The Illinois football program has struggled when it comes to wins and losses in recent years, but Ron Zook was able to recruit and the fruits of that labor are still paying off after his termination. Illinois had a first round pick in each of the last two drafts, both along the defensive line with Corey Liuget in 2011 and Whitney Mercilus this past year. One of the players in this year’s class is Michael Buchanan, their athletic defensive end and outside linebacker. Like Liuget and Mercilus, Buchanan is an impressive athlete that has a lot of potential at the next level, but was not quite as productive. Buchanan is an impress physical specimen, but draftniks were probably hoping he was a little further in his development than he was this year and that could impact his draft status. Nevertheless, his athleticism, potential, and versatility will still get him drafted likely in the third or fourth round based on the tape.
Buchanan measured in at the Senior Bowl 6’5 1/8” 252lbs. He definitely looks the part with an impressive physique and little if any fat on him. He has quickness, a good first step, and great closing speed. One of the things that will make him attractive to NFL in addition to the fact that Buchanan should test well is that he has the frame to continue adding strength without negatively impacting his athleticism.
One of the things that should have helped to prepare Buchanan for the NFL was used in the Illini defensive scheme. Like Whitney Mercilus last year, Buchanan played from a number of different positions including defensive end from both the left and right side in a four man front as well as outside linebacker with three man fronts. While some might argue that focusing on one position could have been more beneficial to his development and production, his exposure and experience playing all over the field will make teams running virtually any scheme consider him during the draft.
Whether against the run or the pass, Buchanan tends to give the same approach to his attack. He is looking to get attack up field with a quick first step and use his speed to get the opposing linemen off balance, locate the football, and then chase it down. For the most part, he tends to want to attack to the outside and opposing offensive tackles tend to assume that to give themselves their best chance to stop them. As a result, when Buchanan goes inside, he typically has a good amount of success. He also flashes a decent bull rush but it is inconsistent. Buchanan tends to come out of his stance high and give up his leverage making life easier on his opponent to block him out of the play. He has very quick hands and a pretty good swim move that he can use to get past blockers, but he does not have heavy hands. There is not much of a jolt in his punch when he makes initial contact and he does not stack and shed well. While he looks strong, it does not always show up on the tape that way, which could be a slight mechanical tweak that needs to be made or just more of an emphasis both on the field and in the weight room to improve. Buchanan does not like contact or taking on blocks and avoids them as much as possible, especially against the run. He needs to make more of an effort to make this a strength to his game and make his athleticism seem dangerous when it comes as a surprise or counter move from showing power. This could impact the scheme he is picked to play. Although he was not asked to do much of it, Buchanan could drop into coverage decently and would only improve with experience. His size, strength, and speed could make him a real asset if he can man up tight ends. He also could be effective in zone coverage.
The best fit for Buchanan is the 3-4 as an outside linebacker. He wants to a speed game and show his athleticism as much as possible, avoid contact and he has the ability to drop and make plays all over the field. There is no question Buchanan can play in a 4-3 scheme as a defensive end, but he needs to make more technical improvements there to contribute and might have to come off the bench initially before paying off if he can improve. As a linebacker, he might be able to start out of the gate even if he has potential to get much better.
With Buchanan, two comparisons come to mind. In terms of where he is as a prospect, the name Allen Bailey jumps out. Bailey was an incredible athlete for the Miami Hurricanes before being drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs. He had a ton of fans and people that thought he would develop into a great player in spite of spotty production and inconsistent play that did not a guy who had put it together. That is where Buchanan is. He could take the step forward Allen Bailey has not taken yet and become the great player many felt Bailey could be and tap into all of that athletic potential he has. The other name is Kamerion Wimbley. The former Florida State Seminole was a great athlete drafted in the first round by the Cleveland Browns and while he had a great rookie year, has been a good, but not great player in the NFL who could play linebacker and defensive end. A team can win a lot of games with a roster full of Kamerion Wimbleys contributing against the run, a half dozen sacks a year or so, and consistent reliable play. Buchanan could certainly exceed that level of play, but a team would be perfectly happy to get a Wimbley type player out of Buchanan. If he ends up in a 3-4 scheme, it is possible he could end up starting early in his career, but more than likely, he will start out as depth and be brought along slowly, focusing on coaching and development early on to try to make sure the investment pay off.
Buchanan has some technical issues he needs to work on, especially when it comes to taking advantage of leverage and playing as strong as he looks, particularly with his hands, but he looks the part and should be someone who tests extremely well at both the combine and in individual workouts. He brings a good amount of versatility to the table and Illinois prepared him to be able to contribute on either side and at both linebacker and defensive end. The big question facing Buchanan and the team that drafts him will they be able to get him to take the step from being a solid player to be an impact player. He has the upside to be a tremendous player, but his production simply has not reflected the talent he appears to have. Buchanan’s tape is not bad by any stretch but it was expected to be better, though he still figures to be a third or fourth round pick based on his athleticism, potential, and versatility.
Western Michigan 2012
Louisiana Tech 2012
Penn State 2012
Ohio State 2012
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