One vivid memory stands out. When Kamalei Correa stepped into his meeting with the Buffalo Bills at the NFL scouting combine, Rex Ryan and the gang were... drinking Slurpees.
They set their drinks down, turned on the film and no second of the 15-minute speed date was wasted.
“I could tell off the bat that they love football,” said Correa, the Boise State edge rusher. “They love to talk about it and they’re all about it. So I really dig that perspective.”
The Bills cycled through Correa’s plays, asking him detailed questions along the way. His scheme. His assignment. His temperament. On the spot, Correa realized his attitude was a perfect fit for Rex's defense.
“I fit their personalities,” he said. “I feel I fit what they’re preaching. They’re just a bunch of dudes who love football.”
Whether it's No. 19 in the first round or No. 49 in the second, don't be surprised if Correa is the pick.
The Bills need a game-changer, a blood-thirsty pass rusher to zap life into an often-lethargic defense that finished with a franchise-low 21 sacks. And in a draft lacking such weapons — beyond Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, it’s a crapshoot — Correa may make the most sense. The 6-foot-3, 243-pounder racked up 19 sacks and four forced fumbles the last two seasons, lit up his Combine with a 4.69 in the 40, 34-inch vertical leap and scouts were impressed with his positional drills.
Correa has drawn comparisons to the Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews by NFL executives. A comparison Correa strives for.
The Honolulu, Hawaii native has watched Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night Football as long as he can remember — and Matthews was usually front and center, raising hell.
“Me and him have a pretty similar game,” Correa said. “I model my game after him. He does what I do. He’s not only an edge rusher but he plays the stack linebacker. And he can move within a defensive scheme.
“He can do multiple things, and not just get set on one thing. That’s what I can bring to a team as well.”
Which is precisely what Ryan wants his linebackers to do.
His 3-4 can morph into a 4-3 any moment. Jobs shift on the fly, as linebackers must process a lot mentally before bringing physically. And, yes, Correa tries to apply Matthews' flexing, trash-talking spunk to his game, too.
“He just has so much intensity when he plays,” Correa said. “If he makes a big play, he just goes crazy and that’s the same way I play. I love to talk smack out there and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
Don’t let Correa’s yes-sir, no-sir tone in a conversation fool you. After sacks, he’s usually dancing into a "whip," dusting his uniform off or pretending to scoop food into his mouth with “Eat!” swag. If effort was an issue for Mario Williams in 2015, it wasn’t for Correa — he once caught a Utah State running back 51 yards downfield.
As a pass rusher, he says he seeks the minute detail. Is an offensive tackle a “vertical setter,” a “45-degree setter” or a “jump setter?” Does he have good feet? Bad feet?
Before Boise State’s 55-7 rout of North Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl, Correa noticed the offense loved unbalanced lines.
“So when I’d see that,” he said, “I put a little more effort into my speed rush coming off the edge. Because I knew if I beat ‘em with speed, I’d get ‘em. I did that, got a sack/fumble and I almost picked it up and scored. That was huge momentum in the game, so those little things go a long way.”
To Correa, pass rushing is 60 percent mental and 40 percent physical. He points to the end of his freshman year as a turning point. He loathed being a back-up, so Correa started pouring in extra hours to training, to the film room.
Now the question is if he's more DeMarcus Lawrence or Shea McClellin. One Boise State rusher (Lawrence) had 55 tackles and eight sacks last season in Dallas. The other (McClellin) had only 7.5 sacks in 52 games with Chicago and is now in New England.
If the Bills go edge rusher early — and considering Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Eli Manning hardly broke a sweat in throwing for 921 yards, 9 TD, 1 int and a 105.1 rating in three losses that set the tone for Buffalo's 8-8 season, that'd be a wise idea — Correa could get the call.
He believes he impressed Buffalo back at Indianapolis.
This is a head coach who treats the agitation of opponents as an art form, a badge of honor. Ryan is fresh off endorsing Donald J. Trump for president. And as Correa explains it, he “blanks out” after big plays. Transforms. Maybe that's what Buffalo is missing opposite Jerry Hughes at outside linebacker.
“If I get mad," he said, "I’m going to speak my mind because that’s how I feel. And I’m going to bring the heat to you. So you better be ready.
“The Bills would be a great pick. Wherever I go, I’m hoping to help the organization win and bring them a Super Bowl.”
Here are the top 10 edge rushers in the draft...
1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State (6 foot 5, 269 pounds): Powerful bull rush, NFL-ready body, pedigree make Bosa one of the best players in the entire draft; 29.5 tackles for loss last two seasons.
2. Leonard Floyd, Georgia (6-6, 244): His 4.6 in the 40 was faster than Laquon Treadwell, graded by many the best wide receiver the draft, and his 39.5-inch vertical topped Top 10 corner prospect Vernon Hargreaves, yet he had only 4.5 sacks last season. Met with the Bills.
3. Shaq Lawson, Clemson (6-3, 269): A dominant force at Clemson who Rex Ryan is very familiar win, the muscular Lawson had 25.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks last fall.
4. Kamalei Correa, Boise State (6-3, 243): May possess the best quick twitch of anyone around the corner; the key will be harnessing all of his energy so he doesn't over-run plays.
5. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky (6-2, 251): Permanently banned by the Big 10 after failing two drug tests for taking Ecstasy, Spence got his life back on track (so far) and Ryan loves reclamation projects. Had 22.5 TFL last season.
6. Kevin Dodd, Clemson (6-5, 277): A one-year wonder for the Tigers, but what a year it was for Dodd, who had 23.5 TFL and 12 sacks as a relentless finisher.
7. Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State (6-4, 273): Thick, strong with violent 35.5-inch arms, Ogbah posted a sack or more in 16 of his last 21 games, but some scouts question his athleticism.
8. Bronson Kaufusi, BYU (6-6, 285): Student of the game visited with the Bills. Kaufusi, who was coached by his Dad in college, was used in a multitude of ways in a NFL-ready defensive scheme. Finished with 11 sacks, 20 TFL as a senior.
9. Kyler Fackrell, Utah State (6-5, 245): Athletic and accustomed to playing from a two-point stance, Fackrell bounced back from a torn ACL to record 15 TFL, four sacks, two forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.
10. Carl Nassib, Penn State (6-7, 277): Towering brother of Ryan Nassib originally walked on at Penn State before leading the nation in sacks (15.5) and forced fumbles (six) last season.