The Buffalo Bills’ defense played a key role in ending the playoff drought last season. Playing opportunistic football, allowing few big plays and creating turnovers, the unit allowed an uninspiring but mistake-averse offense to be enough on the way to the first Bills playoff appearance since 2000. But, to make it back this year, Buffalo will need more from the Leslie Frazier-led group. Can they deliver? Here are my five bold predictions for the Bills’ defense in 2018.
Tremaine Edmunds Will Win DROY
The perfect storm. The most physically imposing Mike linebacker prospect in quite some time, entering the league to play a very important role in the middle of Sean McDermott’s defense. Remember, this is the very same position that Luke Kuechly mastered on his way to becoming an NFL superstar and also the position that Preston Brown played and led the league in tackles last year. So far in OTAs, Edmunds has already been penciled in as a starter there, calling the plays in the defensive huddle. He’s impressing his coaches and teammates with his combo of size, speed, and especially maturity at such young age (he just turned 20 last month). Don’t be surprised if Edmunds puts up the most impressive season by a Bills linebacker since Takeo Spikes in 2004. He has the ability and will have the opportunity to do so.
Vontae Davis And Phillip Gaines Are Going To Impress
HC Sean McDermott and his pro scouting team showed they know a thing or two about finding underrated defensive backs that can produce at a high level in his zone-based defensive schemes. Micah Hyde and especially Jordan Poyer weren’t supposed to be great, but they performed like one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. Rookie Tre’Davious White clearly exceeded all expectations. That gives me conviction to appoint Vontae Davis and Phillip Gaines as the next surprises. Most assume Davis is past his prime after his lingering groin issues last year, but the former two-time pro-bowler is looking for redemption and will play in a more suitable situation at this point in his career, not being put on an island against opposing teams’ best WRs snap after snap.
Gaines is coming from four unimpressive seasons with the Chiefs and is competing for the nickel CB job with rookie 4th-round pick Taron Johnson. With his experience, I believe he will win the job and do pretty well is his role, tackling well and using his length to tip passes. Again, McDermott and Frazier know what they want from their DBs, and I’m sure Gaines’s skillset will translate well for Buffalo’s D.
Jerry Hughes Will Have a 10+ Sack Season
The last time Hughes put up a 10-sack season, he was taking advantage of playing alongside Marcell Dareus, Mario and Kyle Williams, the trio of pro bowlers in the feared “Cold Front”. Time passed, and Hughes developed into a very good all around DE and the key cog in the Bills’ pass rush, but he never could come close to the sack numbers of his first two seasons in Buffalo. With Kyle Williams back for one more season and the additions of DT Star Lotulelei and DE Trent Murphy, Hughes will have more one-on-one opportunities and his sack numbers will go up. Add his stellar play against the run, and he may be primed for a pro-bowl year.
Pro Bowl Season Ahead For Jordan Poyer
He was snubbed last year, but Poyer will finally make the Pro Bowl roster in 2018. After a great first season in Buffalo, the playmaking safety will continue his strong play this year, ball-hawking all over the field and becoming an increasingly looming nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Poyer’s very versatile and with the new additions on the D, McDermott and Frazier will be able to utilize his skill set in different ways even more. For example, Poyer was used a lot as a “Rat Defender” covering the middle of the field, but now with Edmunds’s athleticism and coverage ability, it will allow the coaching staff to mix it up more and be less predictable. Poyer can have more opportunities blitzing as a result. His numbers will go up, and pro bowl recognition will come this time.
Shaq Lawson Will Not Be On The Roster By Season’s End
I like Shaq Lawson and loved the pick when it happened, but I don’t believe this Bills brass agrees with me, and Shaq will need to play out of his mind if he wants to save his Buffalo career. The talk of the offseason is how he prepared hard to have his breakout year, but he’d better show it on the field soon, because he’s already losing some practice reps to Owa Odighizuwa, and Trent Murphy isn’t even practicing yet. I think Lawson’s in a difficult situation, just like Reggie Ragland before him. He isn’t what this brass wants in their DEs. They want long guys with some mobility who can drop in coverage few times when needed to open up some zone blitz packages. Hughes, Murphy, and Odighizuwa fit this mold, and Lawson clearly does not. He’s a very good run stopping DE at this point, but it isn’t enough to save his job. Being a Doug Whaley pick surely doesn’t help. I believe GM Brandon Beane will trade Lawson for any compensation he can get before the next trade deadline.