The Buffalo Bills’ offense struggled mightily last year for a variety of reasons, but the offensive line was largely at fault. General Manager Doug Whaley invested significantly into retooling the offensive line last year, signing Chris Williams to a $3 million per year deal in addition to selecting Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson in the draft.
It’s obviously still too early in the careers of the second-year players to determine whether they’ll be contributors or not, but the Bills need to focus on bolstering the offensive line to a point where there’s competition for every job. Heading into the 2015 NFL Draft, South Carolina’s left guard A.J. Cann could be a player that Doug Whaley and the Bills’ scouting staff could have interest in.
Cann enjoyed a decorated career with the Gamecocks, starting 51 games at left guard, earning Freshman All-American honors in 2011 and was named to All-SEC and All-American teams in 2013 and 2014. Off the field, Cann was named to the SEC’s Academic Honor Roll three times and went on a mission to Israel prior to his senior season.
Cann stands 6’3” and weighs in at 315 pounds, possessing a square, compact and well-built frame that’s ideal for the right guard position in a man/gap blocking scheme.
A.J. Cann isn’t very athletic and won’t be a fit for teams that run a lot of zone blocking concepts. He’s incredibly strong, powerful and light on his feet in short areas, but he lacks the speed, quickness and balance to consistently be effective on pulls or engaging defenders in space at the second level.
Cann is at his best when moving north-south and his primary issues show up when he’s asked to work laterally.
Cann is the prototypical “mauler” at guard, regularly driving defenders off the ball and creating running lanes with his impressive lower body strength. Off the snap, Cann shows the ability to get his hands inside the pads of his man and overpower them.
In the following clip, Cann latches onto the Missouri defensive lineman, stays square and essentially uses him as a blocking sled, pushing him 10-yards off the ball.
Cann is a powerful player that can push a pile and create space for his running back, as shown in the next clip. Off the snap, Cann blocks down and is able to open up a massive gap that results in a gain of about 10 yards.
Cann’s stout body-type gives him a low center of gravity that makes it difficult for defenders to recover once he gets his hands on them. Here, Cann drives Arkansas’ defensive tackle backwards before finishing the block, pancaking him near the goal-line.
One area where Cann’s square frame can negatively affect him is when he’s going against defenders with length and quickness. Cann wins by getting hands on a defender quickly off the snap, so when that player is able to keep him at bay, he struggles. In the next clip, Cann is beat inside off the snap and isn’t able to recover quick enough and winds up lunging and falling to the ground.
When he’s pass protecting, Cann is an up-and-down player. He has the core strength to anchor against a bullrush and quick enough feet to mirror a defender, but he can struggle with quickness. In the next clip, Cann shows the ability to “catch” the defensive tackle, digging his feet in the ground to anchor while maintaining a good distance between them.
He’s a smart player that shows good awareness against stunts and blitzes and regularly looks to assist his teammates with blocks when necessary.
When facing quicker defenders that use counter moves, Cann can find himself in trouble because he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to maintain his position. In the following play, Cann isn’t able to kick inside quick enough to recover and is destroyed.
How he Fits the Bills
A.J. Cann is an impressive player that would be a good fit for the right guard position in the man/gap blocking scheme Greg Roman will bring to the Bills. Due to his lack of athleticism, Cann probably isn’t suited to play on the left side, where he’d be asked to pull and get out in space more regularly, but he has the short area quickness and power to succeed on the right. Cann is a similar player to Cyril Richardson, but probably has more power and better balance.
Projection: 3rd Round
Player Comparison: Uche Nwaneri