Every defense values a player’s ability to rush and pressure quarterbacks. The ability to disrupt opposing passers is one of the most qualities in a modern defense. However, there’s a pretty wide variety in how the various defensive philosophies go about generating that pressure.
Some prefer dominant athletes up front, players who can simply overwhelm blockers with their quickness and power. Others prefer use match-ups, math, and scheming to create opportunities for pressure from unexpected sources — in other words: Blitz.
New York Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is solidly in the second camp. For Martindale, versatility and the ability to create opportunities comes before pure pass rush potential.
Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto is obviously a great athlete with significant upside as a pass rusher, but what really stands out on tape is his versatility. Bonitto looks as fluid when dropping into coverage as he does explosive when rushing the passer. Could that blend of traits make Bonitto and under-the-radar target for the Giants?
Games Played: 37
Tackles For a loss: 33.0
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 7
Games Played: 11
Tackles For a loss: 15.0
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 1
Best: Burst, agility, quickness, speed, space play
Worst: Play strength, technique
Projection: A 3rd EDGE with versatility, scheme diversity, and starting upside.
(Bonitto is Oklahoma EDGE, number 11)
Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto has a good combination of explosiveness, quickness, and agility to play the position at the NFL level.
Bonitto boasts a compact, lean frame which allows him to play a variety of roles in the Oklahoma defense. He frequently aligns as an EDGE defender in a two-point stance, playing on both the left and right ends of the defensive line. Bonitto also has experience lining up as an off-ball linebacker, usually showing blitz through an A or B-gap.
Bonitto generally does a great job of keying the snap and timing his rushes. He has a sudden, explosive first step and is able to stress most offensive tackles around the edge with his speed. He flashes a solid variety of pass rush moves and generally shows solid hand placement when taking on blockers. Bonitto has great quickness and lateral agility to cross blockers’ faces with inside moves or to make plays on ball carriers as they press his gap.
Bonitto was frequently dropped into space over the middle of the field to use as a spy on athletic quarterbacks. He does a good job of keeping his eyes in the backfield and coming up to make stops when QBs scramble. Likewise, he has a good feel for when to rush into the backfield to pressure quarterbacks into making poor throws when scrambling.
Bonitto shows that same quickness, fluidity, and agility when playing in space as a coverage player. He was asked to drop into coverage fairly frequently as a part of Oklahoma’s blitz packages, and he does a good job of getting depth in zone coverage as well as running with tight ends or running backs in man coverage.
He also makes good use of his burst, quickness, and agility as a run defender. Bonitto is capable of being a disruptive run defender, either blowing up plays in the backfield or by bursting through gaps and forcing runners to find cut-back lanes.
Bonitto’s closing burst allows him to be an effective tackler. He is able to make tackles on running backs as they try to burst through holes, and he can be an impressively hard hitter.
While Bonitto’s athleticism can make him a disruptive force, he will need to improve his play strength if he wants to see more consistent play time at the NFL level. Bonitto is capable of standing up to tight end blocks one-on-one, but he can be swallowed up by offensive linemen when he isn’t able to play with good leverage. Bonitto can also stand to work on his hand usage and technique at the NFL level as well. The accuracy of his pass rush moves can be inconsistent – occasionally missing offensive linemen entirely. Likewise, developing dependable primary and counter moves can help him avoid getting hung up on blockers.
Overall Grade: 7.4
Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto projects as an important rotational EDGE with starting upside at the NFL level.
Bonitto will likely begin his career as a pass rush specialist who comes on the field in obvious passing situations, but he has the potential to develop into an every-down starter. He also has impressive scheme versatility and could find a home as an outside rush linebacker in a 3-4 front, a SAM linebacker in a 4-3 defense, or a versatile “EDGE” in a “multiple” defense.
Bonitto probably won’t be putting his hand on the ground and playing defensive end at the NFL level, but he can impact the offense in a few ways from a 2-point stance. Not only can Bonitto rush the passer off the edge, but he flashes good instincts for diagnosing misdirection and play-fakes, he can spy athletic quarterbacks, and he can drop into coverage to help disguise blitz schemes.
Bonitto’s production looks just average on paper, but in the context of his tape – as a part-time pass rusher and part-time linebacker – suddenly looks more impressive. His blend of instincts and athleticism suggest a prospect who can truly blossom into an impact player in the right situation at the NFL level.