Off the ball; stack linebacker, inside linebacker or middle linebacker, whichever you prefer to call them. There are some top end middle linebackers and plenty of talent for day 2 and day 3 as well. Lorenzo Alexander, Ramon Humber and Matt Milano all return. Preston Brown is gone, and that leaves the biggest hole on the Bills team at Middle Linebacker. I always thought Preston Brown was too slow. Smart decision to move on from him. What kind of middle linebacker might Beane/McDermott be looking for? Maybe someone like Luke Kuechly. Here are his combine results.
Luke Kuechly, BC, 6’3″, 242 lbs., 31″ arms, 93/4″ hands, 4.58 40, 27 reps, 38″vertical, 123″ broad, 6.92 3-cone, 4.27 shuttle. Kuechly was a tackling machine at BC with 191 tackles his senior year alone. No issues off the field for him and he was a known team leader. Let’s see if we can find someone like this for the Bills in the 2018 NFL Draft. Here are the candidates:
1)Tremaine Edmunds, Va. Tech., 6’5″, 253 lbs., 4.55 40, 19 reps, 117″ broad. He did not do the rest of the drills at the combine or at Va. Tech.’s pro day. He has really long arms, 341/2″. He is a freak and he was only 19 years old this past season. He plays sideline to sideline. He has excellent technique. The 2nd best player in this years draft. He can tackle, do an outstanding job in zone pass coverage and he easily covers backs and tight ends. I think he will eventually become a nasty pass rusher. The majority of Bills fans are clamoring to move up to get a QB, I would consider moving up from the 12th pick to get this guy. I think he will be an all-pro for the next 10-15 years. His upside is huge. He is bigger, faster and longer than Luke Kuechly and I think he will surpasse Kuechly as the best linebacker in the league. He will bulk up and get stronger. He is still a baby as far as his physical development as an NFL Player. I would love to see what this guy could do for the Bills after he physically mature. He will be a beast. This would be a good draft if the only player the Bills got was Tremaine Edmunds. He would immediately plug that gaping hole in the middle of the Bills defense.
2)Roquan Smith, Ga., 6″1″, 225 lbs., 4.51 40-pulled a hamstring running that 40 and did no further testing at the combine. He was leader of an outstanding Georgia defense this past year. He plays from sideline to sideline with amazing speed. I don’t need to see his 3-cone or shuttle. This guy is quick as a cat on the field. He is not as big, and some see him as a weak side or hybrid linebacker safety, but I would leave him at middle linebacker. Regardless, he can play and with ferocity. He can rush and he is great cover linebacker. He is a top 10 pick. The Bills would be lucky to get him at 12. They would have to move up to get him, but I would not move up for him. Besides QB, the only player in this draft I move up for is Tremaine Edmunds.
3)Rashaan Evans, Alabama, 6’3″, 234 lbs., 30″ vertical, 116″ broad, 6.95 3-cone, 4.36 shuttle. He did not run a 40, which is concerning if you are considering drafting a middle linebacker say in the 1st round. Whatever reason he skipped the 40 (probably his agents advice) for, I think it was a mistake. He plays fast in games and his 3-cone is under 7 seconds, so I believe he is plenty fast, but still a concern without the 40 time. He was hurt off and on, but was healthy in 2017 and played great the entire season. He is a hard hitting, rock ’em linebacker. He comes down hill with authority and is a jolting tackler. Is good, but not as good as Smith in coverage. Could drop to the 2nd round due to lack of 40 time, but I would consider him at 22 if he is still there.
4)Leighton Vander Esch, Boise St., 6’4″, 256 lbs., 34″ arms, 4.65 40, 20 reps, 39.5″ vertical, 124″ broad, 6.88 3-cone, 4.15 shuttle. His numbers compare very favorably with those of Luke Kuechly. I think he may be underrated. He was very good his senior year. He showed steady improvement each season. Well coached and his technique is very good. Only had one year of high level production, which makes me worried about “one year wonder” (think Shaq Lawson at Clemson). However, I think he grew into himself and matured and I think he will continue to improve. His ceiling, like Tremaine Edmunds, is higher than the other top prospects IMO. Some see him as a SAM linebacker, but I like him right in the middle of the field. Big and long and fast enough to cover. He would be an upgrade on Preston Brown and may turn into a perennial pro bowler. I would consider Vader Esch at pick #22. I had a hard time choosing between he and Evans, as to which one to rank above the other. Evans’ big game experience and production at Alabama gave him the edge by a hair.
5)Malik Jefferson, Tex., 6’3″, 236 lbs., 4.52 40, 27 reps, 36″vertical, 125″ broad. Fast, strong and athletic. He has a history of excellent production at Texas for the past 3 seasons. Also, plays sideline to sideline and is excellent against the run, but he is probably even better on pass defense. A leader and no issues. Could he be the next Luke Kuechly? His numbers at the combine are almost identical to Kuechly. Who knows. I would consider Jefferson with our 2nd round picks. Not quite a 1st round talent, but a very good prospect.
6)Jerome Baker, Ohio St., 6’1″, 229 lbs., 4.53 40, 22 reps, 36.5″ vertical, 126″ broad. A smaller linebacker who my play weak side in the pros. He is fast and can cover. He is a good tackler but sometimes can get blocked with some frequency. I see him as a round 3 talent.
7)Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson, 6’1″, 225 lbs., 4.61 40, 21 reps, 32″vertical, 119″ broad, an outstanding time of 6.64 3-cone, and a very quick 4.07 shuttle. Smaller but he is quick and makes plays all over the field for Clemson. He may also move to the outside due to his size, but he will make plays. A lot of big game experience. I was not surprised that he tested as very quick-he looks quick. I would consider him in the 3rd or 4th round.
8)Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama, 6’0″ 228 lbs. 20 reps. Missed most of the 2017 season due to injury and now recovering from surgery. When he played at Alabama he was really good. May also move outside due to size.
9)Micah Kiser, Va., 6’2″, 240 lbs., 4.66 40, 35.5 vertical, 121″broad, 7.05 3-cone, 4.24 shuttle. Plays quick and made a lot of plays for Virginia. Not quite as fast, but athletic. A day 3 selection. Could play inside or outside.
10)Tegray Scales, Indiana, 6’0″, 230 lbs., 4.77 40, 27 reps. Slower but I saw him make a lot of plays for Indiana. He is instinctive and makes up for his lack of speed. A later round talent. Could be someone who contributes on special teams.
11)Azeem Victor, 6’1″, 240 lbs., 4.72 40, 19 reps, 7.2 3-cone. Slower but he made a lot of plays for Washington. He would be a late round or UDFA.
12)Joel Iyiegbuwiwe, W. Ky., 6’1″, 229 lbs., 4.6 40, 19 reps, 35″vertical, 7.06 3-cone, 4.28 shuttle. A small school talent. Could play outside in the pros. He has the tools, but can he produce at a higher level is the question.
13)Zaire Franklin, Syracuse, 6’0″, 239 lbs., 4.58 40, 30 reps, 38″vertical, 122″broad, 6.97 3-cone, 4.22 shuttle. He was not invited to the combine but his numbers from his pro day at Syracuse put him in the upper 10% in almost every category. He was only the 2nd three time captain in the history of Syracuse football. Beane and McDermott must love that. May turn out to be a diamond in the rough in the late rounds.
The Bills need a middle linebacker bad. I would use one of our 1st round picks on a middle linebacker. I doubt we can get Edmunds or Smith with pick 12, as they will be gone in the top 10. If either is there at 12 we take them. I would take Evans or Vader Esch with pick 22 if we can’t land Edmunds or Smith. Jefferson is also a prospect to consider with pick 22. I don’t see any of the top 5 lasting to pick 53. Also, some of the outside linebackers can also play inside, and we will evaluate them in the next post.