Second in a series of articles that will attempt to match the Beane-McDermott positional archetype with the players who may declare for this year’s draft.
Which linebackers in the 2018 NFL Draft are the best fits for “The Process”?
The Archetype: In a recent comment about Matt Milano, Sean McDermott mentions his own history; he played both LB and safety. “Get speed on the field” was his reasoning for playing Milano when Humber was injured. McDermott said Milano has “the look in his eye” when he plays on the boundary at weak-side linebacker. Athleticism is important, too. Luke Kuechly’s best qualities were his tackling ability (top tackler in FBS that year), instincts, and technical acumen. When describing what he liked about Khalil Mack, McDermott first cited “work ethic” and “passion“, so we’ll add those qualities into our archetype. McDermott and LB coach Babich like to ease a rookie in, so he’d have to be a strong special teams player first. McDermott sums it up for us: “The thing that jumps out to me the most is [Milano’s] athleticism….We watched his progression in college, how he moved. Played a little bit of the safety position at one point, outside linebacker. Those are the type of the linebackers we look for in terms of the space players, athletic, who can come in and help on special teams.”
The need at LB is two-fold:
- SLB: Highest Need. Lorenzo Alexander ( 6′ 02″ | Wt: 275) is 34, the SLB. Deon Lacey (6′ 01″ | Wt: 227), a waiver claim from Miami, is a backup, and seems the least-prototypical for the SLB position. We’ll tag this the most-likely-replaceable position.
- MLB: 2nd-Highest Need. Preston Brown (6′ 01″ | Wt: 251) MLB, is age 25. Rookie Tanner Vallejo (6′ 01″ | Wt: 225), from Boise State, is penciled in behind him. He’s light for the prototype and has been relegated to special teams when healthy. This is the second-most-likely replaceable position. Luke Kuechly was 6′ 3″| Wt: 242, for comparison.
- WLB: Lowest Need. Ramon Humber (5′ 11″ | Wt: 232), WLB, is 30 years old, playing his best football. Rookie Matt Milano (6′ 00″ | Wt: 216) is the listed backup there. Milano seems to be doing quite nicely, to the point where Humber could lose his hold on the starting WLB job. We’ll designate Milano as “not likely replaced” for now.
So the need is for one SLB to inherit Zo’s spot, and one MLB to back up Brown. Which draftable linebackers might “Babich McBeane” be talking about?
Malik Jefferson, OLB/ILB, Texas
6-2, 238, 4.57
“Getting speed on the field” would be Jefferson, the fastest junior or senior who could declare among the 47 LBs I’m tracking. With one more year of eligibility and a late-blooming trajectory, Jefferson doesn’t have the multi-year body of proven excellence McDermott looks for, but he does have the most upside. This is partly due to – I’ll say it – poor coaching. He was inadequately engaged with the scheme and had to change position from ILB to OLB this season. I see Jefferson outside, working in space and pursuing, behind a pressuring D-Line like Buffalo’s. He may be drafted before the Bills’ first pick because he’s going to kill the NFL Combine if he declares. Jefferson’s speed may catch Babich McBeane’s eyes, but scouts haven’t been credentialed for a Texas game yet.
Position Fit For Bills: A-