I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.
You cannot help but see the headlines that periodically link some draft expert's latest mock draft and what he thinks the Dallas Cowboys are going to do. Last week it was Mel Kiper and this week it was Gil Brandtwho both think Dallas would be in on the Pac 12's Defensive Player of the Year for 2015.
Buckner is a very large man who stands above the game at 6'7 and who has played 4 seasons for the Ducks at a very high and productive level. This year, he was in on 27.5 explosive plays (sacks + tackles for loss) and also factored in on 83 tackles which is very nice. He also plays with an intensity and energy that certainly appears to be infectious and demonstrates his standing on his team of the lead dog.
The questions are always going to be the following when ranking draft prospects this far up the board. Is he good or great at the NFL level and how does he fit in with the Dallas Cowboys approach to defense? Answer both of those questions properly, and then you will quickly have the answer about the potential selection at #4 overall.
I try to resolve those questions with my own method of video observation. I am often asked about how much to watch and I have arrived at 200 consecutive snaps. I don't want the video cherry-picked or sorted by great results (although I try to pick tough opponents). I just want to see the player as his team sees him, because frankly, any player this good will have an exciting youtube highlight film. But that is often 12 plays out of 800. We want the real picture of the player.
What I liked: I think Buckner is a real force inside and clearly has the size to become a real problem. He has a bull rush that is quite effective and often walks his man right back into the pocket. The best part about his skill set seems how well he 2-gaps his man with a good arm extension on any running plays in front of him. If he can hold off his blocker with his arm length, then he can steer him and play both gaps to ultimately get in on the play. This leaves the running back with no real read and the play is shut down. Also, Buckner is quite intelligent in his reading of plays because you can see that he is reacting to player movement that keys him to a screen or a bootleg faster than his teammates. He is quite aware and has good instincts on what the opponent is trying. When he gets inside against a guard is where he gets his sacks. He is not really going to overwhelm very many tackles with much beyond a bull-rush, but if he gets inside, then he can use his hands and quick his way past an isolated guard to get to the QB. At his best, you can definitely see a similar body and style of Calais Campbell from Arizona, who anyone who knows the game will vouch that this would be a very nice goal.
What I did not like:The problem with that is that Campbell is a 5-technique DE in a 3-4 scheme. If Buckner goes to one of the 10 or 11 teams that still runs the 3-4, I am sure he will be a fine player for a long time. Just about all of his characteristics - 2 gapping, getting inside on guards for pass rush, and body style - speak to a 3-4 fit. But, in the 4-3, there are really issues here because he really isn't dangerous enough as a pass rusher on the edge and he plays too high to consistently be a force inside on normal downs (easy to knock him off the point of attack if you are not getting low - see the clip below). He has an average motor and aside from his size he has average athleticism. There is not that burst of quickness you would want to close out plays at the moment where the ball is going past him in the trenches (also see the clip below). In his head to head matchup with fellow 1st round prospect, Michigan State's tackle Jack Conklin, he was too quiet and not impactful for most of the evening. He is a "stand your ground" guy which works as a 5-technique. He also is primarily a straight line pass rusher on the edge. There is a lot of ability in this player, but I really think it needs to be a good fit for his skill set.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys:This player is going to be a 1st rounder, but he is definitely one of those players that the "draft pundit consensus" seems to rate him higher than I do. I think he has to be in a 3-4 to reach his ceiling and therefore he would not be the fit in Dallas for me that evidently many experts believe. I just am not seeing it.
The key to the draft is not whether a $60,000 truck is a fine vehicle, it is how much you are willing to pay for it. If you pay $100,000 for that truck, you are never going to feel great about your purchase even though it is a nice truck. If you pay $30,000 for that truck (like Arizona did for Calais Campbell at pick #50) you cannot stop celebrating for the life of your purchase. That is the analogy I would use for Buckner. He is a very nice prospect, but it has to be at the right price and in the right scheme. The idea of the Cowboys, a 4-3 team, taking him at #4 seems very unlikely to me.