Last August, I wrote an article on Allen Bailey, detailing my concerns about certain weaknesses in his game. For one, the big physical freak was very slow off the snap, routinely being the last guy on the line to get out of his stance.
Also, Bailey struggled to threaten the edge as a pass rusher, so he was forced to rely heavily on his bull rush. With his physical strength, Bailey managed to walk back offensive linemen, but he lacked the quick hands to disengage in time to get to the quarterback. As a result, he was nothing more than an average pass rusher.
You can see some of Bailey’s issues in this ’09 clip of him against Wake Forest. While impressive when he had an open lane to crush the QB, Bailey’s poor hand play also led to many lost opportunities.
Those struggles were a concern, but they also pointed to Bailey’s untapped upside. If he could eliminate the holes in the game, Bailey appeared to have the makings of a very good pass rusher. And many draftniks held out hope that Bailey would be able to play inside at defensive tackle, where he seemed to be more of a force.
Unfortunately, Bailey failed to show significant improvement in his senior season. While not always a helpful indicator, the stats point to the Miami d-lineman’s arrested development. In 2009, Bailey notched 19 solo tackles, 7 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss. His numbers last fall were almost identical: 21 solo tackles, 7 sacks, 11 TFLs.
Though he once again showed flashes of upside, Bailey failed to become a consistently dominant force. As Kyle Dwyer’s clip shows, Bailey still was very slow off the snap. Additionally, the Senior Bowl practices exposed his poor hand play, leading to a disappointing week.
Unsurprisingly, the draft community’s skepticism regarding Bailey grew. Would he ever live up to that elusive upside, or had he simply settled in as a very average player? If he couldn’t get it done at the college level, why would anyone expect him to be a very good pro?
However, there’s some reason to suspect that the Miami defensive lineman will develop into a better player at the next level. As many people have noted, Randy Shannon’s coaching staff at Miami didn’t do a great job of refining the freakish talents that entered the program. More than a lack of talent, it was the coaching staff’s failure to make the most of its players that led to Shannon’s tenure coming to a disappointing end.
For example, standout rookie corner Sam Shields spent his time at Miami oscillating between positions, never being given a chance to settle in as a solid player. Though he flashed good speed as a returner, he only got one year to harness that ability as a cornerback. Consequently, it wasn’t a surprise that Shields went undrafted, yet he managed to become an exceptional rookie contributor for the Packers, starting six regular season games and making several impact plays in the playoffs.
Like Shields, Bailey appeared to be miscast position-wise while at Miami. Bailey started his career at linebacker, only later moving down to the defensive line. Even then, Bailey played out of position at defensive end. While explosive for an interior lineman, Bailey simply lacked the speed off the edge to become an elite defensive end.
But the more relevant Miami products may be two defensive lineman who’ve become better players on Sundays than they were in college. Indeed, both Calais Campbell and Antonio Dixon’s emergence point to the possibility that Bailey could become a very good player at the next level.
Like Bailey, Calais Campbell entered his final year at the U with a great deal of draft buzz. The nearly 6’8″, 290-pound defensive lineman appeared to have the right combination of size and athleticism to be a dominant force for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, Campbell mostly disappointed, struggling to keep his pad level low and play disciplined football.
When Campbell declared for the draft, the freakish prospect discovered that NFL teams less than enamored with his skill set. They also questioned whether he had a mean streak, leading to him dropping to the latter half of the 2nd Round.
Campbell started his NFL career slowly, not starting any games in his rookie career. However, the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff has since turned him into a very effective 3-4 defensive end. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Campbell was the 8th best five-technique last fall, proving that the underwhelming college player had turned the corner as a pro.
A similar success story is beginning to emerge in Philadelphia, with defensive tackle Antonio Dixon becoming a quality starter. Dixon never made much of an impact at Miami. Likely overweight, the big DT only notched 22 tackles and three tackles for loss in his senior season. As a result, Dixon went undrafted, spending a training camp with the Redskins before being cut.
In what turned out to be a very smart move, the Eagles claimed Dixon off waivers. He had a mostly uneventful rookie season, save for a blocked field goal against the Bears. But like the Cardinals’ d-lineman, Dixon began to show promise in his second season, starting ten games and impressing both fans and front office personnel. According to Fox Sports NFL writer Adam Caplan, the Eagles’ decision-makers are very high on Dixon, showing how far the UDFA has come.
These success stories in the trenches could make NFL teams wonder whether Bailey could become a similarly solid pro. Could he move to five-technique and be as dominant as Calais Campbell? Alternatively, could he kick inside to defensive tackle and be a more explosive version of Antonio Dixon?
Based on Bailey’s college tape, it’s difficult to project him to become an excellent NFL player, but teams may become convinced that they can get more out of him than Miami’s coaching staff did. As a result, the big man likely won’t make it out of the top 50 picks, and a freakish performance at the Combine could compel a front office to reach for him late in the late 1st Round.