If the Bills ran a 4-3 he’d be the 3
Is there any way I can write this in such a way as to avoid the conversation turning into one about Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds? No? Siiiiiiiiiiigh. Fine. I’ll just make this A.J. Klein article be roughly 50% Edmunds then. You were commenting about Tremaine Edmunds on my Devin Singletary article just now weren’t you? I’m on to you. Let’s watch some A.J. Klein clips! And, uh…probably talk about Tremaine Edmunds I guess.
If I had to point to one thing and one thing only why you want a guy like A.J. Klein on your team this is the clip I’d use. What’s that one thing? Play recognition. Klein isn’t perfect by any stretch (I mean I DO have six more clips). But, generally speaking, he sees the play as it develops and reacts well. This isn’t flashy by the usual standards but by my standards this is a “wow” type of highlight play. To go from crashing toward the line to tipping a pass like this is pretty wild.
This play happens on 1st & 20, so the Bills are giving a little cushion. It can be better (and safer) to limit the ground the opponent can gain than to attempt a riskier play call that has a higher bust potential. This gain of seven is not terrible by any means. This is a play that might look horrific at first glance. Like “Why in the world is Klein so far off his opponent?” I do think he could have played this a bit closer, but Buffalo’s linebackers are asked to cover a lot of real estate and perfect position can be rare as a result.
Soooooo, if you happen to be watching linebackers who aren’t A.J. Klein, I’d recommend etching the last play and this one into your memory. Klein misses this tackle and looks absolutely awful going about it. Yet I don’t consider this a total failure. On the highlighted frame Klein has yet to commit to a lane. The back could legitimately choose either. The two lanes require completely different body mechanics and the linebacker has to react to what they’re seeing. Plays like this are often chalked up to “bad instincts.” Unless you’re a mind reader there’s not much here to even be “instinctive” about.
Certainly some linebackers are better than others at reacting so the moral of the story is this: Every single linebacker will have plays like this one. It’s inevitable. You’re talking about players needing to react and cut to chase down another player. That player is usually significantly lighter, more agile, and is the only one on the field who knows for sure which direction he’s actually going. If you see a few plays like this, it’s normal.
I’m not sure if this was a designed pass rush for Klein who just happened to be screaming toward the ball by happy accident, or if the Bills had scouted this play so well that Klein didn’t need to think much about what else might happen. It looks more like the latter to me. Either way he trusts what’s in front of him.
Unlike Play 3 there’s no decision matrix for Klein. The simple shadow needed for this makes it a footrace. Klein isn’t a cheetah, but he has an advantage based on geometry that he uses well.
Klein wasn’t extremely physical this year but held his ground reasonably well. He does so here for sure. Additionally, the blocker he’s occupied with has to worry about Taron Johnson as well as Klein. That means Klein is already half of the block. He’s able to move into the lane with ease. What I like about this play is that Klein’s locked in the entire time. All of his body mechanics suggest he’s purposeful toward clogging the lane.
Klein does have a bit of an easier time than normal on this play as the receiver comes to him. A well-timed bump like this could can create some separation. Klein reacts well and shuts the play down.
So this is where I put a paragraph or two together to discuss where I feel a player fits in talent-wise and, again, I don’t think I can avoid the Edmunds talk. During the 2021 season there was a lot of chatter about keeping Klein on the field over Edmunds. Klein is not challenging for a starting role over Edmunds or Matt Milano. The biggest drop off is in pass coverage where Buffalo likes to throw their linebackers to the wolves. Klein is a smart player with great reactions, but the difference in speed, range, and length is apparent.
Do I want Klein on the team moving forward though? Yep. I don’t think Klein is so good there’s no room for upgrade. But I do think he’s good enough where conversations about an upgrade likely come with rapidly escalating cost as well. That’s as far as I’ll venture toward contract territory so I’ll just leave it that Klein is a good fit in Buffalo and good fits don’t always grow on trees.