If you follow me on twitter you’ve seen me bombard your timelines with Deone Bucannon love and I’ve even wondered how high the Eagles would be willing to pick the All American safety. Instead of continuously inundating your timelines I figured I should put pen to paper (or is it fingers to blog?) and write something a little more comprehensive.
The Eagles have shown interest in Deone Bucannon at every turn of the draft process so far. The Eagles met with him at the senior bowl both privately and after practices [link]. The Eagles had a presence at his pro day, as you can see in this news package. The man you see working Deone Bucannon in the drills in that video is Eagles defensive backs coach John Lovett. And now, according to The Star Ledger the Eagles have a private workout scheduled with Bucannon [link]. When asked about his Senior Bowl meetings with the Eagles Bucannon had this to say of the Eagles interest, “[they told] me that I was doing a good job at the Senior Bowl and they had their eyes on me” [link].
The Eagles interest in Deone Bucannon appears about as clear as it gets and considering trends Howie Roseman has set in two year’s drafting and Chip Kelly’s apparent tendencies in last year’s draft, I’d imagine the interest is legitimate.
Back when we parted ways with Andy Reid, Jeff Lurie indicated that Howie Roseman took over control of the Eagles draft process in 2012 [link]. In Roseman’s first two drafts, he’s selected Fletcher Cox and Lane Johnson. This would make it seem as though Howie Roseman isn’t just looking for top end football players but he’s also looking for top end athletes with star caliber ceilings. And even beyond the first round of the draft Howie has put an apparent premium on length and athleticism. Deone Bucannon fits these trends, running an official 4.49 40-yard dash, tied for third best amongst safeties and faster than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor and Dion Bailey. Bucannon racked up 19 reps on the bench press (third best), a 36.5-inch vertical jump (third best), 125 inches on the broad jump (second best), 6.96 seconds on the three cone (third). And he did all this as the fifth tallest safety, fourth heaviest safety and had the second longest arms of all safeties. He’s clearly a very athletic player, especially for a player of his size. Physically, Deone Bucannon profiles very similarly to San Francisco 49ers rookie Pro Bowl safety, Eric Reid.
And if you followed last year’s draft closely you noticed that Chip Kelly drafted players that he faced and struggled against in college. Chip faced Matt Barkley, Zach Ertz, Bennie Logan, Joe Kruger and Jordan Poyer in college and drafted all to be on his side at the pro level. Deone Bucannon played in the Pac-12 conference and that being so, he faced Oregon four times in his career. Deone Bucannon’s career stats against Oregon look like this: 23 tackles, three interceptions, two passes broken up, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
In addition to fitting apparent personnel trends of our head coach and general manager, the Eagles have a well documented glaring hole at the safety position. Since the departure of Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell we’ve started Sean Jones, Macho Harris, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, Jarrad Page, Jaiquawn Jarrett, David Sims, Patrick Chung and Earl Wolff. That’s twelve different starting safeties since Brian Dawkins left and eleven since Quintin Mikell left. This venerable group has combined for a whopping 17 interceptions, four sacks and three forced fumbles in a combined 144 starts since 2009. To say an upgrade is needed is putting it lightly and Deone Bucannon certainly qualifies as an upgrade, in 43 games started he’s registered 15 interceptions, one sack and seven forced fumbles.
Why do I put such an emphasis on “splash” plays like interceptions, sacks, and forced fumbles? Back in 2003, Football Outsiders wrote a piece on the value of a turnover and through the analysis of field position and drives determined that each turnover is, “…worth about 3.8 points in the middle of the field, about 4 points at the 20-yard lines, and 4.25 points at the goal line” [link]. Turnovers, like interceptions and forced fumbles, stop potential opposition point scoring drives and potentially put your team in position for a greater likelihood of scoring themselves depending on field position. In terms of raw interception numbers, Cold Hard Football Facts, ran the data for the 2011 season and found that the team that had more interceptions won the game 78.1% of the time [link].
The value of sacks, while less pertinent in a discussion about Deone Bucannon, is still worth talking about. Bucannon wasn’t used much as a blitzer at Washington State but his athleticism and size gives him potential in this regard. The value of sacks is all based on first down probability [link].
One way to measure the value of a sack is by first down probability. On third down a sack almost always forces a kick, either a field goal attempt or a punt. But 2nd down and 1st down sacks change the chances for a 1st down conversion in less direct way. A sack in the NFL results in an average loss of 5.2 yards. We can use the chart of first down probabilities to estimate the effect of a sack.
When you sack an opponent, you’re putting them in a worse position to convert a first down. As you can see from the graphic made by Advanced NFL Stats the probability of a first down drops dramatically the further away a team is from the first down marker. The inability to convert a first down forces one of two things, either a punt or a field goal attempt. They crunched the numbers and found this:
If we average the expected points of all situations in which there wasn’t a sack, and compare it with the average expected points following plays that did result in a sack, we get a difference of 2.0 points. In effect, a sack swings the balance of the game by an average of 2 points in favor of the defense, either by forcing a punt or a longer FG try, or even just putting a team in a predictable passing situation. That’s a big swing for a single play.
Again, I’ll emphasize that Deone Bucannon has been a premier playmaker at Washington State. He was a first team AP all-american in 2013, a freshman all-american in 2010 and he was a three time all-conference selection. His career totals of 15 interceptions lead all draft eligible players and his seven forced fumbles is third amongst draft eligible defensive backs. But enough about all this, you get it at this point, Bucannon is big, athletic and a playmaker. How about the other, less flashy things? Is he a good football player? We all know that DeAngelo Hall makes plays but he isn’t a good football player for example. I’d argue that Deone Bucannon is not only a playmaker, he’s a great safety prospect who in my opinion is one of the best in the draft.
Some people question Deone Bucannon as a pass defender but I think some of those concerns were quelled when he ran a 4.49 at the combine. He held up in pass coverage at Washington State, displaying awareness, recovery speed, range and ball skills. This play epitomizes all those traits:
Here on this play you can see Deone Bucannon display an ability to stick with slot receivers and you also see some awareness, he checks to make sure the Stanford QB doesn’t scramble but he also keeps track of his man, eliminating a potential target. All too often the Eagles have been burned in this type of situation where are safeties are forced to make quick decisions.
He is a little stiff so he’s not going to be a true hybrid safety but he is functional in this regard and he’s got the speed to match a majority of slot receivers and tight ends. It’s not the greatest use of his talents, he’s better in zone when he can track and break on the ball.
I do think he’s got a little more potential in this regard than his tape shows. Washington State often left him in off coverage when he was covering wide receivers and tight ends. But with his size, strength, demeanor and length he’s got real upside in press coverage. In press he’d be allowed to dictate the match-up instead of being a reactionary.
This is of particular interest to the Eagles because often in base defense the Eagles walk their safeties down over the slot. The only team that had their safeties lined up as nickels more often than the Eagles was the Saints.
Here he is in zone coverage and you can see him drift right and shadow the slot receiver as the Arizona State QB rolls right. Here you can see the closing burst and decisiveness that results in him jumping in front of the receiver and making the interception.
One thing that’s very, very obvious is that Deone Bucannon has no qualms about being physical. Unlike other safeties who come down to play the run like a wet napkin, you can see that Bucannon willingly explodes into any opposing player. On this particular play you can see him knock an offensive lineman and put his teammates in a position to make the stop (they didn’t, that’s a trend).
You can find other examples of him exploding into blockers:
You can see how quickly he makes his decisions when you watch him, this is an example of that. When you watch a guy like HaSean Clinton-Dix you’ll see some false steps and hesitation, you see none of that with Deone Bucannon. When you watch a guy like Calvin Pryor you see a lot of recklessness, he comes in hard but out of control. Bucannon is neither of those things, he diagnoses what he sees and he trusts his eyes.
I think you’ll generally find that Deone Bucannon fills hard against the run, is very willing to take on blockers and he typically fills within the integrity of the defense. He’s got the length and size to function as a box defender. And he’s got the decisiveness and speed to effectively close from deep. I think you’ll also find that he has the speed and range to help contain bigger runs.
Sometimes Deone Bucannon comes in a little too hot but it’s not a repetitively glaring issue, here’s an example of Bucannon playing under control and making the stop in space one-on-one.
He’s a momentum stopper as a tackler, he rarely leaks extra yards after contract.
How He Fits the Eagles and Chip Kelly’s Program:
The Eagles run a lot of cover three and two with a lot of pattern matching. They’re not running a lot of cover one with man coverage like the Seahawks are. Deone Bucannon has the ability the function well in this scheme. He has the athletic ability to cover the middle of the field in a cover three shell. But he’s also got the size to operate in the box as well which is what he’d be doing when not patrolling the middle. In base defense the Eagles will often times put safeties over the slot player, something Bucannon has shown he can do.
The Eagles don’t want guys who are going to rock the boat and have placed an emphasis on guys who are selfless, team oriented guys.
“It’s such a team sport,” Roseman said. “You’re talking about 53 guys coming together. When you think about where all these guys come from, it’s different backgrounds, different cities, and you’ve gotta fit them all in. I think that’s why being a head coach in the National Football League is such a tough job. It’s our job to make sure that we’re not bringing in outsiders who rock the boat too much.”
“There’s a lot of really good athletes out there that don’t maximize their abilities because of maybe an intangible quality,” Kelly said. “What’s their passion for the game? How much are they willing to learn? How much are they willing to sacrifice? Not what are they willing to give, sometimes what are they willing to give up?”
Deone Bucannon was voted team captain 14 times in his career and by all accounts he’s an intelligent, hard working and humble person.
I actually think Deone Bucannon is going to be a better player at the NFL level than he was at the college. He was basically a one man show that was asked to do a lot of things. And sometimes, Deone Bucannon makes good plays that don’t end up being good plays because his teammates don’t take advantage. And there were a handful of plays against Arizona State where Bucannon was in the right position but a teammates mistake gave up touchdowns or big plays. Give him a better supporting cast and a more defined role and I think Bucannon could be really special.