With training camp now officially open, I’m re-examining the State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, going position-by-position.
Here’s an in-depth look at the defensive tackles:
Oliver had a slow start, but really came on in the second half of his rookie season and started showing why he was the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft. After recording only 20 tackles and one sack (on a wide receiver throwing the ball) over the first nine games, he recorded 27 tackles and four sacks over the next eight games, including the playoffs. It will be fun and interesting to see him build upon that strong finish after a full offseason of being in an NFL conditioning program and being acclimated to the defense and what’s expected of him.
With Lotulelei opting out, Phillips may be the most important X-factor at defensive tackle for the cub in 2020. He was off to a really strong start over the first few games last season, increasing his snap count each week (and cutting into Lotulelei’s reps) until tearing his ACL on the final drive of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3. He was becoming a reliable run defender, who was clearly on an ascension in his second season. The good news is the injury happened in mid-September, giving him almost a full year to be ready for the 2020 regular season. But fully recovering from ACL injuries are never guaranteed, and how all of that comes together for Phillips will have a huge impact on his season, and maybe even the Bills’ defense, especially against the run.
The Bills signed Jefferson as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks, where he played both defensive tackle and defensive end in their hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense. In Buffalo, he'll most likely fit in on the interior defensive line, where he says he likes to play the three-technique (the outside shoulder of the offensive guard), especially in pass-rushing situations. He started 24 games over the last two seasons, collecting 59 total tackles and 7.5 sacks in his four-year career.
Taylor was active for three games last year with the Bills after playing 21 games for the Miami Dolphins between 2017 and 2018, where he showed plenty of upside. Over his 24-game NFL career, he’s collected two sacks and 51 total tackles. He, at least, could offer an option as an interior rotational player with experience.
Butler was a 2016 first round pick of the Carolina Panthers out of Louisiana Tech when Bills head coach Sean McDermott was the team’s defensive coordinator. New Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington was his defensive coordinator for the past two seasons there. Although he failed to live up to his first round status through his first three years in Carolina, the 6-foot-4, 330 pounder had a breakout year in 2019, collecting six sacks and 32 total tackles. Like Jefferson, Butler projects to play the interior defensive line for the Bills but has the versatility to play outside, especially in a three-down lineman set, where he had much of his success last season in Carolina.
Scott was recently signed after the team leaned of Lotulelei opting-out. He went undrafted in 2018, but played six games with the Cincinnati Bengals in his rookie season, then missed all of 2019 with a foot injury.