Doug Whaley and company have made some pretty aggressive moves in the early stages of free agency and the Bills LB corps is a strong reflection of that.
Complementing sophomore stud Kiko Alonso, both Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers have been HUGE pickups for the Bills. Their LB’s will be able to establish the line of scrimmage with a more physical group, something that was missing most of last year. Even with these acquirement’s the Bills still have to find a fourth OLB to add necessary depth to the group.
Depth may be needed at this position, but a better word to describe the need is youth. The Bills have a more than respectable group of names that will be filling in the rest of the LB depth chart, with players that have made plays for the Bills already: Manny Lawson, Nigel Bradham, and Jerry Hughes playing as a hybrid DL and LB.
First of all, Manny Lawson is probably the most unappreciated and interchangeable player on the entire Bills defense. Manny can rush the passer, match-up well in coverage with his 6’ 5’’ frame and good speed, and has a nose for the football. In a limited role last year Lawson compiled 73 total tackles with 4 sacks, forced and recovered a fumble and picked one ball off.
The veteran LB presence on the Bills roster opens the door for the team to grab some high profile defensive players in this year’s draft. The big move to be made this year would be to draft Khalil Mack if he’s still available when the Bills are called.
This is the best move to make without a doubt. Mack is a rare combination of speed, strength, and awareness that makes him a complete edge player. He can rush the passer, stop the run and cover in space, similarly to Clay Matthews. A nightmare for offensive game plans.
Do not jump the gun and say that Mack cannot fit in a Jim Schwartz 4-3 scheme. Mack may seem to fit best in a 3-4 scheme coming out of college but he has all the defensive intangibles to fit into ANY scheme if utilized often and correctly. You cannot coach speed, you cannot coach effort, and that is 90% of he pass rush game. Mack has displayed plenty of this at the University of Buffalo already.
Some other options for the Bills to fill out the LB corps if Mack is not available include Anthony Barr (UCLA), CJ Mosely ( Alabama) or Ryan Shazier (Ohio State). Both Barr and Mosely possess the toughness that seems to be the prerequisite of Jim Schwartz’s LB attack. I can see each player developing well in Buffalo and seeing the field by the end of next season, with Barr being the better of the two based on his 6’ 5’’ 255lbs frame.
When it comes to the LB corps I say go big or go home for the Bills in this year’s draft. If Mack, Barr, or Mosely aren’t available with the Bills early picks then I say use them for more pressing positions on the squad. We could use some help at Safety, Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, and Cornerback before Linebacker.