LB Fits For The Buffalo Bills

Photo of Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons from 247sports.com.

The Bills waited until RD5, Pick 9 (#147) to select a linebacker in the 2019 Draft. That’s not going to happen again in 2020. Vosean Joseph, DraftTek’s 14th-ranked LB, just won’t be the third LB on a disciplined McDermott-Frasier 4-3 defense. While Vosean might be seen flying around the field in training camp and is supposedly a decent run defender, his 20% missed-tackle rate over the last 2 years is the result of abandoning scheme, taking poor angles, and not wrapping up correctly. Taking risks like Vosean did in college flies in the face of “Do Your Job”.

I suspect the Bills will be looking early in the 2020 Draft for a long-term solution for that third linebacker, especially if they don’t bring in one of these guys via Free Agency. It is McBeane’s intention to build through the draft. With Tremaine Edmunds firmly entrenched for the next 15 years at ILB, and Matt Milano 100% back from his injury in the Jets game, it’ll be an early OLB for sure, with on-field attributes of speed, diagnostic smarts, and wrap-up tackling. He’ll also have Robyn Mundy’s team culture characteristics: grit/perseverance, motive, spirituality, and inner discipline. Who are the OLBs that fit the Bills’ archetype?

Photo of Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons from 247sports.com.

Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
6-3, 225
31 career games
SOLO 53, TFL 9, FF 3, INT 1, PD 6 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
I’d describe Simmons as a Safety with OLB size, speed, and diagnostic ability. Simmons is an ideal teammate, possessing humility, tremendous work ethic, and a receptive mind that’s just a sponge for learning football, specifically Clemson’s 4-3/4-2-5 scheme. McDermott will immediately hearken back to his days with the Panthers, and the next Shaq Thompson will come to mind.
Fit For Bills: A+

BATON ROUGE, LA – NOVEMBER 17: Michael Divinity Jr. #45 of the LSU Tigers defends during a game against the Rice Owls at Tiger Stadium on November 17, 2018 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images).

Michael Divinity, Jr., LSU
6-2, 238
19 career games
SOLO 18, TFL 9.5, FF 1, INT 1, PD 2 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
Divinity will be the signal-caller on the defense this season, as he has been moved to ILB as a depth adjustment to replace All-American Devin White, but also to leverage Divinity’s strong leadership skills. Because Divinity had played ILB in high school, he learned the ins and outs of the position in time for the first spring game. You’ll still see some OLB play from Divinity, depending on opponent and play. The versatility that an NFL team like Buffalo would get in selecting Divinity would be a huge factor, because a built-in backup for Tremaine Edmunds would be huge. K’Lavon Chaisson, also on our LB board, will also be one to watch as he assumes Divinity’s OLB role.
Fit For Bills: A

Photo of Alabama LB Dylan Moses from 247sports.com.

Dylan Moses, Alabama
6-3, 233
23 career games
SOLO 45, TFL 10, FF 1, INT 0, PD 1 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
While currently the MLB, Moses has ILB-OLB versatility that McBeane might look for, as well as nice size and wingspan. While I wouldn’t call him fluid, Moses has 4.4 forty quickness to close on his target. He recorded 45 tackles last season, ranking him second to Deionte Thompson on the Crimson Tide. Moses offers some pass-rush chops, too, developed when Alabama’s EDGE rushers had injuries. He finished 5th in sacks and TFLs. That might come in handy as LorAx approaches retirement (although EDGE Anfernee Jennings is more LorAx-like). Like Vosean Joseph, Moses certainly profited from being surrounded by a great defense, getting a team-high 41 assisted tackles often by piling on. He’ll need to add NFL muscle to stack and shed more efficiently, but he has the frame to do so. I hear Alabama’s a nice place to get a linebacker.
Fit For Bills: B

Photo of Alabama LB Terrell Lewis from sports.yahoo.com.

Terrell Lewis, Alabama
6-5 256
4 career games (2017 only)
SOLO 10, FF 0, INT 0, PD 1 in 2017, injured 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
Another Alabama linebacker, this one the SLB in a 3-4, Lewis might prove to drop a round should he declare, because he missed 10 games in 2018 due to injury. Watch his speed-to-power illustrated in the “Watch This” video. The Bills loved Tremaine Edmunds’ size in a Linebacker role for the pivot. Would they draft another freak to play alongside him? Lowest games played in my big board’s Top 100 might lead Lewis to return to school.
Fit For Bills: B

Photo of Michigan LB Khaleke Hudson from 247sports.com.

Khaleke Hudson, Michigan
6-0 220
31 career games
SOLO 18, FF 0, INT 0, PD 1 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
Like Isaiah Simmons, “kuh-LEEK” Hudson can play that LB-S role, lining up for the Bills’ double-safety blitz look and creating havoc before the snap. Startlingly savvy with well-developed football smarts, Hudson shares the NCAA TFL record for a single game with 8. McBeane will like what they see, as I describe Hudson as solidly-built and solidly-grounded. He’s the ideal locker-room guy, and he plays the game with passion and gusto. Like Buffalo’s 4-3, Michigan’s 4-3 defense has limited opponents to the fewest YAC. Hudson resides on the Wolverine’s Leadership Council, and on all the LB lists: Bednarik, Nagurski, and Butkus. I’ll be watching Khaleke’s sideline-to-sideline speed this fall, which would be the only possible impediment to his ideal fit. This one-handed catch over his teammate makes for some postable YouTubing.
Fit For Bills: A+

Photo of Virginia LB Charles Snowden from 247sports.com.

Charles Snowden, Virginia
6-7 225
22 career games
SOLO 25, FF 1, INT 2, PD 9 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This] One of two OLBs in the Cavaliers’ 3-4 scheme, Snowden originally was going to play AAU basketball. Now, he’s totally committed to football, and has added 25 pounds to give him a somewhat-raw, high-upside-linebacker body. Snowden’s 6-7 height is obvious in the huddle and on pass plays, but keep watching. You’ll notice Snowden’s work ethic in spades, and his athleticism you’ll heart. The combined wingspans of Snowden and Edmunds would cover fourteen feet.
Fit For Bills: A+

Photo of Memphis LB Bryce Huff from 247sports.com.

Bryce Huff, Memphis
6-3, 245
31 career games
SOLO 35, FF 1, INT 0, PD 2 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
Huff could function as a backup on Day One as an ILB or OLB. He played OLB in 2018, and enjoyed a 9.5-sack season. Huff will appeal to McBeane because he works at his craft. A good example is how far he’s come on the timing and precision of his get-off in pass rush. Huff garnered a team-high 9.5 sacks last season, 3nd in the AAC, as the fruit of his labors. Huff also led the team in both QBH, and he has 24 TFL in 31 games. I might mention that pressuring the QB is one of McDermott’s major defensive priorities.
Fit For Bills: A

Photo of Tennessee LB Daniel Bituli from utsports.com.

Daniel Bituli, Tennessee
6-3 244
28 career games
SOLO 39, FF 0, INT 0, PD 1 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
What if the Bills could draft a top-tackling, run-stopping OLB who also has range, quickness, and athletic ability? Bituli paced the Vols in tackles in each of the past two seasons. He’s not done. This spring, Bituli earned the Andy Spiva Award, given to the most improved defensive player. McBeane will speak to Tennessee coaches and find out about his amazing work ethic and solid relationships.
You’ll run across Bituli’s 90-yard pick-six before April, but you’ll have already seen it here.
Fit For Bills: A+

Photo of Ohio State LB Pete Werner from lettermanrow.com.

Pete Werner, Ohio State
6-3, 238
17 career games
SOLO 38, FF 2, INT 0, PD 9 in 2018
[Stats] [ESPN] [Watch This]
Another OLB at a major school with work ethic and versatility is Pete Werner. Said his HS Coach: “There’s not a harder worker around.” He was a linebacker, cornerback and safety in high school who became a core special teams player as a true freshman, and now he’s starting strong-side linebacker for a second consecutive year. Ohio State didn’t fare that well on defense, and criticism was leveled at the LBs. Changes have been made for the upcoming season, including playing more 4-2-5, so Werner’s strong-side position is in limbo with that look. You’ll still see the 4-3 during stretches of games, so Werner and his dogged work habits are not out of the picture, by any means. Werner’s pass breakup here in the end zone protected a Buckeyes’ lead. The low sample size of games played so far is an issue (bottom 3 in my top 20 LBs), but the personality matches the team nicely.
Fit For Bills: A

Editor’s babble: Thinking about 6’7″ Charles Snowden lining up next to Tremaine Edmunds … whoa. I’ll definitely be watching this guy. As always, thanks to Dean Kindig for his fantastic contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.

2 Replies to “LB Fits For The Buffalo Bills”

  1. Seems to me you’re writing off Joseph pretty early. People slept on Milano, too, and he developed nicely.

    Whether Joseph can play with the discipline McDermott requires is of course a question, but just because he didn’t show that characteristic in college doesn’t mean he won’t learn to play within the scheme. These guys are young and will mature, and they often respond to coaching.

    You may be right – the Bills may be looking for a linebacker in 2020, but it’s at least 16 games too early to know that for sure.

  2. I fully agree, great comment. All we have right now is a body of work by a youngster. And youngsters can change their ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joseph becomes a good player in this structure. The Bills’ braintrust seems to have a way of picking the right players, especially in the back 7 on defense. Thanks for your gentle reminder that 21-year-olds are a work in progress!!!