Jarran Reed couldn’t visit the Buffalo Bills, so the Buffalo Bills visited him. No other team went to such lengths to chat with the Alabama defensive lineman.
But when Reed was forced to cancel his scheduled trip north, Buffalo was proactive.
Defensive line coach John Blake and scout Gerald Dixon had dinner with the 6-foot-3, 307-pound block of granite at “Five Bar” in downtown Tuscaloosa last Friday. The crew ordered chicken, seafood, talked shop and Reed walked away from the meeting wanting to be a Bill.
“Everything went good, man,” Reed said Monday, his voice spiked with rapid enthusiasm. “It went great. It went beyond measures I can’t explain.”
Picking Reed at No. 19 overall makes sense for the Bills, too.
Scouts dub this one of the best defensive line draft classes in history. It could prove foolish to take zero swings at the plate. Buffalo released the lethargic, overpaid Mario Williams and are currently very thin up front. A large Bills contingent was on hand to see Reed light up position drills at Alabama’s pro day. When Reed needed to nix his flight to Buffalo due to the birth of his second child, the Bills took matters into their own hands.
And, oh, John Blake? The team’s new D-Line coach? The two go way back. Reed, a Goldsboro, N.C., native, once attended Blake’s football camp in North Carolina. Knocking heads around as a freshman, Reed was bumped up to the senior drills.
“It’d be the perfect situation, perfect fit, it’d be amazing,” Reed said.
“I know Coach Blake. I know the type he is. I mean, it’s domination all across the board. If I came in with what I can help them with, we’d be unstoppable. Defense wins Super Bowls. We’d be a wrecking crew up front and help our linebackers out as well. We’d all complement each other well. It’s a perfect fit.”
Of course, he knows Alabama-product Marcell Dareus, too, the Bills’ richest and, arguably, most talented player.
Who would precisely fit where doesn’t matter to him. He’s confident playing the 5-technique, 3-technique and nose tackle across the whole defensive line. Considering Rex Ryan probably will blend 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, such versatility would be valued. Dareus — grossly misused in 2015 — may move around more, too.
“I can play it all,” Reed said. “I play everywhere and everybody knows that.
“I’m relentless. I play with effort, I play physical, I play hard, I’m running sideline to sideline and dominate whoever’s in front of me. I bring a nastiness to the game, a player who plays with passion.”
So this is the message to Buffalo, to all teams. On Alabama’s star-studded, national-champion defense, Reed finished with 56 tackles (4.5 for loss) and one sack last season. Routinely eating up double-teams to free up others, he also forced runs inside as an edge-setter and was disruptive when cut loose.
Reed wasn’t credited with a missed tackle all season. A linebacker in high school, he insists he’s always been driven to “punish," to inflict violence between the whistles.
Coach Nick Saban is known for his brutal practices, of course.
“Finishing,” Reed said. “That’s what we preached every day at practice. You practice how you play. Once I get my hands on you, you’re going down in some type of way. … If I don’t hit him right on the numbers, I’m trying to slam him or something.”
That one sack could be a concern for teams — Reed wasn’t used on obvious passing downs. He's disruptive... but disruptive enough to strike fear in quarterbacks?
Reed hopes his week in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl silenced those doubts.
“The pass rush is there,” Reed said. “I played within a system at Alabama. I know I can pass rush. I can be an every-down player. You plug in the Senior Bowl film and you’ll know I can pass rush. … I know I can pass rush and that’s not even a question.”
Drafting Reed effectively turns the page on Mario Williams. He embraces a selfless role in a defense and, unlike Williams, effort isn’t a problem. Teammates won't claim Reed is "checking out." Further, if there was a disconnect between Karl Dunbar and players on last year’s defensive line, there wouldn't be here.
Reed raves about Blake at every opportunity. He’s convinced the assistant would utilize his strengths. There could be (get this!) synergy, instead of dysfunction up front. One more connection? Reed previously attended Hargrave Military Academy, just like two previous Rex Ryan picks on the defensive line, Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples.
In pre-draft meetings, of course, Reed has needed to answer for his July 2014 DUI arrest. As all know here, St. Rex relishes taking on such players.
“The thing is how you overcome it and how you bounce back from it,” Reed said. “I bounced back stronger from it. It made me a better person. I made better decisions.”
At No. 19 overall, Buffalo can realistically veer in a dozen directions. Out of all teams he’s spoken with, Reed got the best vibe from the Bills. At his pro day, he says he left the team in “awe,” adding “they didn’t expect to see how much ability I had.”
Jacey K. Reed was born a month later, on April 8. The Bills kept in touch.
Now, he waits... on the edge of his seat.
“I just left with a great feeling, man,” Reed said. “They made me feel real at home.”
Here are the top 10 interior defensive linemen in the draft...
1. DeForest Buckner, Oregon (6 foot 7, 288 pounds): The picturesque 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, Buckner had 10 1/2 tackles for loss last season. Perfect length (34 1/2 arms) and his hands (11 3/4 inches) were the biggest at the Combine.
2. Jarran Reed, Alabama (6-3, 309): The more teams see of Reed, the more they like him. An elite run defender, he's no fun for any lineman to face 50-plus plays a game. All power, Reed more apt to collapse a pocket than make a pass-rushing move.
3. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech (6-4, 325): Blessed with arguably best athleticism of anyone in this group, Butler could dominate on the nose and slide along the line. Met with the Bills. Totaled 50 tackles (10 for loss), three sacks and eight quarterback hurries last fall.
4. Kenny Clark, UCLA (6-2, 312): Had 75 tackles (11 for loss) with six sacks and five pass break-ups as a senior, serving as the leader on a loaded Bruins defense. Future NFL'ers Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Owa Odighizuwa all listened to him.
5. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss (6-4, 295): A clear Top 10 talent, character concerns could drop Nkemdiche in the draft. Freakish athlete recorded best 40 (4.89) and vertical (35 inches) of any end in the draft. Drunken fall from Atlanta hotel and admitting he was lazy at times in 2015 won't help his cause.
6. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville (6-1, 302): Disruptive three-down player had 13 TFL and six sacks last season. Was used as one-gapper and two-gapper in college, ideal for teams like Buffalo looking to get creative up front. Explosive, relentless yet could also be a tick undersized.
7. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama (6-3, 310): A nose tackle in 2014, Robinson moved to end in 2015 but had just 3 1/2 sacks. Can eat up blockers, occupy space. If coached up, he has a high ceiling.
8. Andrew Billings, Baylor (6-1, 311): Maybe the most pure nose tackle in the draft, Billings was known as a workout warrior in Baylor's weight room. Won't help much in the pass rush but had 30 tackles for loss in two seasons.
9. Chris Jones, Mississippi State (6-6, 311): Dubbed a boom-or-bust prospect, some scouts have claimed Jones' motor runs hot and cold. Had 44 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks as a junior before declaring a year early.
10. Jihad Ward, Illinois (6-5, 298): End/tackle 'tweener has a high motor, once catching Iowa's quarterback 50 yards downfield. Had 104 tackles (12 1/2 for loss) and 4 ½ sacks in his two years starting.