The first round isn’t the only place to find a stud in the NFL Draft. Sometimes, players just fall right into a team’s lap. This is where a team can hit a homerun and get a difference maker much lower in the draft than they should have. In this year’s class, one player in particular stands out to me as a potential match for that description. That player is Illinois DE/OLB Michael Buchanan. My #2 overall prospect in this year’s class is Oregon DE Dion Jordan. When I was watching film over the summer, I felt as if based on his Junior season tape, Michael Buchanan was just a tick behind Jordan, and was potential more developed as a pure pass rusher. In the 2012 Draft, the other Illinois DE, Whitney Mercilus, went #26 overall to the Houston Texans, and I felt as if Buchanan was a vastly superior player. This is all a roundabout way of saying that I thought Buchanan was a really, really good prospect.
A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted, “Does anyone remember Michael Buchanan?” The reasoning behind this is due to the fact that his Senior year saw a massive drop off. This wasn’t only in production, but in overall play. Buchanan looked lethargic and weak. The explosiveness that was displayed consistently in the previous season was completely gone. Recently, we got a little bit more of an explanation on this, and it really helped clarify his play for me. As a Junior, Buchanan was probably around 245, with adding more bulk on the to-do list. This summer, Buchanan broke his jaw, and had it wired shut. As a result, he reportedly lost nearly 20 pounds. While the broken jaw was the result of an altercation, which should be further investigated by any team looking to draft Buchanan, it makes sense that someone who dropped that kind of weight in such a short period of time would look slow and lethargic on the field.
Now, I don’t want to make it sound as if Buchanan was a complete train-wreck. However, if I had just watched his Senior year, I’d likely grade him out as a 4th or 5th rounder. An inconsistent player, with some technique issues, that flashed upside. I even think he outplayed his numbers a bit, because I also felt as if there were times where he forced pressure, but came up just a little short of making the sack or tackle for loss, which can perhaps be attributed to not being as explosive. But today, I went back and watched the Junior film again. One really impressive thing about Buchanan is that he has a tremendous feel for space. Not only did Illinois send him on a lot of end twist stunts (Buchanan loops behind the defensive tackle), where he had tremendous success, but I thought Buchanan showed some smooth technique when dropping back into coverage, and in breaking down and making plays in the run game.
Also, it appears the Buchanan is very comfortable in working on an island against offensive tackles, which I believe is a vital trait in distinguishing true talent level for someone who makes a lot of plays on stunts. Not only does Buchanan show quickness and explosiveness in his get off, but he does a good job of using his arm length to keep OTs at bay. While I don’t think he has the best hand usage, which causes him to get latched on too frequently when engaged, he does display a nice array of pass rushing moves. The most impressive of which is his spin move. The picture below actually comes from his Senior year, and is one of the flashes that served as proof to me that he’s most likely not a one year wonder, or a product of being on the other side of Mercilus, but rather he was still the dynamic prospect I thought he was.
So while I’m not suggesting disregarding this past season entirely, I am suggesting that it would be best served to view the season in its entire context, and remember who we all thought Michael Buchanan was prior to the season. It’s very possible throughout the remainder of the process (All-Star Games, Combine, etc.) that Michael Buchanan’s stock rebounds, but I highly doubt he regains that potential Top 20 status. I think he will ultimately be judged too heavily on this past season, and will end up in the Late 3rd-4th Round long after the run on the “top tier” pass rushers has occurred. If he gets selected in that area, I think we could be looking at one of the major steals from the 2013 NFL Draft class.