Much like former teammate Whitney Mercilus a year before, Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan enters the 2013 NFL draft with the kind of versatility teams are now seeking in their pass-rushers.
Mercilus, a 2012 first-round pick of the Houston Texans, was an effective hybrid player for Illinois. Buchanan fits the same mold, as a defender who could possibly fit as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, or some combination of the two.
While not having the same physical attributes as Mercilus will keep Buchanan out of the first round, he should hear his name called in the middle rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.
In the following slides, we'll present some of Buchanan's top collegiate highlights from his time at Illinois.
Buchanan shows awareness and playmaking ability on this tip and pick against Western Michigan in 2012.
At the snap, Buchanan—who is lining up with his hand on the ground at defensive end—drops into a spy coverage role in the middle of the defense.
He then reads the attempted pass, gets a hand on the football and secures the interception. It's an impressive sequence of versatility and ability to read the play.
Buchanan continued his standout performance against Western Michigan with this hustle sack.
The Illini run a stunt inside with Buchanan, who rubs off the nose tackle and blitzing linebacker to find a free lane. The play doesn't develop as fast as you'd like, but Buchanan sticks with the pursuit and brings down the quarterback.
He would finish with a sack, two tackles for losses, an interception and two passes defensed in Illinois' season-opening win over Western Michigan.
Illinois did not force Buchanan to play with his hand in the dirt on every play. In fact, he produced when standing up and rushing off the edge.
This sack against Louisiana Tech in 2012 is one example of such a play.
Rushing from a two-point stance against the left tackle, Buchanan explodes off the snap and cleanly beats the block attempt. He finishes off the sack with a tomahawk strip of the quarterback.
There are times as a pass-rusher when your initial push against a blocker is ineffective. The best sack masters can provide a counter-move and continue after quarterbacks.
Buchanan does a little bit of that here on a sack against Penn State.
With his original pass rush stymied by the left tackle, Buchanan uses his hands to disengage and get around the block. He then closes on the ball and delivers the sack, just as the quarterback attempts to escape the pocket.
As NFL defenses continue to value more and more versatility from their pass-rushers, players like Buchanan will become more and more attractive.
With a tall, lean frame and surprising athleticism, Buchanan is capable of playing with his hand in the dirt as a traditional 4-3 defensive end, but also as a standup outside linebacker in the 3-4.
In the provided highlight package, we see how that versatility can translate to the next level.
Buchanan lacks the necessary bulk to be an immediate impact player, but he certainly brings value as a new-age, hybrid pass-rusher in multiple NFL schemes.