Buchanan was a true freshman backup for Illinois in 2009. He made eight starts the next year. The sophomore totaled 40 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks.
Buchanan and teammate Whitney Mercilus both had breakout seasons in the Big Ten last year. Mercilus led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles in a phenomenal season. Buchanan wasn't as productive, but still took a huge leap over his sophomore year. He recorded 64 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 2011.
Buchanan had a huge game against Northwestern with 10 tackles and three tackles for a loss with one sack. The junior also played well against Ohio State, Wisconsin and UCLA. He was named a Second-Team Big Ten selection.
2012 Season Outlook:
Buchanan won't have the luxury of Mercilus playing on the other side from him in 2012. It didn't take long into last season for teams to start paying extra attention to Mercilus; Buchanan benefited from that. While he won't have Mercilus, there is still some good talent in the Illinois front seven. Outside linebacker Jonathan Brown and defensive tackle Akeem Spence are good players who should help each other make plays.
The best tests for Buchanan will come in back-to-back games in early October. Illinois will take on Wisconsin and Michigan in road games. Buchanan will see Wisconsin left tackle Ricky Wagner and Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan. Outside of those two players, Buchanan is looking at a relatively easy slate of tackles in 2012.
There isn't a lot of mystery with Buchanan's game or how he stacks up entering his senior season. Buchanan is a fabulous athlete who is a pure speed-rusher for the Illini. He fits right in with a group of star athletes that Illinois has produced in recent years.
While former head coach Ron Zook didn't win enough to retain his job, he recruited excellent talent to Champaign, Buchanan included. Mercilus, Mikel Leshoure, A.J. Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Tavon Wilson, Rashard Mendenhall, Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah, Martez Wilson and Arrelious Benn were all early-round picks from Illinois in recent years that were top recruits brought in by Zook. Buchanan, Brown and Spence figure to keep that trend going in 2013 or 2014 under a new coaching staff.
Buchanan is very fast around the edge. Not only does he do a good job of getting a step on tackles, the senior is adept at swatting their hands away to finish them off. For college and the NFL, his bread-and-butter will be as a speed-rusher coming off the edge.
When Buchanan gets to the quarterback, he puts the signal-caller down hard. Buchanan has nice technique to deliver hard shots to the chest of the quarterback in order to deliver a hard hit but not draw a penalty. He hits quarterbacks harder than you typically see from college defensive ends.
Buchanan is at his best in run defense when he gets upfield and disrupts runs in the backfield. Runs coming directly at Buchanan are the biggest weaknesses he needs to improve on.
Good pursuit skills are another result of Buchanan's speed. He has a good motor and flies around the field to get in on plays that other defensive ends can't get to. Buchanan has a good motor on plays away from him and that pays off with him contributing to a number of tackles downfield. He shows impressive effort to chase wide receivers on the sideline, even on swing passes.
Clearly, Buchanan needs to gain weight for the NFL. He has to get stronger and bulkier to hold up at the point of attack. Buchanan is a young player and has the frame to add mass. He'll need to add strength for any NFL defensive scheme.
Buchanan could also stand to develop some more pass-rushing moves. A spin move and a rip move to the inside would be nice complements to his speed edge-rush.
If Buchanan can add bulk, it would open him up to 4-3 defenses. If a 4-3 team selected him at his current weight, he would be a tweener between end and outside linebacker. Buchanan's best fit for NFL currently looks like a 3-4 defense as a speed-rushing outside linebacker.
2013 NFL Draft Expectations:
Buchanan could break into first-round consideration with a big season. If the senior stays consistent to his junior year production, he will probably be a second-day prospect.