In 2017, the Buffalo Bills’ defense was downright maddening. The team was respectable against the pass but opponents gashed them on the ground, running at will. The team missed a whopping 138 tackles per Pro Football Focus and finished 29th in the NFL in run defense, allowing opponents to rush for at least 140 yards on nine separate occasions. While the defensive line didn’t do linebackers Ramon Humber, Preston Brown and Lorenzo Alexander many favors, it’s hard to excuse the sub-par play of the front seven as a whole.
The Bills made a conscious effort to rectify that issue during the offseason, signing defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy to help bolster the run defense in free agency, but the onus will be on rookie linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and second-year man Matt Milano to really step up if the team wants to rebound.
The pair who have a combined age of 43 – just nine more than 34-year old starting outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, will be critical to the team’s success on defense for the foreseeable future.
Buffalo moved up to select Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. A physical freak of nature given his measurables (6-foot-5, 253-pounds), the former Hokie, who was just 19-years old on draft day, is coming off of a stellar collegiate career in which he notched 213 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, one interception, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
His size and physical skill set provide Edmunds with the versatility to potentially fit in at all three linebacker positions, which makes him an extremely valuable asset. He likely will replace Preston Brown, who signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent, at middle linebacker, but Edmunds has the length and power to rush the passer and the fluidity in coverage to play strong-side as well.
Matt Milano, Buffalo’s fifth-round draft pick one year ago, surprised everyone as a rookie, recording 43 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception, two pass breakups and two touchdowns, supplanting Humber as the team’s starting outside ‘backer in the process.
Milano is an ideal weakside linebacker. The former safety was superb in coverage last year and despite being “undersized” at roughly 225-pounds, he can be a force against the run as an uncovered or run-and-chase backside defender.
With defenses primarily operating out of sub packages, having linebackers with the skill sets Milano and Edmunds possess is not only a luxury but really a necessity in today’s game.
Edmunds has high expectations entering his first professional season and has drawn comparisons to all-time greats like Brian Urlacher while Milano looks to build upon a promising rookie year.
As the Bills head into year two under coach Sean McDermott, Edmunds and Milano are poised to turn Buffalo’s defense into one of the league’s premier units.