Speedy undersized edge rusher Javon Solomon represents a shift for Bills in draft


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Javon Solomon did not hesitate when asked who he watches in the NFL to learn about rushing the passer.

“There’s so many good people, but there’s nobody like the one and only Von Miller,” Solomon said last week after being drafted in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills last month.

“He truly set the way when it comes to pass rushing, and how the finesse and the different aspects ... that he brings to the game,” Solomon said of Miller. “That’s somebody I looked at for a long time. Just because of he’d been in the game for a long time. He’s had success for a long time. So now to be able to watch his game. It’s gonna be something wholesome, you know? It’s gonna be a new level to watch that.”

Fifth-round draft pick Javon Solomon, reacting after a sack for Troy, has the tools to be a designated pass rusher for the Buffalo Bills. Mike Stewart, Associated press

Solomon led the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks last season for Troy University with 16, and he wasn’t a one-year wonder. He had 33 sacks for his career, 5.5 more than Troy legend DeMarcus Ware, who went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

Solomon’s selection by the Bills is noteworthy because he projects as a designated pass rusher, a situational player. He’s 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds. The prototype for the position is 6-4 or 6-5 and 260.

The Bills never have drafted an edge rusher under 6-3 or less than 250 pounds in the Sean McDermott/Brandon Beane era.

The big reason for that is defensive ends must be able to set the edge to contain the run in McDermott’s 4-3 defense. Undersized edge rushers who are a liability against the run – guys you don’t want on the field on first down – haven’t had a place on the Buffalo defense.

Yet, obvious pass-rushing situations are critical. The ability of a defense to get off the field on third down is a key factor in winning and losing.

Should the Bills make room on their 53-man roster for a DPR – designated pass rusher? The answer might be yes – if Solomon proves he can make the jump from a mid-major program.

“He’s doing it at a little bit lower level, but Troy still plays some good teams,” Beane said. “I think he beat DeMarcus Ware’s sack record, like he knows how to get to the quarterback. I would say one of the things he’ll have to improve is the run defense.”

Shorter edge rushers such as Solomon typically find a niche on teams that use such players as stand-up linebackers, often in five-man fronts. Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Chargers and the New York Jets are among them.

“We kind of thought maybe 3-4 teams would really value this guy,” Beane said, “but he was just too valuable from a rush standpoint (to pass up).”

Former New York Jet Bryce Huff, left, is an optimistic comparison for Bills fifth-round draft pick Javon Solomon. Huff recorded 10 sacks in his fourth season with the Jets in 2023 and signed with the Eagles in March. Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

In fact, numerous draft analysts drew comparisons between Solomon and former Jets situational edge rusher Bryce Huff, who was undrafted out of Memphis in 2020 at 6-1 5/8 and 254 pounds.

Huff emerged in 2022 when he got 3.5 sacks and ranked third in the NFL in pressure rate. He had 10 sacks last season, ranked second in pressure rate and earned a big free-agent contract from the Eagles in March.

“Of course, you got people like (the Las Vegas Raiders’) Maxx Crosby, Bryce Huff, those guys that just play relentless and just outgoing, just nonstop towards the quarterback,” Solomon said. “At the end of the day, pass rushing is learning. You learn from some of these guys, and you just take what they take, and you just go up from there.”

Another optimistic comparison for Solomon: Detroit’s James Houston, a 6-foot, 245-pound sixth-round pick out of Jackson State who had eight sacks as a rookie in 2022.

The problem with undersized edge rushers, besides their run-defense deficiencies, is they tend to get engulfed by long-armed offensive tackles.

Solomon, however, has abnormally long arms for a man his height, at 33 3/4 inches with an 80-inch wingspan. Houston measures 34 1/4 and 82 inches, while Huff is just 31 3/4 and 75 3/4.

Solomon’s hands measure 10 5/8 inches, tied for the biggest of any edge rusher in the draft this year.
“He’s got great arm length, measurables, and you can’t deny his sack production, and so we’re excited to get our hands on him,” Beane said.

Like Huff and Houston, Solomon can dip and bend around the edge. Speed is his game. He can give a tackle a long-arm move then explode outside to get to the quarterback. He chases the QB down from the weak-side, as well.

Solomon had 11 sacks in 2021 and 4.5 as a junior in 2022. He says improved technique helped him have a big senior year.

“Understanding the techniques behind pass rushes, instead of just running upfield hoping to get something,” he said. “The actual working your hands, the actual working your feet, just the fundamentals of pass rushing, I think I really dove into the technique of that. I think that’s what kind of helped me get over the edge, you know, from 4.5 to 16 is a huge jump. It’s a credit to a lot of people that are behind the scenes.”

Eric McDaniel coached the defensive line at Troy last year. He said Solomon is not exaggerating about his admiration for the Bills’ Miller, and that his former player worked on his pass-rush moves so that he didn’t over-rely on his speed rush around the edge. Solomon’s improved hand usage was evident in 2023.

“He studies the league,” said McDaniel, now the defensive line coach at Appalachian State. “I’d go in the office, and there’d be cut-ups Javon had made of Von Miller and T.J. Watt doing it at a high level at the position he could see himself in. That’s a testament to him. He studies. When people aren’t in the building, there’d be Javon on the field working with somebody to get better.”

McDaniel said a position change aided Solomon’s big jump in sack production in 2023. Solomon had played Troy’s Bandit position in 2022, a stand-up linebacker spot in a five-man front.

“He was splitting time with another guy at Bandit the year before,” McDaniel said. “He also was having to drop into coverage more at that position. Once he was able to move to end, I told him, ‘Every time it’s a pass down, you’re going to be pass rushing.’ That made him happy. I think that was a big change.”

As for Solomon’s run defense, the Bills are not writing it off.

Beane drew a comparison with former undrafted Bills player Kingsley Jonathan, a 6-4, 259-pounder, who improved his run defense and earned 9% of the defensive snaps last season.

“That would be the area he’ll have to improve, a lot like a Kingsley Jonathan has had to do, kind of an undersized guy,” Beane said.

McDaniel says Solomon is better vs. the run than his frame would suggest. Troy asked him to play a decent amount of snaps head-up over the offensive tackle in a 6-technique position (a reference to the gaps in relation to the offensive linemen) or even over a shoulder of a guard (in a 4i technique) with both hands on the ground. Bills defensive ends rarely do that. They play shaded to the outside of the tackle in what is called a 7-technique position, or even wider in obvious pass situations.

“That shows his ability and the dog in him,” McDaniel said. “Honestly, Javon was undersized in college football, playing a 4i. We went up to Kansas State, and he was taking on tight end-tackle double teams from a four-point stance. But he’s so strong and physical, I’m sure you’ve seen from his measurements. His hands are humongous. He’s extremely strong and explosive, so he was able to win with technique. That’s one thing I loved about him. He was open to the opportunity.”

What if Solomon proves as a rookie he can get pressure in obvious passing situations?

The Bills found a way to keep six defensive ends active on game day in eight games last season. (Only four were active in three games, five were active in seven games.) With six active DEs, it’s easier for one of them to be a designated pass rusher. Solomon also has played special teams in his college career.

Asked about picking a player in the mold of Huff before the draft, Beane said:
“You got to be careful how many DPRs that you put (on the draft board), but if the talent is there, we’ll still take it and figure it out. We’ve had at least one year, maybe two where we’ve kept six ends. Now that player better help us on fourth down on special teams, you’d better wear multiple hats.”