If Bills are thinking about edge rushers, Joe Tryon and Jayson Oweh could be fits
If there was one thing the Buffalo Bills knew they were getting when they selected edge rusher A.J. Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he was a player who had loads of college football experience.
While Epenesa was only a full-time starter during his last season at Iowa in 2019, he played in 39 games total and he racked up 26.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles and eight deflected passes, progressing each year he spent with the Hawkeyes.
With the exception of Michigan’s Kwity Paye – who may be the first edge rusher selected in the 2021 draft, well before the Bills are scheduled to pick at No. 30 in the first round – the other edge rushers considered first- and second-round material fall well short on experience.
Of the top six in Dane Brugler’s draft guide for The Athletic, five played 25 games or less in college, with only Paye above that threshold with 38 games. Part of that is due to the unprecedented 2020 season when some players sat out because of COVID-19, while others saw their schools play a reduced schedule because of the pandemic.
If the Bills are considering addressing their aging edge rusher position group, the question will be when should they do it?
By the time the 30th pick comes up on the clock, it’s very possible that Paye and several of the prospects who lack long track records such as Miami’s Jaelan Phillips and Greg Rousseau, and Georgia’s Azeez Olujari, will be gone.
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So, unless one of those players happens to slip and is available for the Bills, the prudent play might be for general manager Brandon Beane to wait until the second round to grab someone, and there are a few ways to do that.
Beane could pick a cornerback in the first round (which makes plenty of sense) and wait until his second-round pick at No. 61 to get an edge rusher; he could trade down and out of the first round altogether to a spot in the upper half of the second round; or he could trade up from No. 61 to move into the middle or top portion of the second round.
Regardless of what scenario leads Beane to picking an edge rusher in the second round, there are a couple names to look at who could fit that scenario: Washington’s Joe Tryon and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, two players with first-round potential but are probably second-round values.
“This edge rusher group is really, really tough to sort out and figure out,” NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah said in early March, “because you’ve got a mixture of guys who were opt-outs like Tryon who didn’t play this year, and you’ve got a guy like Jayson Oweh from Penn State who’s going to run in the 4.3s (at his pro day, which he did) as a dynamic athlete who didn’t have a sack this year.”
Tryon sat out 2020 season
Tryon is a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder who started 14 of 25 games for Washington in 2018 and 2019 and recorded nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. He had every intention of playing in 2020, but the pandemic ruined that.
The Pac-12 conference initially announced it wouldn’t be playing football, so Tryon began preparing for the draft. When the Pac-12 reversed course a few weeks later and decided to play, he chose to opt out and continue his own preparation, thus limiting his game tape in a year when he might have really broken out. Thus, scouts were left to wonder what might have been.
“When he opted out of the 2020 season, he left unanswered questions about his development,” Brugler wrote in his draft guide. “Tryon looks straight out of central casting with his frame, length and athleticism and he doesn’t stray from his competitive edge. Overall, Tryon is still a work in progress, but he owns the tools to streamline his pass rush skills with added coaching. He projects as a future NFL starter similar to Marcus Davenport when he was coming out of college.”
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein had a similar evaluation.
“Impressive physical specimen with the traits and athletic profile to move up the draft board, but tape shows he might still need more course work before he’s ready to make a difference in the pros,” Zierlein said. “The key for Tryon will be learning to grease the edge and create angles of entry both inside and outside. He has high upside but could spend the first year or two as a rotational defender while adding more polish.”
In other words, he’d be a nice fit in Buffalo, a team that relies on a steady rotation, because he could learn from veteran starters Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison in 2021, then perhaps join Epenesa as starters when Hughes and Addison likely move on in 2022.
Oweh had no sacks in 2020
On paper, Tryon seems like a lesser risk than Oweh, though this has nothing to do with the fact that Oweh’s profile, through no fault of his own, may rekindle miserable memories for Bills fans relating to another inexperienced, athletic freak of an edge rusher who the team drafted out of Penn State in 2009: Aaron Maybin.
Yeah, it’s not fair to mention them in the same breath, especially since Maybin proved to be one of the Bills’ all-time biggest first-round draft busts as a No. 9 overall pick while Oweh still has his own story to write. But you know that if the Bills were to pick Oweh, the peripheral comparisons will be unavoidable.
Maybin was a one-year wonder at Penn State and the Bills’ – specifically coach Dick Jauron – fell for it. Oweh, too, has limited tape as he played only 24 games (8 starts) across three years in Happy Valley, and didn’t even start playing football in high school until his junior year because his first priority was basketball.
In 2019 he made five sacks in 13 games, but then in 2020, despite starting all seven games he played, the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Oweh did not record a sack and had only 6.5 tackles for loss despite his remarkable speed.
It is that speed and athleticism that makes Mike Renner of Pro Football Focus think Oweh is “just scratching the surface” of his ability and he’s someone who, if he gets into the right system, could become a player who will be difficult to keep away from opposing quarterbacks.
Brugler, though, pointed to his “unimpressive resume” as a red flag teams may have, and concluded that, “Oweh is a work in progress with his rush plan, counters and feel, but all the athletic and physical traits that NFL teams covet at the position are there. He projects as a high risk, high reward pass rusher in the Jason Pierre-Paul mold.”
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.