( Since we’re growing tired of talking about who the Buffalo Bills may take with the third overall pick, this is the eighth in a 10-part series about who the Bills are most likely to target with their second round draft pick. The Bills hold the second pick of round two, 34th overall)
Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh (DE/LB)
After it was announced that University of Pittsburgh star pass-rusher Greg Romeus would miss the 2010 season with a knee injury, many thought the rest of the team’s defensive line would struggle mightily.
Not in the case of Jabaal Sheard.
The senior instead rose to the challenge with a breakout campaign; finishing with 52 tackles and nine sacks, a stat line that earned him the 2010 Big East Defensive Player of the Year award. Using his trademark swim move from the left defensive end position, he routinely beat up on opposing offensive tackles and wreaked havoc in the backfield.
Sheard became a full-time starter his sophomore year under Dave Wannstedt, showing consistent improvements that now render him a promising NFL prospect. He leaves college after amassing an impressive 141 tackles and 19 career sacks, and figures to be one of the top 50 talents in the upcoming draft.
As a pass rusher, Sheard possesses an intense motor that drives his mean bull rush past the line of scrimmage. He has excellent speed, strength, and physicality—- a formula that meant constant struggles for collegiate blockers as they tried to contain the Panther product.
Sheard is also a stout run defender, as he has instincts to stuff the ball at the line, but also the lateral quickness to cover ground on misdirection plays. A sure tackler who knows how to get leverage on the edge, the 21-year-old showed plenty of experience and poise during his time in the trenches.
Additionally, Sheard is reported to have maintained a great work ethic and level of intensity that should translate to success at the next level. He has also shown strong durability, managing to overcome several minor injuries to play nearly every game once he became a regular on defense.
Why He’s A Fit For The Bills: Sheard presents another play-making threat desperately needed by a Bills defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every category last season. As someone who can effectively rush the passer and stop the run, his versatility is something the team is lacking in many areas. The Florida native’s production in the cold-weather setting of the Big East is also another plus that should add a notch to his overall evaluation.
Some scouts also think Sheard will shift to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, somewhat in the mold of Washington’s Brian Orakpo. Assuming the Bills stay with their hybrid defense, they could see Sheard as a guy with enough athleticism to play in both capacities.
Wannstedt’s familiarity with the prospect will also be a huge factor in this scenario. The new Bills defensive guru surely has plenty of insight after spending more than two years as Sheard’s head coach, and can give Buddy Nix a much more accurate assessment than is typically available through just scouts.
Why He’s Not A Fit:
Some analysts describe Sheard’s pass-rushing as one-dimensional, seeing as he typically favored one technique to get around offensive lineman. The former Panther essentially had enough success with his swim move that a large repertoire of tricks was unnecessary at the college level. However, he’ll need to show more creativeness in the NFL to repeatedly shed blocks and do damage.
If they spend pick No. 34 on defense, the Bills may also be looking a player with a more defined position at the next level. Many feel Sheard will have to bulk up if he wants to stay primarily on the defensive line; otherwise he’ll have to shed 10-15 pounds to be an effective linebacker in open space. With the top of this draft being fairly deep in pass rushers, Buffalo could choose to go another route if they don’t feel he fits in their scheme(s) going forward.
While some of Sheard’s intangibles are positive, he does come with at least one red flag. Last summer the he was arrested for an altercation in which he reportedly threw man through a glass window. The charges were eventually lowered from felony assault to a misdemeanor after Sheard claimed he acted in self-defense. The incident resulted in a two-week suspension from team activities.
Chance He’s Available At Pick 34: 75 percent. Sheard did not disappoint at the NFL Combine or his Pro Day, but the fact of the matter is t this draft class is deep at defensive end and linebacker. With many other high-profile prospects above him, most analysts have Sheard lasting through the middle of the second round.
There is still a chance that a run on premium defenders takes place near the end of the first round, as teams like the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, and Packers could all be in the hunt for help at the position. If that happens, he could move off the list faster than some currently expect.
Chances He Gets Drafted By Buffalo: Don’t rule it out just yet. Wannstedt has a better scouting report on Sheard than anyone else around the league. If he can convince Nix along with Chan Gailey that Sheard is great match for this team’s struggling defense, a reunion between the former Pittsburgh coach and player is entirely possible. Sheard fits into the draft slot and, on paper, into a unit that suffered greatly in collecting sacks and stopping the run. Gailey admitted recently that the Bills will focus heavily on defense in this draft, and picking up a talented player like Sheard could be a step in the right direction.
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