Continuing our Buffalo Bills roster analysis, we’ll take a look at the linebacker group. Buffalo’s defense was a top unit in the league in 2018, and the linebackers were a big reason why. Here’s how our Cover 1 crew ranked them according to the Lofton Exercise:
Matt Milano – OLB
Can win games for us: 4 votes
The first of the two unanimous selections in this group, Milano showed major improvement from his rookie season, becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2018. Unfortunately, a broken fibula injury in week 14 cut his season short, taking away his shot at a Pro Bowl nod. Regardless, it didn’t diminish the impact he had on the field.
.@MatthewMilanoo has been 🔒⬇️ in coverage this season!! #BillsMafia #GoBills https://t.co/lmFQMBimiP
— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) December 2, 2018
The former 5th-round pick improved dramatically in coverage, showing his athleticism, range and instincts. He became a top playmaker at the position, finishing the year with six takeaways on his own (three INTs and three fumble recoveries). Add those to his 78 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, one sack, three QB hits, and seven passes defended in 13 games, and you have a really impressive season from the second-year LB.
Tremaine Edmunds – MLB
Can win games for us: 4 votes
The 20-year-old rookie was the second unanimous choice in the top-tier group after finishing the season with a team-leading 121 tackles, five tackles for loss, seven QB hits, two sacks, two fumbles forced, 12 passes defended, and two INTs, while starting 15 games.
"He displays all the right habits and his preparation is off the charts. There's no limit on what he can do."
Veterans see signs for Tremaine Edmunds to emerge as a defensive force in the NFL: https://t.co/0HYpnn65Ep pic.twitter.com/1T3vjAqgIq
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 8, 2019
Edmunds is a freak with elite size and athleticism for the position. He looked more and more comfortable in his role in the middle of the Bills’ defense as the season progressed and finished strong, earning the Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in December. With the leadership void left by Kyle Williams’s retirement, Edmunds is expected to come back in his second season and take over this role for the forseeable future.
Lorenzo Alexander – OLB/Pass Rusher
Can win games for us: 1 vote (Fernando)
Can win with him: 3 votes
Zo had yet another very good season and earned a one-year extension, which was signed last week. He finished the year with 74 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 10 QB hits, 6.5 sacks, two INTs, nine passes defended, two fumbles forced, and one recovered, while being a swiss army knife-type player in this defense.
Signed to a one-year contract extension: LB Lorenzo Alexander pic.twitter.com/Uk2OivI7kb
— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) January 16, 2019
The veteran played mostly as the strong side linebacker in the base defense but also showed his versatility playing the other LB spots on several occasions and rushing the passer in nickel and dime. He lined up as an edge rusher and even as a DT on those packages, always giving trouble to offensive linemen who tried to block him.
Due to his leadership, versatility, and production, especially rushing the passer, I still see Zo as a guy who can win games for the Bills. The consensus, though, is him being a guy who Buffalo can win with.
“We need better” group:
MLB Julian Stanford, OLB Deon Lacey, OLB Corey Thompson.
These guys were special teams contributors and depth pieces at best. Stanford and Thompson started a pair of games in Edmunds and Milano’s places, respectively, because of injuries. They performed fairly well but never showed anything that makes you look at them as guys you can win with as starters. Thompson’s young and maybe can develop into a valuable piece, but for now, in this exercise, they can’t be counted as more than depth players.
*Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes