From the end of last season to whenever the 2020 NFL regular season begins, the Buffalo Bills have changed up a lot of things on their defensive line.
On both the inside and edge of it, the Bills lost their top pass rushers in Jordan Phillips (9.5 sacks) and Shaq Lawson, (6.5), respectively. Then the Bills jolted the group with several new faces.
Mario Addison was the team’s big signing along the edge, while that same spot saw the team’s first pick at the 2020 draft, second rounder AJ Epenesa, also join the defensive end group. Plus there’s Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, two other versatile free agents, who also signed on the dotted line with Buffalo this offseason.
All of those guys joined the likes of returners Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips.
But despite all that potential talent, the folks at Pro Football Focus think this newly-formed unit will have to prove it has what it takes in 2020. In PFF’s defensive line ranking ahead of next season, the Bills only landed at No. 20 overall.
Here’s part of PFF’s breakdown on Buffalo’s defensive line:
Jerry Hughes led the Bills in pressures, finishing with 54. He produced a 73.7 pass-rush grade that ranked 28th in the league, and he’ll be counted on to lead the pass rush once again in 2020.
However, the Bills have added plenty of pieces around Hughes, including veteran Mario Addison and second-rounder A.J. Epenesa. Addison has had at least 45 pressures in each of the last five seasons, while Epenesa is a powerful hands-winner who ranked in the top 32 on the PFF draft board. Trent Murphy also returns after his 74.9 grade against the run led all front-7 players for Buffalo last season.
On the interior, the Bills are hoping for a Year 2 breakout from 2019 first-rounder Ed Oliver, who graded at 65.1 overall as a rookie — tied for 72nd at the position. He has the quickness and college production to make a bigger impact, but development is still needed. Harrison Phillips’ strong run defense is back in the equation after being limited to just 77 snaps last season, and Vernon Butler has been added to the mix after the former Panthers first-rounder peaked with a 68.7 overall grade in 2017.
Another former Panther, Star Lotulelei, also returns, but he’s graded above 60.0 just one time since 2014.
Hughes has been a favorite of PFF’s for some time now. He doesn’t always get the sack numbers, but he’s led the Bills in QB pressure via PFF’s count for the past seven-straight seasons. Another similarity for PFF: Lotulelei’s lowly ranking via the football analytics outlet once again.
Still, even with all these fresh faces, we’re again stuck at No. 20 overall. There’s a lot of moving pieces here for the Bills, who also have to replace Lorenzo Alexander. The do-it-all defender was a big part of the team’s pass rush in the past, and we’re not sure who’s going to fill those shoes just yet. This overall area in the trenches has a lot of question to be answered even before the 2020 season. This group is very deep and we’re going to have to keep an eye on how things pan out in training camp.
But hey, the positive you’ve been waiting for: The Bills have the best defensive line in the AFC East, at least. The Patriots (25), Dolphins (30) and Jets (31) all manage to still land several spots behind Buffalo’s spot.