Let's pretend that the Chargers take a certain Seminole who tested in the 99th perctentile at the combine yesterday. The focus in the draft should immediately shift to the trenches, where the team can use an upgrade both at defensive tackle but more importantly, defensive end. If he's sitting there at the top of the 2nd, Jonathan Bullard is a no brainer.
He weighed in light for a defensive tackle but you can see that his arm length, which is very important for a 3-4 defensive end, offsets that. Not to mention the power he plays with, which we'll get into. The 3-cone drill tells you Bullard has no problems changing directions and you see the explosion in his lower body with both the vertical and broad jumps.
The combine really just confirmed for me what I already knew about Bullard. He's an explosive interior lineman that is arguably the best run defender in the draft. What I want to show you today is some examples of what makes Bullard a beast against the run and how it enables his other teammates to make plays. I also want to show you why those same traits will help him as a pass rusher.
Freaky first step
So the first game I'm watching of Bullard he's having a fine game and then all of the sudden he does......this.
That's the type of play that'll make you sit up straight, spit out your coffee or rewind and watch the play 20 times in a row. Extreme example, without question, but let's look at a couple of plays where Bullard's first step impacted the entire play.
The first play comes against Tennessee and they are running a counter. The design of the play is supposed to have the backside guard, who Bullard is lined up over the outside shoulder of, and the tight end pull across the formation. Bullard had other ideas.
Bullard gets upfield before the center can down block him, the tackle can react to him, and because of this the tight end cannot get across the formation. Bullard blows the play up in the backfield for a TFL.
The next example is an outside zone against Alabama. Bullard blows up the right guard and causes the running back to completely alter his path. His teammates clean up the logjam in the backfield for a TFL.
The first step Bullard has creates huge lanes for the linebackers behind him to fill and make plays. This would be great for a certain Notre Dame linebacker.
The final play is an example against Georgia where Bullard's first step causes him to get in the backfield and blow up the flow of the play. In this situation, it's a split zone. This is important because last year the defensive lineman for the Chargers when asked to "slant" they just weren't very productive at all. This is an area where Bullard excels at. Slanting and shooting gaps.
Bullard jolts the guard back into the tight end. The tight end coming across the formation was supposed to kick out the unblocked defensive end. Because Bullard did his job and then some, his teammate was able to make the play at the line of scrimmage.
This is Bullard's lane. He'll win with a first step and convert that first step to power which in turn causes havoc in the backfield. Bullard is the car on the interstate that is responsible for the 20 car pileup.
It's one thing to have great athletic ability and explosion. It's another thing to be able to do your job and see things coming that the majority of defensive lineman don't see. When Bullard is lined up as what's known as a "3 technique", when he's lined up over the outside shoulder of the guard, you can see his first step and he can just pin back his ears and get upfield. Florida moved Bullard around a bit this year and he played as a base 4-3 defensive end, to a 1-technique over the center. The farther away from the football Bullard was the smarter he played. He did a great job of not only setting the edge but finishing plays. PFF had Bullard with the highest graded run grade as a defensive tackle, the most stops for the position, and only 1 missed tackle.
That ties into a lot of what I saw. What was most impressive with Bullard that I don't think I've seen anyone do is that when he was from a 4 technique or wider and there was an offensive lineman pulling, he would turn his shoulders parallel to the sideline and run with him. Saw that in multiple games and I don't think I've seen that before. As an interior lineman when he was just shooting gaps, Bullard had a tendency to get too far upfield. But when he had run stopping and edge setting responsibilities, he would do everything he could to make sure nothing go outside of him. The turning and running bit was interesting but he did his job and forced the run back to the inside. Not to mention he's great with his hand placement and understands the 1 arm is longer than 2 technique. Bullard is a smart football player. He understands when he can let loose and get upfield and he knows when he it's time to do his job. Bullard is like a long distance runner in this regard. He knows when to choose his spots and be aggressive.
Pass rush upside
There's a reason that you're not seeing Bullard in the top 15 of mock drafts. It's because he didn't produce like you'd want as a pass rusher. I compare this situation to the Vikings rookie Danielle Hunter a year ago. Hunter was a dominant run defender coming out but didn't do much as a pass rusher. The traits were obvious, but the production wasn't there. Bullard isn't quite the athlete Hunter is, but it's much of the same situation. I mentioned his first step. On obvious passing downs Bullard is great at anticipating the snap. There were about 10 plays where he was in the backfield before anyone else had moved. Here's one against Georgia.
Bullard is about to take his 3rd step before the defensive end to the bottom of the screen has even gotten out of his stance. Bullard relies on his bullrush as a pass rusher and hasn't really developed much else. He'll flash an arm over here and there but he's really a power rusher and not much else at this point. That said, that's not all bad.
In this example you would like to see Bullard rip through or slap the guards hands off of him. Just to something to disengage. Even though that doesn't happen you still see him collapse the pocket and force the QB from his spot. Later on in the same game, the bullrush turned into a sack.
That's putting it all in one play. The first step. The power. Finally, the finish. So the traits are certainly there. This is what happened with Danielle Hunter. He had 6.5 sacks as a rookie. I'm not saying Bullard can be that successful as a pass rusher but his ability to push the pocket when you have speed off the edge should make life even easier as a pass rusher. Rankins is a moldable ball of clay as a pass rusher.
What's he worth
Bullard is my 3rd rated interior defensive lineman. Over some of the more hyped names, like Sheldon Rankins. I believe he brings more to the table than the names that most major media have over him, including Rankins. Here's how he stacks up against Buckner and Nkemsnitchke.
If the team really wants to fix their run defense and doesn't address the trenches in round 1, Bullard is the best fit at the top of round 2. As you can see, there's not much separating him from Bob. I have Buckner 3rd overall, Bob around 12, and Bullard at 15. Bullard can play up and down the line of scrimmage but is best when he's asked to just let loose, pin his ears back, and shoot gaps. That doesn't mean he cannot play defensive end and 2-gap for the Chargers. He certainly can and is smart enough to do so. Because the team will only be in their base defense roughly 35% of the time this is even more reason to snatch Bullard up in the 2nd round if he's available.