Now that the dust of the 2011 Draft has settled, it’s time to analyze the current state of Buffalo’s roster. We’ll be taking a look at one position at a time. Today: Outside Linebacker. (Previous editions: QB, RB, FB, WR, TE, OT,G/C, DL, ST)
That pretty much sums up the play of Buffalo’s outside linebackers last season. It was a group that couldn’t rush the passer and also couldn’t stop the run. Not a great combination.
Is there any hope for this season? Let’s take a closer look.
Players Under Contract (7): Chris Kelsay, Shawne Merriman, Arthur Moats, Antonio Coleman, Aaron Maybin, Danny Batten, Jammie Kirlew
Possibly Departing Free Agents: None
1) Chris Kelsay
2010: 16 games, 72 tackles (3 TFL), 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Oh, Chris Kelsay. Probably the best example of what has made the Bills teams of the past few years so easy and yet so difficult to root for. By all accounts, Kelsay is a great guy. He works incredibly hard and is a definite leader in the locker room. Off the field, he does everything right.
On the field though, he just seems so overmatched physically. I’m sure I’m exaggerating this in my head, but it seems like he is constantly getting burned on misdirection plays and he simply NEVER seems to make an open field tackle. Seriously, it seemed like after every long run the Bills gave up last year I was screaming “Damn it, Kelsay. You (insert curse word or words here) suck!” His weaknesses were even more evident last year as he attempted to play 3-4 linebacker. Kelsay can’t tackle in space, can’t rush the passer very well from a standing-on-the-end position, and really can’t cover anyone in the passing game.
Am I a little hard on Kelsay? No question. I’m sure he does some things well. I just don’t think he’s an NFL-quality 3-4 outside linebacker. As a backup who mostly plays when Buffalo goes to a 4-man front? Now we’re talking. Unfortunately, I think we have at least one more season of Kelsay as an every-down player. Yikes.
2) Shawne Merriman
2010: 3 games (with San Diego), 6 tackles
It’s been a rough past few years for Merriman. In his first three seasons in the league, “Lights Out” was one of the league’s most exciting and effective defensive players, racking up 39.5 sacks while absolutely wreaking havoc on opposing offenses. In the three seasons since, Merriman has been a complete non-factor while fighting off injury and off-the-field trouble, recording just four sacks while only playing in 18 games.
Can Merriman make it back? I just don’t think so. At least not at his former dominant level. However, I still like the chance the Bills took by bringing him in last season and then re-signing him this offseason. What’s the risk? A few million bucks? Well worth it to see if Merriman can still rush the passer at all. He’s exactly the type of player the Bills desperately need at one outside linebacker spot.
I’m not holding my breath though. Merriman is simply too injury-prone to really be trusted. I’m hoping against hope that he can hang in there and prove all the doubters wrong. He’ll no doubt be motivated.
3) Arthur Moats
2010: 15 games, 33 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Moats was a really pleasant surprise at the end of the season in 2010. The rookie from James Madison got an opportunity to play quite a bit as the season wrapped up and he took full advantage, showing off some pass-rushing skills desperately needed on the Buffalo roster. Oh, and remember this play?
Now that’s awesome.
Anyway, I think we could see big things from Moats in 2011. (And I’m not alone in that opinion.) After Merriman’s seemingly inevitable injury, look for Moats to step into the starting lineup and produce.
4) Antonio Coleman
2010: 8 games, 12 tackles
Coleman, who made the team as undrafted rookie out of Auburn, managed to earn some playing time as injuries piled up around him. He played quite a bit on special teams. Unfortunately, an injury ended his season early.
Coleman doesn’t do anything especially well, but he’s pretty solid all around. For an undrafted rookie, I felt he looked okay when he was thrown into the fire last year. Don’t be surprised to see him stick around in 2011 and at least play some special teams.
5) Danny Batten
2010: Did not play (injured)
We’ve been talking about Batten quite a bit this offseason. There’s a reason for that – I find Batten to be a real intriguing guy. He is a small-school guy (South Dakota State), who fell even further off the radar when he missed his whole rookie season with injury. And that was really unlucky for him. With all of Buffalo’s injuries and weaknesses at linebacker, there’s no way he wouldn’t have gotten quite a bit of playing time in 2010.
If Batten shows much of anything in camp, the Bills are going to keep him around. He’s got pass rush skills and definitely fits the blue-collar, aggressive defense the Bills coaching staff is trying to create.
6) Aaron Maybin
2010: 10 games, 6 tackles
We don’t need to re-hash just how bad Maybin’s been during his tenure in Buffalo. Suffice to say, the 2009 first-round draft pick has been awful. He can’t even get on the field for the worst defense in the league. I can’t even really remember Maybin ever even making a positive play for the Bills. He just has never been a factor.
That said, I’m not totally ready to give up on Maybin yet. He’s still very young – actually younger than Moats, Batten, and Coleman despite being in the league a year longer. Can he put on some strength? Can he develop something resembling rush moves? I think it’s still conceivable he could. Another year of nothing, though, will spell the end of his time in Western New York.
7) Jammie Kirlew
2010: Practice Squad
Kirlew was drafted by Denver in the 7th round in 2010 but didn’t make the team. He eventually found his way to Buffalo’s practice squad and stuck for the remainder of the season.
Not fast and not big, Kirlew’s a pretty long shot to make the roster in 2011. However, he’s a hardworking guy with a good motor. He could definitely reappear on Buffalo’s practice squad.
The youth of this unit behind Merriman and Kelsay is scary but exciting at the same time. There’s some potential here. Fingers crossed that Merriman stays healthy and one of the young guns can step up and take some playing time away from Kelsay.