The Tale of the Tape: Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor

Andrew Billings (#75), the stand-out defensive tackle from Baylor, has been shooting up mock draft boards since the NFL combine. He’s been practically the NFL draft prognosticators’ consensus for the Packers’ 27th overall pick. But the Billings hype train may have maxed out with the new article at Bleacher Report which argues that Billings has top 5 potential. That’s saying something in a draft that is widely regarded as being chock full of talent at defensive tackle.

Walter Football, on the other hand, has Billings dropping into the middle of the 2nd round. Even in the ludicrous guessing game that is mock drafting, that’s a fairly wide fluctuation. Is Billings on the short list of the Packers’ first round prospects? Will he be gone long before they pick at #27? Does he warrant a first round pick at all? I took a look at the tape from some of Billings’ games in 2015. Of course, I am not a professional NFL scout, but below you will find a few things that stuck out to a normal fan of football.

Pro: Strength 

Billings has a lot going for him, but his strength is his defining characteristic. He finished with the highest number of bench press reps for a defensive tackle (31) at the NFL combine. His ability to overpower an offensive lineman is well documented. It’s not unusual to see Billings make short work of a center, knocking him back on his butt before the guy even knows what hit him. While not an elite pass-rushing specialist, Billings utilizes his power as a pass rusher well, especially when he’s one-on-one with a center. This is just brutal.

The result is that opposing offenses at the college level are simply required to double team Billings most of the game. I found at least one play against TCU where Billings was triple teamed by all three interior offensive linemen!

Impressively, double teaming Billings doesn’t always completely negate his strength. I found multiple instances of Billings pushing two blockers back into the pocket at the same time. In the play below, TCU is able to keep Billings away from their QB with a double team, but Billings is far from neutralized. It’s one thing to eat up blocks. It’s another to still work toward collapsing the pocket while eating up those two blocks.

Billings actually found pay dirt on a very similar play against Oklahoma St.

 

Pro: Quickness

For a 310 lb guy, Billings has some movement. Not only does he have nice closing speed on a ball carrier, he can make plays toward the sideline or down the field that a typical nose tackle has no place making. Against Rice, Billings shadowed a QB on a scramble all the way from the far hash mark to the sideline.

I’m not sure what sort of magic allows for a guy of this size to make plays like this.

At around 310 lbs., however, Billings is a little small for a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle. That’s certainly a contributing factor to his ability to move around like a defensive end. The Packers would likely want Billings to bulk up at least a little bit, but this shouldn’t be a problem. Billings is only 21 years old and has already shown himself to be a workout warrior. Moreover, Green Bay’s current starter at nose, Letroy Guion, came into the league just shy of 300 lbs. and now plays at around 320 lbs.

Cons: Missing Tackles in Open Field

Most big men are going to have a hard time making major directional adjustments but one thing that I noticed with Billings is that he misses multiple tackles especially when he has the ballcarrier dead to rights. Below are two such plays against Oklahoma.

Cons: Small Presence Against Runs Up the Middle

Billings hasn’t shown the ability to consistently clog up the middle of the line of scrimmage, a thankless but absolutely crucial job for a nose tackle. I’m not sure if it’s his size, but Billings sometimes gives up big holes in the middle of the line of scrimmage. His best plays against the run actually come when he shakes off a single blocker and makes a tackle in the backfield on a delayed or outside run play, utilizing his agility and closing speed.

When teams run the ball up-the-gut, however, they’re often able to create a clean running lane. Billings is great at detaching from his blocker and getting through gaps, but he doesn’t seem as strong at collapsing the A gaps entirely, an important job of a 0-technique big man. Ideally, a nose tackle can at least plug the interior of the line. Below, Billings looks a little small, as it were, in the middle.

Billings can and does blow up runs in the middle (as you can see below), but he doesn’t seem to habitually obstruct the entire middle of the line of scrimmage. In other words, Billings is better at getting into the backfield and making plays than eating up blocks on the line of scrimmage.

Final Analysis

Billings is not a top 5 talent, but he is a first round talent. A defensive lineman with the potential to be a top 5 pick in the draft must possess a pretty thorough set of skills. Billings is young and has tantalizing brute strength, but he’s not an elite prospect. Defensive tackles have been a rarity in the top 10 picks in recent drafts, much less the top 5. When one thinks of recent defensive tackles with top 5 potential one is thinking of guys like Dontari Poe, Sheldon Richardson, Fletcher Cox, or Aaron Donald. I don’t think that Billings is projecting toward a ceiling of that caliber.

However, the lacunae in Billings’ game aren’t major. I think that his pass rushing abilities may be underrated by some analysts. He would certainly add some pass rushing prowess to the nose tackle position for the Packers. He has a knack for collapsing the pocket and at least blowing up plays in the backfield, even if he’s unlikely to ever turn into a sack machine.

I wouldn’t be overly surprised by a team grabbing Billings in the middle of the first round, especially a defense that may be eyeing Billings as a more traditional 2-technique defensive tackle. Presumably, the Packers would be more interested in seeing Billings playing at the 0-technique for most snaps. But the Ryan Pickett/Howard Green days are over for Dom Capers’ defense. Billings may not eat the middle of the line of scrimmage like those behemoths, but he’s also a more explosive player. He’d go a long way to adding some dynamism to the middle of the defensive line if he’s still around when the Packers pick 27th in the first round. I think it’s highly unlikely that he’d fall to them late in the 2nd.

Billings makes a lot of sense for the Packers, but inside linebacker is a pressing need as well. I am sure that Ted Thompson and company would love to make Billings a Packer, but given the depth of defensive tackle in this draft, they may elect to wait at the position until a later pick. The drop-off from a player like Billings to 2nd or 3rd round prospects might be fairly steep most years, but not in 2016. Still, if the Packers call his name at number 27, fans should have something to be excited about.

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Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.

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  • Dan Stodola

    Billings is a good prospect and fits in the last 1/3 of the 1st. I personally just don’t see NT as the Packers big need on DL, since Guion and Pennels best positions are NT. I would say 5 tech is more of a need. Daniels has the 3 tech locked up, Guion and Pennel are good at NT. Who do we have at 5 tech that is worth a damn? Guion and Pennel can play that position, but both seem better at NT, and neither played it that well.

    Get me an A’Shawn Robinson, Vernon Butler at 27! Both are stout run defenders and could hep at NT while Pennels on suspension. But both offer an intrigueing blend of run stuffing and pass rush potential. Robinson is unlikely to be available. Butler IMO would be a better pick at 27 than Billings, due to his versatility and pass rush potential. Beyond those 2, Chris Jones has outstanding ability at 5 tech if he makes it to the Packers 2nd rd pick.

    • I like Butler a lot too. I think Billings is the better player now between the two but that Butler has the higher upside.

      • Dan Stodola

        Higher upside and more versatility. The draft isn’t about who’s better now, it plays a small role. But the draft is about the future, so you have to pick based on what’s best for the team in the future.

        That’s a big reason I think Jaylon Smth should be the pick at #27. He’s a top 5 player in the draft a difference maker. When will the Packers have another shot at drafting a talent like that?… When Rodgers retires thats when. Even if he won’t play a snap in ’16 he will make more plays in the future than any player the Packers might otherwise pick.

        Its like picking Rodgers and you knew he wasn’t going to play for a couple years. How has that worked out?!