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Harrison Phillips wasn’t a 1st-round pick, but he will make the Bills defense better

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Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White says there’s always an important role to play for a defensive tackle who’s strong AF like Stanford’s Phillips.

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No need in beating around the bush, so I will start by saying that I see Harrison Phillips as an early-down defensive lineman in the NFL with not a whole lot of value on passing downs. As such, I wouldn’t take him in the first round.

That’s just my philosophy, but the NFL agreed. Instead he went in the third round to the Buffalo Bills.

It goes for any defensive line prospect who can’t rush the passer on third down. I felt the same way about Andrew Billings when he came out, in fact.

That doesn’t mean Phillips won’t have a good career. No matter where any of the guys I break down ultimately get drafted, I believe my evaluation of their college tape and projection of how they will play in the pros is what matters the most. After all, it’s not where you start but where you finish when it comes to playing in the NFL.

The same goes for Phillips, who did some really good things as a run defender, and who has the potential to get some decent pass rushes on early downs, regardless.

So let me get into the things I believe Phillips did do well in college and how I think it will project on the next level.

Phillips is strong AF.

At least when it comes to his upper body.

I didn’t need him lifting 225 pounds 42 times at the combine for me to know that, but it certainly was confirmation of what I saw on tape.

Stanford primarily used Phillips at nose tackle in one form or another. A lot of plays he would be head up on the center, while on other plays he would line up somewhere in either A gap. Just in case you weren’t aware, those are the prime alignments to end up getting double teamed.

Phillips was able to consistently shoot his hands inside and bench press one blocker off him which allowed him to hold up well most of the time when the second offensive lineman came in to try to finish him off.

Being able to keep one guy at bay also allowed Philips to expand and make plays once the other blocker slid off him to try to block someone on the second level.

When Phillips did find himself singled up, he was able to knock the center or guard back into the backfield when they tried to base block him or reach block him. That often led to him either making a tackle himself for a short gain or forcing the running back to cut back to Phillips’ teammates.

The real fun, however, came when opposing offenses tried to run counter plays and had either the center or the guard who wasn’t pulling try to single out Phillips on a down block.

Phillips may not be a world class sprinter, but he has a few things going for him on those counter plays.

One, he obviously understands blocking schemes and can recognize them very quickly.

Two, he also had really good technique coordinating his footwork, side stepping the blocker with swim moves that freed him up to pursue the runner at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Finally, Phillips is kinda quick in short areas. He appeared to catch quite a few of those interior offensive linemen off guard in the four games that I watched.

As someone who really appreciates defensive linemen who win with technique, watching Phillips play the run was quite entertaining at times.

He also had a serious knack for getting in on the play when the ball was run in his immediate area.

I can’t even tell you how many times I had to re-watch one of his plays because he would be engaged with a blocker and it would look like Phillips had no chance to get to the runner only to see Phillips escape off the block and reach out to make the play.

All together in four games, Phillips notched four tackles for a loss along with 27 other tackles which is damned impressive for a guy who played as much nose tackle as he did.

As a pass rusher, Phillips’ skills and technique kind of mirrored what he did against the run.

When he committed to a bull rush he was able to use his impressive upper body strength to get most blockers knocked back into the quarterback’s lap pretty good if he was singled up.

He was also able to beat offensive linemen with quick finesse moves where he used the same kind of side-step and swim move to get several clean wins.

The problem was that even when Phillips got those clean wins he still wasn’t usually able to either take the quarterback down or effect the throw.

It’s not like Phillips had a lot of clean wins rushing the passer in the first place, but when he did have a chance to take down a quarterback it often didn’t end well.

That is was led me to my conclusion that Phillips probably won’t be a third-down pass rusher in the league.

It’s not like Phillips had a lot of good pass rush opportunities anyway since he lined up so much as the nose tackle, but to be a legit pass rusher he needed to convert more of those one-on-one wins.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t and that’s how he ended up with only a half a sack and two pressures in the games I watched.

So you have a guy who can get a good push against the run or the pass, who wins with really good technique, who has a knack for making tackles in his immediate vicinity, but who is also limited as an athlete and has a hard time getting to the quarterback.

That doesn’t exactly scream first-round pick, does it?

But that’s OK!

Every team needs guys who can play the hell out of the run on first and second downs, especially a guy who may be able to hold the point and sneak in a good pass rush from time to time as well.

Phillips could play all across the defensive line in a base 3-4 on early downs from a five technique to a zero nose. He would also make a fine nose tackle in a 4-3 as well. Because his technique is so good, he is ready to play right away for the Bills.

So while I wouldn’t spend a first-round pick on Harrison Phillips, I still think he definitely has the potential to have a fine career as a run stopper in Buffalo. I don’t think he will give Bills fans reason to ever complain about the fact that a third-round pick was used, provided he is able to stay healthy.

Since I don’t have access to all-22 for college football games I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to Draft Breakdown where they post the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects’ games already cut up and ready to go. This time Draft Breakdown only had three of Harrison Phillip’s games from last season on their website, so I had to use Google to find one more. For the purposes of this breakdown I watched Phillips play against USC, Washington, Cal, and Notre Dame. Those represented the second, 10th, 11th, and 12th games on Stanford’s schedule last season, respectively.