What’s up, Bills Mafia? With the second piece in my Lofton Exercise 2.0 series I’ll be looking at the linebacker group, where the Bills still have their two top dogs under contract but lost a veteran leader due retirement. You can find the first piece of this series here, with the explanation about how it works and my look at the defensive line.
So, it’s time to move on and check the LBs group. What can we expect from them in 2020? How does it compare to the state of the position two offseasons ago?
Can Win Games for You
Tremaine Edmunds – MLB
At 22 years old, he’s still younger than most rookies entering the league in 2020 and just two months older than former Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons, the 8th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. However, Edmunds is already a Pro-Bowler, a two-year starter, a team captain and defensive play-caller in Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier’s defense, an established top-three unit in the league in the last two years.
Edmunds’ COD pic.twitter.com/9G9EI3a04L— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 27, 2020
In 2019, he led the team in tackles (119) and stops (53). He improved as a blitzer, using his top-notch athleticism to record 10 total pressures (three sacks, four QB hurries, and four QB hits) according to Pro Football Focus.
Most importantly, after struggling in coverage in 2018, he improved in this department last season, becoming a nightmare to opposing QBs when covering the middle of the field. He finished 2019 with nine passes defended and one interception. Edmunds’ size, range and speed have been there since day one. With a leap in the mental part of his game, he’s starting to blossom into one of the top up-and-coming LBs in the league. He definitely can win games for you.
Matt Milano – SLB
How valuable is Matt Milano? He’s the perfect partner for Edmunds, forming one of the best and most underrated LB duos in the NFL.
Matt Milano y'all..(Look at Mcdermott✊) pic.twitter.com/A2ULkV4nOM— Erik Turner (@ErikJTurner) May 16, 2020
Milano’s versatility and A+ coverage skills makes him an irreplaceable piece in Buffalo’s defensive schemes. As a former college safety, he has the athleticism to hold his own against the best TEs in the league in coverage. If you think it comes at the expense of struggling against the run, you’re wrong. Milano’s 46 stops were the team’s second-best mark in 2019, only behind Edmunds.
I see Milano do this so often and it's nuts. He doesn't make the tackle, but shaving angles here forces the RB to cut inside right into Murphy and Edmunds. pic.twitter.com/QxxqYgTOhw— Cover 1 (@Cover1) May 23, 2020
The former Boston College standout is also evolving into a deadly blitzer. He recorded 19 total pressures last season (two sacks, 6 hits, 11 hurries), according to PFF. He’s the total package and is primed to become a more recognized name around the league.
Can Win with Him
A.J. Klein – WLB/MLB
Another guy who played under Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane in Carolina, Klein is an experienced veteran who comes to replace the retired former captain Lorenzo Alexander in the 4-3 alignment.
I don’t think he is all that disruptive 1 on 1 but he does offer the versatility to rush or drop like the others on creeper and aim pressures. His pass rush productivity is right around Milano and above Edmunds per PFF. pic.twitter.com/QvD9GyjGP7— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 18, 2020
Klein has started 65 games in his seven-year career. He shouldn’t play a lot of snaps in this 4-3 role, since the nickel and “Buffalo nickel” alignments should continue to be the team’s true base defenses. However, he’s a dependable option to replace Edmunds or Milano if something bad happens. He knows the schemes and has seen it all during his time in the NFL., being part of winning teams (seven playoff games).
Tyler Matakevich – LB/ST, Corey Thompson – WLB/SLB, Vosean Joseph – WLB/SLB, Tyrel Dodson – MLB.
Matakevich is a proven special teams player who should be a key piece in this group, but it’s difficult to know what to expect from him as a defensive contributor at this point. Corey Thompson had some solid showings in Matt Milano’s absence two years ago. I like what I saw from him, but the sample size was too small.
Vosean Joseph and Tyrel Dodson are interesting prospects, but potential isn’t enough to put them in a tier above without watching them play meaningful NFL snaps.
Edmunds and Milano are clearly the top two players in this group, and they rarely leave the field. The Bills are in an excellent situation with their every-down linebackers; both surely can win games for them.
Remember Milano's INT in the Jags game? That was a banjo call between he and Edmunds, similar to the Jets and Dolphins games. Edmunds carries the TE, Milano widens with the RB. The route concept is good, throw is off, and Milano spaces it nicely but then works back to the ball. pic.twitter.com/FrgPkwjZIu— Cover 1 (@Cover1) July 4, 2019
Klein will replace Alexander, in theory. The truth is Zo played the majority of his snaps being moved around as a pass rusher, and complemented that role as a weak-side linebacker in the base 4-3 defense, an alignment that isn’t utilized very much. Klein doesn’t offer Alexander’s versatility, so he should play fewer snaps and be the first option when Edmunds or Milano aren’t available.
Matakevich is the main special teams guy and the other three should compete to see who will be able to contribute more on ST and also emerge as an option in the defense. I like their potential. One of them should emerge as a solid backup, at the very least.
- Can win games for you: 2 (Milano and Edmunds)
- Can win with: 1 (Alexander)
- Need better: 3 (Thompson, Julian Stanford, Deon Lacey)
- Can win games for you: 2
- Can win with: 1
- Need better: 4