Analysis: Tim Bonner has all of the tools to be an NFL player — can he do it consistently?

With the right coach in the right system, Tim Bonner can be a solid rotational piece.

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FAU defensive end Tim Bonner recorded three sacks with 7.5 tackles for loss this past season. Photo by Alex Liscio.

Joseph Acosta, Staff Writer

With the NFL Draft less than a week away, draft eligible FAU athletes are preparing for what could be the greatest weekends of their lives. 

The University Press will be looking at some of the draft-eligible Owls, and analyze their potential going into the upcoming draft. Having previously done Harrison Bryant, James Pierre, Junior Diaz, Rashad Smith, and DeAngelo Antione, the next player up is defensive end Tim Bonner.

Bonner’s road to the NFL Draft is a long, winding one with many stops along the way. Originally enrolling at the University of Louisville, Bonner left in 2015 and played at East Mississippi Community College, where he was one of the stars of the Netflix show, “Last Chance U.” From there, Bonner came to FAU where he was one of the standouts along a defensive unit that set program records in 2019.

In three years at FAU, Bonner had eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 38 games. This past year, Bonner had three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Here are Bonner’s pros, cons, and how his game could translate to the big leagues.

Pros

Standing 6’5, Bonner is a long player with an extremely large wingspan and long legs. Normally players as tall as Bonner take a long time to get to full speed, especially coming out of a three-point stance like Bonner did. However, one of his biggest strengths is his first step. 

Bonner covers ground extremely well, and uses his length to effectively shoot gaps in the run game, and press the pocket in passing situations. Bonner has extremely quick hands and has an effective chop move in his pass rush reps. 

An underrated part of Bonner’s game is his potential against the run. Defensive linemen are asked to “set the edge,” meaning that the defensive lineman uses the offensive lineman to keep the running back from getting to the outside in run situations. Bonner flashed the ability to do that in small doses. Bonner also showed the ability to play on the interior in passing situations, and uses his length and speed off the ball to push the pocket. He has experience on special teams, and has an extremely high motor.

Cons

While watching Tim Bonner play, it’s evident that he has all of the tools to be a game-wrecker at the next level. Yet, the production never translated with the potential. He only had eight sacks in three years, and three sacks his final year. 

Despite being 250 pounds, Bonner is very slim through the lower body which allows him to get pushed around a lot in the run game. Bonner’s play strength against the run needs to improve in order to see the field consistently in the NFL. Bonner also needs to improve on his pass rush by developing a counter to his speed chop move that he does well. 

The biggest problem with Bonner is finishing the pass rush. Multiple times during passing situations, Bonner easily beat the lineman trying to block him, but could never finish the play. So many QB hurries that he had could’ve been turned into sacks, had he finished the play. Much of this is due to the angles that he takes to get to the quarterback. 

Defensive line coaches tell players to aim for the back shoulder of the QB when closing in. Bonner’s first step gets him so far up the field that when it’s time to finish, he goes flying past the quarterback and misses on a potential big play. The margin for error is even smaller in the NFL, with quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson running offenses. Bonner has to be able to change his angles to the QB in order to see the field more often, and turn his QB pressures into sacks.

Best fit

While I don’t think Bonner will be drafted, there are many teams out there that could use Bonner’s length, and with the right coach, he can be a solid weak side pass rushing end in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Such a team is the Atlanta Falcons. 

The Falcons enter the NFL Draft with a need at defensive end. Having let go of Vic Beasley this off-season and acquiring Dante Fowler Jr. to pair with Takkarist McKinley, the Falcons need some more rotational pieces to give McKinley and Fowler some rest. Bonner can slide in at weak side defensive end on some passing situations, and could also play on kickoff and punt teams. 

Under Raheem Morris, the Falcons defense got a huge facelift mid season, finishing 20th in Defensive Value Over Adjustment, or DVOA . Under Morris and Defensive Line Coach Tosh Lupoi, Bonner can develop against the run and continue to improve on his pass rush to become a more complete defensive lineman, and become a solid piece along the line.

The final University Press analysis of NFL Draft hopeful Owls will be tomorrow on offensive lineman Brandon Walton.

Joseph Acosta is a staff writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @acosta32_jp.