The first thing Quinton Jefferson thinks after a play call is a bit unusual.
“What position am I playing?”
That’s because Jefferson can do a lot of things and has been doing it for quite a while. He’s played every spot on the defensive line since high school. In fact, if you ask him his position, he’ll tell you “defensive line”.
“Always been kinda a tweener,” Jefferson said. “I’m big, but not super big. At the time (high school), I didn’t realize it would help me at this point. It was one of those things… I just mastered it.”
Jefferson will tell you the different roles on the defensive line aren’t all that dissimilar. It’s important because he might not be able to occupy all those roles any other way. It also gives him a chance to understand a defense better and quicker.
“Have to know what everybody does. It helps you play faster. You get a grasp of the defense in its entirety,” Jefferson says. “At the end of the day, you put your hand in the dirt. Football is football. A scoop is a scoop. A double is a double. A pass set is a pass set. “
He does say there’s a bit of a timing difference when it comes to pass rushing. Tackles make contact with offensive linemen right away, while ends have a step or two before contact. It forces the money part of a pass rushing move to come at a different time.
Jefferson might be the most versatile, but he’s not the only versatile piece of the Bills defensive line. Mario Addison can rush from the inside. Vernon Butler has experience at a variety of tackle roles. Even rookie A.J. Epenesa is thought to have an ability to slide inside if called upon.
It give the Bills a chance to constantly change looks and keep offenses guessing.
“You got a guy who might have been rushing power on a guard all day and you bring in a guy like myself that’s quicker,” Jefferson said. “I come in–bum-bum-bum–rushing speed moves. It throws them off.”
Jefferson’s favorite D-line role is as a pass rushing defensive tackle. He admits with a laugh he’s no Von Miller, but there’s plenty of confidence in his quickness to beat a guard or center anytime.
The numbers back him up. Jefferson was fourth in the NFL last season in pass rush win rate. He was also among the top 20 defensive tackles beating a double team. He seems likely to be doing that job more than others in Buffalo, but he can stop the run and play end in any situation effectively.
The 27 year-old took over a year to latch on in the NFL. He was a 5th round pick by Seattle in 2016, but had his rookie season cut short by a knee injury in October.
He was released by the Seahawks after camp in 2017 and was signed by the Rams to their practice squad. A month later, Seattle needed Jefferson back. He played 30 games the last two years under Pete Carroll and totaled 6.5 sacks. That attracted the Bills and earned him a reported two year, $13.5 million dollar contract in March.
“Not everybody can have an easy route or it goes great. Everyone has a different story,” Jefferson said. “My whole mindset was I wasn’t going to let what happened early in my career dictate my future.”
He does admit to worry about becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none, but firmly believes that defensive line positions should be interchangeable.
“An end should be able to play a nose or a nose should be able to play a 5 (technique),” he said.
Jefferson has been blessed with high level front seven talent around him in both Seattle and Buffalo. He still can go to Seahawks pass rushing legends like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett for advice and not just about football.
He can’t wait to be a part of the Bills defensive line. It helps that he can contribute in so many ways.
“As long as I’m out there and I get an opportunity to play, I’m cool with it.”