The Buffalo Nickel role is one that is very important on the Commanders defense. Last year, after finally being moved into the box as a hybrid linebacker, Landon Collins excelled at this position.
Collins played in 13 games and saw 644 defensive snaps - 398 pass snaps and 246 run snaps. In 13 games he collected 78 total tackles and averaged 2.9 yards in tackle depth (this shows he was used primarily in the box). The downside is, he was targeted 35 times giving up 25 receptions and three touchdowns while being credited with zero pass breakups. His 90% deserved catch percentage was near the bottom of S/LB with at least 50 tackles registered on the season.
It was reported late this winter that the team came to Landon and asked him to take two pay cuts; one before trading for Carson Wentz, and another after the trade had been made official. According to reports, the first pay cut was acceptable, however the second one was too much to ask, and Collins and his agent felt it best that they take their chance on the open market.
This left a pretty significant hole on the Commanders defense.
Mandatory organized team activities begin this week, and Rivera’s defense is still searching for that hybrid safety/linebacker to fill Collins’ role. Many have suggested bringing Collins back on a one-year, incentive-laden contract, but as of this writing, that move has not happened. There is a chance they can work something out with the former All-Pro before training camp starts, but assuming that does not transpire, I wanted to take a look at some candidates on the roster who can fill this role internally.
First, I think it’s important to try and define the role based on some desirable traits that I feel Rivera and Del Rio are looking for.
Collins is a solid benchmark for this position, but as I look around the league, I see a player who really stands out to me as a true hybrid defender - Patriots safety Kyle Dugger.
Dugger plays a VIPER role in the Patriots hybrid defense. He plays over 85% of his snaps in the box as that extra linebacker, however the former Lenoir-Rhyne standout has the size, athleticism and versatility to move all over the field if needed.
The 2020 second round pick is 6’2” 220 pounds - an idea size for the hybrid linebacker role in today’s NFL. He is an exceptional athlete, recording a 4.49 forty yard dash, with a 42” vertical and 11’ broad jump. In his second year in the NFL in 2021 after getting his feet wet as a rookie, Dugger recorded 92 total tackles, five for a loss (with an average tackle depth of 2.3 yards), five passes defended and four interceptions. He can play as a “chase” linebacker, blitz off the edge, erase tight ends, zone up on slot receivers and cover running backs in the passing game. From a height/weight/speed perspective, he’s my prototype.
Below are four players who may be given a shot to take over the Buffalo Nickel role.
Darrick Forrest: 6’0” 205
Forrest was a three year starter at the University of Cincinnati who had his best season as a junior in 2019, recording 106 tackles, 3.5 for loss, three interceptions and three passes defended in 14 games. He played sparingly as a box safety last season while battling injury.
Forrest has an elite RAS, scoring a 9.69 out of a possible 10.00.
Darrick Forrest is a FS prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.69 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 25 out of 772 FS from 1987 to 2021. https://t.co/dM0PdXUpBw #RAS via @Mathbomb pic.twitter.com/bM7pxkgYG1— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 16, 2021
At 6’0” 205, Forrest doesn’t have the size of Kyle Dugger (or even Landon Collins), but he’s known to be a ferocious hitter with very similar athletic profile and ball skills as the aforementioned Patriot hybrid. I don’t think it’s out of the question to see him play at or around 210 pounds.
Khaleke Hudson: 6’0” 220
Hudson is listed as a backup linebacker (most likely a WILL), but played a hybrid role at Michigan under Don Brown. The 6’0” 220 pounder has the size and speed to play the Buffalo Nickel, but his spacial awareness in coverage may leave a little bit to be desired against larger tight ends and quicker slot receivers.
Hudson does have decent speed, and with his stopping power against the run, he’d probably play a bit more like Landon Collins in this role.
With pick 162 in the 2020 NFL Draft, the #Redskins selected Khaleke Hudson, LB, Michigan.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 25, 2020
He posted a good #RAS with very poor size, great speed, good explosiveness, at the LB position.https://t.co/f2zrfv016Y#HTTR pic.twitter.com/ZDXZRQIZuG
If Hudson wishes to crack the lineup as a pseudo starter, Buffalo Nickel may be where he’s best suited to do so.
Percy Butler: 6’0” 195
Another option that fans and the media have been talking about for the Buffalo Nickel role is rookie safety Percy Butler. Butler is a little bit smaller than Forrest, but his speed (4.36 40), and ball skills make him an intriguing option.
Percy Butler is a SS prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored an unofficial 7.75 RAS at the Combine out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 173 out of 765 SS from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/QRhr1Fm3ns #RAS via @Mathbomb pic.twitter.com/mpKU2ncMKM— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 7, 2022
The team, however, is looking for a future free safety, and this may be the most desired spot for the rookie to begin learning the NFL game, while providing quality depth on the back end.
Will Adams: 6’1” 190
Finally, there is undrafted free agent Will Adams from Virginia State. The 6’1” 190 pounder caught the attention of NFL scouts at the first ever HBCU combine, running a 4.57 40 and posting a 40.5 vertical. He may not have the desired size to play in the box as a linebacker, but he does offer the athleticism and versatility the staff covets.
Tables are updated and it's officially #RASseason!— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) January 31, 2022
Our first of the year is Virginia State CB Will Adams, who also posted our first elite #RAS of the season (unofficially, with projected splits). pic.twitter.com/XwZN0sw7ny
Adams best shot at making this team is most likely as a special teams standout, but if he can add some good weight to his 6’1” frame, he could make a case for the Buffalo Nickel role.
Who should be the Commanders Buffalo Nickel?