Fantastic Linebackers … And Where To Find Them

Photo of ILB Jerry Tillery from irishsportsdaily.com.

The buzz on defense for the Bills is all about the draft’s strength, the interior defensive line. With Jordan Phillips back in the fold, and with Horrible Harry still developing there, they have DT3T, Kyle’s old position, pretty well solved. I think the Bills will have their eyes on a 5-tech, though.

Jerry Tillery is a perfect fit. Rashan Gary (more of a 3-tech who can play 5-tech), Dre’Mont Jones and Daniel Wise (both better 3-techs), Youhanna Ghaifan from Wyoming, and unscouted Corbin Kaufusi, who also played 5-tech, and some 3-tech. One should be a Bill by pick 4B.

If the Bills are going to seek out a rookie to come in and learn how to play the Lorenzo Alexander role, this draft has some gems. I like Chase Winovich (explosion and lateral quickness were near the top of the Combine charts) and Jordan Brailford (tied for top 2 in Explosion Factor).

The Bills’ other defensive priority, though, is a sideline-to-sideline OLB to play in the Bills’ 4-3 alignment who’s a sure tackler and has grit/work ethic. I’ll show you who’s in and who’s out, and why.

Photo of EDGE/OLB Josh Allen from wkyt.com.

Josh Allen, Kentucky
EDGE/OLB
6-5, 260
RD1 (#4 on our DraftTek board, not happening)
Allen played in a 4-3, and not all of these guys did. His 42 TFL, 31.5 sacks were due to his burst, bend, length, tough, competitive, mature, conscientious. “The Other Josh Allen” is an athletic freak the Bills have no shot at, unless both OL and DL are amazing, the WR#1 and TE#1 are already on the roster, and they have a stud RB under age 24. Could happen. Won’t.
Fit For Bills: A+

Photo of ILB Devin Bush from MLive.com.

Devin Bush, Michigan
ILB
5’11”, 232
RD1 Tradedown
Bush went from slowest of my top 10 linebackers to second-fastest at the Combine. He played mainly in a 4-2-5 alignment, which the Bills essentially played much of the time this year. Still the wrong time for a guy who played ILB. Pass.
Fit For Bills: C-

Photo of ILB Mack Wilson from wvtm13.com.

Mack Wilson, Alabama
6’1″, 240
ILB in a 3-4
RD2
If the Bills wanted a ‘Bama ILB, they’d get him in Free Agency. The fit and translation to the Bills’ defensive alignment is all wrong.
Fit For Bills: D

Photo of ILB Devin White from 247sports.com.

Devin White, LSU
ILB
6’0″, 237
RD1 – (not happening; gone by #9)
White’s the best tackler in the SEC, and possesses sideline-to-sideline speed (an LB-best 4.42 at the Combine), and his athleticism is undeniable. However, we see Tremaine Edmunds as the Bills’ ILB for the next 12 years, and White’s ILB-only and a bit undersized at 6’0″, 237. Best inside ‘backer in this draft, just a whale of a lot smaller –and actually older– than the 6’ 5″, 253 Edmunds.
Fit For Bills: B

Photo of SS/OLB Chase Hansen from sltrib.com.

Chase Hansen, Utah
OLB/SS, often in box at LB depth
6’3″, 222
RD4A
Hansen’s an intriguing SS/OLB combo plate like McBeane had in CAR with Thomas Davis, who just thrived under McDermott. Hansen’s 22 TFLs indicates they let him shoot gaps at Utah. This would be an intriguing pick. Hansen’s length and anticipation worked to his advantage in PBUs and INTs like this one.
Fit For Bills: B+

Photo of OLB Terrill Hanks by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
6’2″, 242
OLB
RD4A
SS in his first yr, then OLB for 3 years, has range, physicality, blitzes very well, is as chiseled as Bradham was in his time with Bills. Hanks had 43.5 TFL over his career. He played in the Bills scouts’ first game of the season and was in on 11 tackles.
Fit For Bills: B+ 

Photo of ILB/OLB Te’von Coney from bleacherreport.com.

Te’von Coney, Notre Dame
6’0″, 244
ILB/OLB
RD4B
Tranquill’s teammate at Notre Dame (the Bills’ most-scouted team) is physical enough to shed blocks easily, but he’s also fast enough to keep up with WRs and TEs. Coney’s the sparkplug of the Irish defense, that elite combo of size and speed McBeane likes. Somewhat off-putting is his plea deal for a pot possession arrest in August 2016, but all indications are that it made him rededicate himself. The numbers indicate that: He had 116 tackles as a junior, then matched it in 2018 with 123. It’s not what happens to you in life; it’s what you do with what happens to you.
Fit For Bills: B+

Photo of WLB/Rover Drue Tranquill from irishsportsdaily.com.

Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
6’2″, 234
WLB/Rover
RD3-RD4A
McBeane looks for players who have Tranquill’s grit and determination. Tranquill has that and more: gym-rat strength, abiding faith, has been team captain for 2 years, he’s married and mature (age 24 on August 15), and won the Wuerffel Trophy (the FBS player who “best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement”. He’s #1 in my “Solo Tackles + PBU, Career” measure with 195, and won the bench reps at the Combine with 31. He’s right in the sweet spot of when I think the Bills look for their third LB.
Fit For Bills: A+

Photo of ILB Khalil Hodge from chatsports.com.

Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
6-1, 235
ILB
RD5B
I could see Hodge coming to the Bills if he makes it later into Day 3. He’s a textbook tackler with 415 total tackles to his name. You want work ethic? Got it. Gap-shooter? 21 career TFL. Motor? Straight-line speed, change of direction? Excellent. Hodge has proven to be effective in both man and zone. Local school. He drops only because he’s primarily an ILB; we see other scouted OLBs (Ben Burr-Kirven) and OLB-ILB hybrids (Kendall Joseph) that might be better fits if OLB hasn’t been filled by RD5A.
Fit For Bills: B+

Photo of OLB Tevis Bartlett from huskiesnewera.com.

Tevis Bartlett, Washington
6’3″, 234
OLB
RD7-PFA
A Tillery-Tranquill-Tevis draft would be my ideal defensive scenario. Bartlett would be one of those names that will send many reporters Googling while you will be celebrating with me. Bartlett was the Washington state wrestling champ 4 years in a row, and national champion in his weight class twice. He hails from Cheyenne, Wyoming, so you know Robyn Mundy’s behind this pick. I think he can be had in the seventh round. Don’t tell anyone.

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Editor’s babble: Being a native WNYer comes first, so I’ll take my alma mater UB’s Khalil Hodge in a New York minute. I’ve watched enough of Hodge this season to believe he’d be a fine addition to the Bills’ linebacking corps. BIG thanks as always to Dean Kindig for sharing his vast draft expertise with us.