In the first two installments of this series, we examined Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly – looking not only at the good and bad in their games, but how they’d fit with the Buffalo Bills. The vast majority of fans and analysts have predicted that the team will go one of four ways with the tenth overall selection Thursday evening. With the aforementioned out of the way, we move on to the next popular choice – Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff.
WHO HE IS
South Dakota native Riley Reiff is the consensus second-best tackle (only to USC’s Matt Kalil) available in this week’s NFL Draft. The 23 year old is a six-foot-six, 313 pound former two-way player (tight end and defensive end) and a three-time state champion wrestler (121-1 in his career). Reiff was recruited by Iowa as a three-star defensive end prospect, but after gaining 30 pounds in his redshirt year he was moved to the offensive line where he started 37 games – most at left tackle – but also on the right side and at guard. He’s a very durable and smart player who manages to keep his weight even in pass protection to provide a good anchor against bull rushers. As a run blocker, his athleticism and quick feet allow for the lateral movements needed to wall off the edge and create running lanes. He’s able to get decently low, considering his height, in short-yardage situations and takes precise angles, moving fluidly off of initial assignments to take on linebackers and safeties. On open-field blocking assignments, such as those you’d see on screen plays and off-tackle runs, Riley’s blocks are strong and offer his best opportunities to de-cleat the opposition. His incredible body control, fluid hip movements, and overall agility help him greatly in all aspects of his game. He’s an easily coachable kid who can seamlessly transition between a man and zone blocking scheme and is well respected in the locker room. Reiff has the ability and frame to start somewhere on most lines in this league as a rookie.
WHY BUFFALO SHOULD TAKE HIM
With the departure of last year’s opening day left tackle starter Demetress Bell to the Eagles in free agency, focus for many has turned to finding a quality replacement for him as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s blindside protector. When Bell found himself injured early in the 2011 campaign, multiple players were called upon to fill in for him. Today, there are only three tackles on the roster – right tackles Erik Pears and Sam Young as well as the second year man on the left side in Chris Hairston. The lack of bodies at the position is reason enough, but Reiff brings a gritty and fierce presence to the line and would immediately be penned in as a starter wherever needed. His battle-tested experience is definitely something that speaks to Nix, and since a minor arrest during his redshirt year he’s kept himself out of trouble entirely, which speaks volumes to his fit with the locker room culture here. With Kirk Ferentz’ tutelage, Reiff is well versed in different run blocking setups, and his work in the open field would benefit Bills tailbacks Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller when they are looking to make that breakaway cut. He’s got the capabilities to play just about anywhere on the line, and his injury history – or lack thereof – should keep him on the field for long stretches.
Reiff, while a decent athlete, may not be quite athletic enough to substantially man the left side in the NFL. Paired with that, concerns have been brushed over and widely ignored through the draft process, but he simply does not hold up well against stronger defenders, oftentimes misplacing his hands or not getting proper bend to allow a deflecting push. Even with his quick feet, he has a hard time remembering to keep them moving before he’s engaged, which will be exposed by NFL-caliber players quickly and easily. He’s been ridiculed by scouts throughout the draft process for his “short” arms, but in actuality, Reiff’s got a wider wingspan that current franchise pass protectors Joe Thomas and Jake Long and they fare just fine, so that should be a non issue. While Reiff has the potential to be a long-standing professional player, the odds simply aren’t in his favor for that career to carry on at left tackle. Following in the footsteps of former Iowa left tackles coached by Ferentz, the trend is not in his favor. Both Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga were drafted high to play the blind side and proved ineffective there. Not to say it’s definitive, but considering his struggles against powerful bull rushers and keeping his feet moving, Reiff looks to have serious issues on the edge when lining up against a 3-4 alignment, which is currently en vogue in this league. For the Bills, considering we got solid production out of a fourth round rookie in Hairston, this selection would be something of a waste. Nix and the coaching staff have given Hairston their vote of confidence and while I do believe they’ll give him some competition this summer, I don’t believe it’ll be coming from Reiff or anyone taken this high. He’s better suited going to a team who would start him out on the right side who already has a quality player at guard to play besides to cover up some of his weaknesses early on.