With training camp now officially open, I’m re-examining the State of the Buffalo Bills’ roster, going position-by-position.
Here’s an in-depth look at the linebackers:
- Tremaine Edmunds
- Matt Milano
- A.J. Klein
- Corey Thompson
- Vosean Joseph
- Tyler Matakevich
- Tyrel Dodson
- Del’Shawn Phillips
Edmunds never comes off the field, regardless of the situation. He’s a three-down linebacker, whose just become better and better as his short career has moved forward. It’s important to remember just how young Edmunds is. He just turned 22 years old and has already played and started 31 NFL games, the most of any player, all-time, before turning 22 years old. Around the midway point of last season, Edmunds really started to see things better and play faster. There was a notable jump in his overall game. Around that same time, the Bills started using him a bit more as a blitzer, as well. He’s unde contract for two more seasons, plus the team has a fifth-year option they can use in 2022.
Milano is very similar to Edmunds in that he never comes off the field. He’s a three-down, instinctual, and athletic linebacker. He’s been a solid player so far through three seasons, and has certainly outperformed what many people expected after being drafted in the fifth round. However, unlike Edmunds, Milano is going into the final year of his contract. We’ll see how that plays out long-term, but for now, the team is set with two solid, young starters at the position.
Klein came into the NFL as a fifth round pick out of Iowa State by the Carolina Panthers in 2013 when current Bills head coach Sean McDermott was the Panthers’ defensive coordinator. Through four years in Carolina, he was used in different roles on defense, playing both inside and outside linebacker, including filling in for All-Pro player Luke Kuechly when he was out. He was also a core special teams player for the Panthers. Like both Edmunds and Milano, he’s considered a smart and instinctual linebacker. McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane really value position flexibility, and Klein has the ability to play all three linebacker spots, as well as special teams.
Thompson’s been primarily a weak-side backup for Matt Milano, and also a core special teams player through his two year career so far. He was originally an undrafted free agent who was released as part of final cuts in 2018, but then signed to the team’s practice squad right away. Later that season he was signed to the team’s active roster. He made the team right out of camp last season. He played 12 games, missing four with an ankle injury, but other than the teams’ regular season finale when they rested several defensive players in preparation for the playoffs, Thompson was strictly a special teamer.
We really don’t know what Joseph is capable of yet. He was drafted in the fifth round last year, played limited snaps in the preseason, then was injured late in the final preseason game and placed on injured reserve for the season. He’s fast and hits like a heat-seeking missile, but he also showed wildly undisciplined defensive tendencies on film at Florida.
Dodson had a strong preseason in 2019, but he was put on the commissioner’s exempt list prior to the season, then suspended six games by the league for a domestic violence arrest that occurred earlier in the offseason. Upon his reinstatement, he was waived by the club, but then signed to the practice squad where he spent the rest of the season, then signed to a future/reserve contract. He’s primarily a middle linebacker who will compete for a backup role to Edmunds.
Matakevich has made more special teams tackles than any player in the NFL over the past four seasons combined, with 37. He entered the league as a seventh round pick of the Steelers out of Temple in 2016 and was almost exclusively used in that role for them, playing in 63 out of a possible 64 games, picking up 77 combined tackles and a pass defended. The Bills have state they believe Matakevich can play a backup linebacker role for them, but he should be one of the main, core special teams players for the team in 2020.
Phillips was signed to a future/reserve deal at the end of last season. He has no prior NFL game experience after entering the league as an undrafted free agent last year and spending about half the season on the Bills’ practice squad.
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