A history of accomplishment on special teams factored into the equation when the Buffalo Bills made their two fourth-round selections in Saturday's continuation of the NFL Draft. Both Florida State outside linebacker Nigel Bradham and LSU cornerback Ron Brooks were major contributors on coverage and return teams throughout their collegiate careers.
Bradham, FSU's defensive captain, led the Seminoles defense in tackles each of the last three seasons but caught the Bills attention for other reasons, too. At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, he's bigger than what's become the prototypical college linebacker as schools go smaller and quicker to combat spread offenses. Also, Bradham considers special teams no less vital than his play on defense.
"He's a physical kid and he's got good size," Bills national scout Darrell Moody said. "With the spread formations now, a lot of the linebackers are smaller than we would like. But he's got good size. He's got good straight-line speed and is a great special teams player. I've done this for 10 years and I think in the 10 years that I've done it, of a starter playing on special teams, I think he covers better than any starter I've ever seen on special teams. He really works hard covering punts and kickoffs. He's a productive player for them and he's been a very productive special teams player for them."
"I feel like it's just as important as the defense," Bradham said. "It has the ability to change the game, so every time I go out there I feel it's a great opportunity. So I just play with a lot of passion. I have so much love for the game."
Five years ago it would have been considered a steal for the Bills to nab Bradham in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He drew rave reviews his senior season at talent-packed Wakulia High School in Crawfordville, Fla. Scout.com had him ranked No. 1 among the nation's college-bound linebackers. The Dallas Morning News ranked him No. 5 in its national all-position assessment.
The Bills view Bradham as capable of playing the weak or strong side in defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt's new 4-3 scheme.
"Well, the way we play it now, if I understand from talking to Dave [Wannstedt], the two outside linebackers you would like to be interchangeable because of the way people shift with formations and those kinds of things," Moody said. "I think our strongside linebacker and our weakside outside linebacker are going to be very similar as far as what they are going to be asked to do at different times during the ballgame."
Bradham's up for whatever gets him on the field. While scouts saw his talent early, there were obstacles to overcome on his path to the NFL. He was raised by a single mother and had an older brother he said has been "in and out" of prison.
"It seems so unreal that I have this opportunity," Bradham said. "I feel so happy. I mean, it's in your dreams and then to actually have the opportunity to actually live that after all the hard work you put in and everything you've been through in life, and to have the opportunity to help your family and contribute any kind of way you can to a new organization."
Brooks, selected with Buffalo's second fourth-round pick at No. 124 overall, played in the shadow of great LSU cornerbacks such as Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick this year.
"My focus wasn't being one of the guys to get all the publicity and get all the shine,'' Brooks said. ''My thing was to go out there, play hard, do what I love to do and try and help my team win.''
Brooks (5-10, 190) saw action in 53 games during his LSU career and produced three interceptions, all of them returned for touchdowns. He also played on coverage teams and returned 25 kicks during his time in Baton Rouge.
"I pretty much played on every special teams unit except for the field-goal kicks," Brooks said. "I played in all positions and I feel like that will be one thing that really helps me coming up to Buffalo, my ability to play gunner, punt return, kick return or wherever I'm needed really."
"He has great speed and he's violent at the point of attack," LSU coach Les Miles said on the NFL Network. "He can play inside, can play outside. We've had great corners. He played a lot in every game. You put the fact he plays every down and can play special teams, and I think they're getting a great pick.
"He's a very violent player. He's been a gunner and a jammer. He'll be one of your fastest guys down on kickoffs. He's going to contribute a lot of snaps in the game."