Scouting draft prospects is all a projection.
It’s not about who they were last October in Tuscaloosa, South Bend or Baton Rouge. It’s about who they will be next October – and three Octobers from now – in New England, Baltimore or Buffalo.
Sometimes, we can watch the video and it’s not rocket science.
You saw Florida tight end Kyle Pitts run circles around Ole Miss last fall and said, yep, that guy is ready to go off for about eight catches, 120 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL game. The Atlanta Falcons hope so and used the fourth overall pick on Pitts.
When Tre’Davious White came out of Louisiana State in 2017, we had 49 games of video on him, with 47 starts. We had a pretty good idea Tre could cover, tackle and run with NFL receivers all over the field.
Then there is Greg Rousseau. He played 15 games in his college career, essentially one full season. He didn't play defensive end until he got to the University of Miami. His last game was 16 months ago, when he was 19 years old, and he was playing a full 20 pounds less than the 266 he weighs right now.
And you want me to tell you how he might play in 2022 when the Bills probably will need him to step into the starting lineup?
My job is to analyze the Bills’ moves. I’ve been doing it more than 30 years. I’m not remotely qualified to make this projection.
That’s why Brandon Beane, Joe Schoen, Dan Morgan & Co. make the big bucks.
They’ve done a good job of it the past four years. As everyone knows, they made the colossal projection on Josh Allen in 2018 – amid largely skeptical reviews – and they were right.
Does that mean Beane gets a free pass from here to eternity? No. But today, three months after the end of a 15-4 season, he gets a free pass.
Turn on the video of Rousseau and what do you see?
The length obviously is impressive. Rousseau is 6-foot-6 5/8 – we’re calling him 6-7 from here on out – with 34 3/4-inch arms. Washington’s Chase Young, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, had 33 1/8-inch arms. San Francisco’s Nick Bosa, the No. 2 pick in 2019, has 33-inch arms. Those long arms keep offensive tackles from latching on.
At times you see Rousseau take long strides in his rush. He can gobble up turf in a hurry.
“He’s a long-strider,” Beane said early Friday morning, “so he takes two steps where someone else might take three steps and so that can stress the tackle, itself.”
Love it. How much ground does the guy cover with his first two steps? Guys who have short, choppy steps out of their stance might play with enough effort and power to be capable NFL players. But they’re never going to be high-end edge rushers.
Another key Beane quote: “He's got a knack. There's a lot of instinct and feel at various defensive positions, but this is another one. There's so many guys that get drafted that are explosive, but they can't get the quarterback down or they can't find the quarterback. ... He knows how to flatten, he backs the tackle back and flattens.”
To flatten means that once the pass rusher reaches the depth of the quarterback, he’s able to adjust his angle of attack and change his body positioning so he isn’t ridden well past the pocket beyond the QB.
Think of Trent Murphy. He couldn’t adjust well and would get ridden wide. Think of Aaron Maybin (but not too long). He’d go from 0 to 60 in three steps but with no concept of where he was in relation to the QB.
Rousseau will play physical. It’s easy to see him being an asset setting the edge against the run, a big priority for the Bills’ scheme. Speed to power is his best move, and he will use his power to split double teams inside. The effort always is there.
But in 2019, he didn’t have countermoves to his pass rushing. A lot of production came out of exotic, sub-fronts on pass-rushing situations where he beat a center or guard. He got a bunch of effort sacks where the quarterback was forced to hold the ball. (Yes, they count.)
You didn’t often see him win cleanly with speed one-on-one off the edge against a tackle. You see a little dip and bend around the edge – maybe – but not a lot. He played too upright at times.
ESPN’s Louis Riddick, the former Eagles scout, summed up the worries on Rousseau, comparing him against teammate Jaelan Phillips (taken at No. 18) and Houston’s Payton Turner (picked 28th).
“The quality of his sacks just weren’t what you were expecting,” Riddick said. “It was nothing like Jaelan Phillips at all. You think of a guy like Payton Turner, who has suddenness to his movement. Quick feet. Puts his hand down in a 3-point and comes off the ball. You say, ‘OK, I see the juice.” With Rousseau, many times you say, ‘Where is it? Where is the get-off?’”
This brings us another key element – maybe the biggest – in making a draft projection: football character. This means intelligence (“Smart players get better,” said Marv Levy), work ethic, discipline, resilience, unselfishness, willingness to take coaching, the ability to deal with failure and how much they love football.
Maybin was extremely smart and a great person but did he love football enough? Eh. Not nearly as much as Matt Milano loves it. Bust edge rusher Erik Flowers was a great guy, but he wasn’t as intense as Sean McDermott, I guarantee you that.
Beane, McDermott & Co. have been really good at getting guys with football character.
Levi Wallace shows up early, stays late, knows virtually every assignment cold and doesn’t back down when the going gets tough. The exact same goes for Stefon Diggs. Obviously, Diggs has a lot more ability than Wallace, but they’re both maxing out their talent. Those are guys who walk into your building every day, and you are getting their best. You want a team of those guys. The Bills have collected a bunch of them.
Beane believes Rousseau fits that mold.
Said the GM: “Very mature for his age. He has the intangibles that we look for. A guy that's going to work. Very competitive. Wasn't looking for a year off. He's just going to come in and work. He's not going to think he's done anything.”
The best quote from Rousseau in his meeting with Buffalo media: “It's really all about being where your feet are. Working hard, not getting discouraged when people say something about you, and being where your feet are at all times.”
Rousseau is going to need that perspective. He’s not getting 15½ sacks as a rookie. Let’s peg his over-under for 2021 at 1½.
CBS Sports analyst Bryant McFadden, the former NFL cornerback, is a fan.
“When he hits that light switch: Myles Garrett 2.0,” McFadden said, referring to Cleveland's edge-rushing giant.
I'll believe that when I see it.
What the heck. For now, Bills fans might as well dream about a rose-colored future, maybe in 2022 or 2023: What if Beane is as right about Rousseau as he was about Allen?