ORLANDO, Fla. -- Art Briles has transformed the Baylor Bears into legitimate title contender behind a high-powered offense that has routinely featured NFL-caliber talent on the offensive side of the ball. But NFL scouts are paying close attention to the Bears' defensive personnel due to the emergence of a handful of stalwarts along the defensive line.
While most of the media attention has centered on Shawn Oakman, the buzz in NFL circles has focused on the disruptive play of Andrew Billings, who is a junior and has yet to announce whether or not he intends to apply for early entry into the 2016 NFL Draft. The Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year has shown dominant traits throughout the season, but I wanted to get a first-hand look at the mammoth playmaker after hearing scouts rave about his potential. After digging through the tape and checking out Billings in Baylor's 49-38 win over North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl, here are my thoughts on Bears' budding superstar:
Billings is a big, athletic defensive tackle with exceptional size and physical skills. Measuring 6-foot-1, 310 pounds, he exhibits extraordinary strength, power and agility for a big man. Billings routinely knocks back blockers with powerful punches at the point of attack. He routinely uses a "butt-and-jerk" or bull rush maneuver to knock blockers on their heels before quickly disengaging to pursue the ball carrier in the backfield. The combination of strength, power and explosiveness makes him nearly impossible to contain at the line of scrimmage. From a movement standpoint, Billings flashes surprising range as a lateral player. He capably covers the "tackle to tackle" box as an interior defender, which is essential to building an elite defense at the next level.
Billings is a dominant run defender with a host of "blue chip" traits. He exhibits exceptional strength, power and explosiveness attacking blockers at the line of scrimmage. Billings not only overwhelms blockers in one on one match ups, but he routinely stonewalls double teams at the point of attack. He rarely loses ground and his ability to occupy multiple blockers creates open lanes for linebackers to flow freely to the ball. Billings' disruptive presence in the middle makes life easier for the rest of the Bears' front seven (defensive line and linebackers) and helps the unit sell out to stop the run. During the regular season, Billings tallied 38 total stops and 15 tackles for loss as the focal point of the defensive attack.
Against North Carolina, Billings made a minimal impact as a run defender due to the tempo and the offensive approach. The Tar Heels routinely double teamed Billings at the line and the extra attention limited his individual effectiveness. Despite his minimal contributions on the stat sheet, Billings' presence helped the rest of the Bears' defenders run unobstructed to the ball for most of the night. For a defensive coordinator looking for a run stuffer, Billings' play in the Russell Athletic Bowl will provide a glimpse of what he can do in a sacrificial role at the point of attack.
Pass rush skills
Despite excelling as a run defender for the Bears, Billings flashes intriguing skills as a pass rusher. He overpowers blockers with a rugged game built on sheer strength, physicality and explosiveness. Billings forklifts blockers at the snap and routinely walks them into the quarterback's lap on passing downs. Although he lacks the hand skills and polish to develop into more than a "pocket pusher" as a pro, Billings' ability to create penetration on passing down alters the quarterback's rhythm and destroys the timing of the passing game. Thus, defensive coordinators will contemplate keeping him on the field as a three-down player despite his obvious strengths as a run stuffer at the point of attack.
Against North Carolina, Billings' limitations as a pass rusher stood out to me. He is only capable of pushing the pocket up the middle using an assortment of power-based maneuvers to create penetration. With the Tar Heels pushing the pace to snap the ball every 20 seconds, the monstrous defender quickly wore down and offered little as a rusher for most of the game. NFL defensive coordinators will take the rapid tempo into account, but Billings' power-based game will prompt most coaches to consider him a run stuffer at the next level.
Elite defensive tackles consistently create negative plays with their disruptive presence at the point of attack. Billings certainly fills the stat sheet as a destructive force in the middle of the Bears' frontline. He registered 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks during the regular season, but the numbers don't fully reveal his impact as an interior playmaker. Opponents must direct a double team to Billings on every down or run the risk of the big-bodied defender obliterating blockers with an assortment of power moves. While Billings is unlikely to develop into a double digit sack artist as a pro, his presence in the middle as a dominant run defender could be an essential asset to an elite defensive unit.
Billings has quietly shot up the charts as one of the most intriguing defensive tackle prospects in college football. He has grown immensely as a playmaker in 2015, exhibiting rare traits as an interior run defender for the Bears. Although his sack production (5.5 sacks) suggests that he could prompt some teams to view him as a "three-down" player, I see a run-down specialist in the mold of the Seattle Seahawks' DT Brandon Mebane. Billings could control the point from a zero or one-technique position and create headaches for opponents with his disruptive play on the inside. With teams increasingly valuing run stuffers as pivotal playmakers, Billings could earn high marks as a potential NFL starter whenever he decides to enter the draft.
Russell Athletic Bowl notes
For all of the buzz, Baylor DE Shawn Oakman has generated due to his freakish size and athleticism, he remains a work in progress as a pass rusher. Despite a 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame that looks straight out of a fitness magazine, Oakman is not an impact player off the edge. He lacks the technique and polish to win against patient blockers, which minimizes his potential impact at the next level. Although he nearly sacked North Carolina's Marquise Williams on a few occasions, Oakman needs to learn how to maximize his extraordinary arm length in hand-to-hand combat. He lacks a "fastball" (dominant go-to move) in his arsenal; his indecisiveness and unrefined technique allows inferior athletes to neutralize him at the point of attack.
While I love Oakman's effort and non-stop motor, a long, rangy athlete with his combination of speed and quickness should deliver more splash plays off the edge. Overall, Oakman will intrigue scouts and coaches with his impressive physical traits, but he should be considered a long-term developmental prospect in the 2016 draft class.
Baylor RB Johnny Jefferson doesn't have a future career as an NFL quarterback, but his ability to execute the Wildcat offense could make him an intriguing prospect for scouts as a slot receiver at the next level. Jefferson not only exhibited the toughness needed to thrive over the middle by repeatedly plunging between the tackles on a host of inside runs, he displayed the speed, quickness and burst on outside runs to develop into a Tavon Austin-like playmaker as a pro. Jefferson's 299 rushing yards on 23 carries and three rushing touchdowns show he is a versatile playmaker, and the sensational sophomore is squarely on the radar of scouts looking for a potential impact player down the road.