL Free Agency period, the Buffalo Bills will turn to the draft to bolster the defensive side of the ball with players that fit Rex Ryan’s hybrid defensive scheme. While the defensive line is arguably the best in the National Football League, the team still needs to add depth, particularly at the five-technique end position.
Without a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills could see Mississippi State’s Preston Smith as the best available player if he lasts to the No. 50 overall pick. A three-year starter for the Bulldogs, Smith played 38 games, racking up 127 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, six pass breakups, two interceptions, 26 quarterback hurries and blocked two kicks/punts.
Preston Smith had an incredible combine, measuring in at 6’5” and 271 pounds. He ran a 4.71 40-yard dash with a 1.63-second 10-yard split, posted a 7.07-second three-cone drill and a 4.28 second 20-yard shuttle. He capped off the day with a 10’1” broad jump, a 34” vertical leap and put up 24 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. All those numbers are fantastic for a man of his size and project well to a variety of positions.
A powerful athlete, Smith was used all over Mississippi State’s defensive line, lining up at the 0, 1, 3, 5, 7 and even a standup 9 technique, and even dropped into zone coverage on some blitzes.
In the following clip, Smith’s power is put on display. Lined up at the zero-technique nose tackle position, Smith gets off the snap quickly, using his long arms (34”) to “swim” over the center, before fighting through the double team and sacking the quarterback.
Preston Smith is a big, physical player that defends the run very well. He’s got great lower body strength that allows him to anchor, surrendering little-to-no ground. He shows good awareness, using his arms to lock out opposing offensive linemen, while keeping his eyes in the backfield.
In the following clip, Smith shows the ability to maintain leverage against the run. Off the snap, La’El Collins, a potential Top-10 pick in the draft is able to knock him off his spot, but Smith recovers, sinks his hips and forces the run back inside for his teammates to clean up.
When rushing the passer from an outside position, Preston Smith doesn’t show the suddenness or change-of-direction ability to consistently succeed as a speed-to-power rusher. Smith’s lack of explosion is shown in the next play as his stiffness around the edge allows Collins to mirror him, before swatting his arms away, causing him to fall down.
Instead, he’s more of a power-player, using his length, strength, physicality and football IQ to set up linemen and counter. In the following clip Smith sets up LSU’s right tackle, faking an inside rush that causes the lineman to set his feet, before shifting laterally to the outside. As the quarterback scrambles out of the pocket, Smith shows off his hustle and plays to the whistle.
How He Fits The Bills
Preston Smith is a bit of a tweener, as he’s got the size to play left defensive end in a 4-3 defense or strong-side linebacker in a 3-4, but lacks the burst and explosion to be a difference-maker at either spot. Smith’s ideal position is at the five-technique 3-4 defensive end position, where his combination of size, length, bulk and power would be maximized. In Rex Ryan’s defense, Smith could play some SAM on obvious run downs, as he possesses the size that Rex has coveted throughout his coaching career.
Smith needs some polish to his game, as Mississippi State primarily used him as an interior tackle, a position he won’t play in the NFL aside from some nickel fronts. However, his overall talent and athleticism projects Smith to be an impact player at the next level.
Player Comparison: Ziggy Ansah
Proj. Round: Late 1st, 2nd