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, OLB, ST)
Buffalo’s inside linebacker corps in 2011 could look drastically different than in 2010. Buffalo’s mainstay at that position – Paul Posluszny – is a free agent. Two other contributors (Akin Ayodele and Keith Ellison) are also free agents. Two draft picks (Kelvin Sheppard and Chris White) were selected to bring some depth to the position. This is definitely a position to watch in the preseason, as it could shake out in many different ways.
Players Under Contract (4): Andra Davis, Reggie Torbor, Kelvin Sheppard, Chris White
Possibly Departing Free Agents (3): Paul Posluszny, Akin Ayodele, Keith Ellison
1) Andra Davis
2010: 6 games, 41 tackles (1 TFL), 1 INT, 1 forced fumble
The former Browns and Broncos starter was brought in to Buffalo to help with the transition to the 3-4 defense. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury after appearing in just six games.
Davis is a tough, smart guy who is pretty decent against the run. He can definitely hit. He’s not good in coverage, however, and is almost strictly a “run-situation” type of linebacker. If he’s on the field every play, the Bills are in trouble.
A big positive for Davis: he’s a class act who has made a point of taking Bills’ draft pick Kelvin Sheppard under his wing, even though Sheppard will be challenging Davis for playing time. Whatever his role on the field ends up being, Davis will be a valuable member of the squad this season.
2) Reggie Torbor
2010: 10 games, 41 tackles (1 TFL)
Torbor, brought in after the Dolphins released him, was also acquired to help with the transition to the 3-4. Like Davis, he didn’t get through the whole season without going down to injury, landing on injured reserve after playing in 10 games.
Torbor’s been around the league for a while and knows his craft. He’s also fast and very athletic. The problem is that he’s not big and can’t get off blocks. Also, the major issue I have with him is that he’s not a really a playmaker. Last season he had no sacks, no forced fumbles, no interceptions, and just one tackle for loss. He’s fine as a rotational guy, but if the Bills really can’t afford to enter the season with Torbor and Davis as the starters.
As with Davis, Torbor has been more than willing to work with the younger players Buffalo has brought in.
3) Kelvin Sheppard
2010: Louisiana State University
Sheppard, Buffalo’s third round draft pick this season, was brought in specifically to help shore up Buffalo’s bottom-ranked rush defense. He was a tackling machine at LSU, racking up over 200 tackles in his final two seasons. Sheppard is acclaimed for his instincts and his tackling ability. However, his cover skills aren’t quite up to his run defense skills, which could become an issue.
Sheppard is off to a good start with his pro career, making a point of attending the Bills’ player-led lockout workouts. Once there, he was reported to have followed Davis and Torbor around “like a sponge, soaking up everything they said and did.” That’s certainly a positive in my book.
Sheppard will challenge for a starting job in camp, espcially if Posluszny is not re-signed. Either way, expect to see him on the field quite a bit in 2011.
4) Chris White
2010: Mississippi State University
White, Buffalo’s sixth-round pick, is another player brought in to hopefully improve the run defense. White is a big-time hitter with some pretty good staight-line speed. He was very productive in college football’s best conference, making 110 tackles (including 15.5 for loss) during his senior season at Mississippi State. For all his positives, he does have some limitations. He’s not a particuarly agile athlete, and I’m not sure he’ll be able to shed blockers effectively at the NFL level.
I think he sticks with the team in some capacity in 2011, even if it is mostly as a special teams player.
Possibly Departing Free Agents:
1) Paul Posluszny
2010: 14 games, 151 tackles (4 TFL), 2 sacks
Posluszny might be the most polarizing player for the Buffalo fanbase. His supporters point out that he was far and away Buffalo’s leading tackler in 2010 and that he wasn’t getting much support from his teammates within the Bills’ defensive front seven. His detractors maintain that most of his tackles are made downfield, he can’t get off blocks, and that he can’t stay healthy.
I maintain that whatever his strengths and weaknesses are, he’s still Buffalo’s best inside linebacker for the time being. He might be the only “every down” linebacker on the roster. Posluszny really needs to be re-signed unless there’s a better option floating out there in free agency…which I highly doubt.
2) Akin Ayodele
2010: 15 games, 106 tackles (3 TFL), 2 forced fumbles
Ayodele is another veteran who has been around the league for a while, bouncing to several different teams, including Jacksonville, Dallas, Miami, and Denver. He’s an all-around solid linebacker who can play the run and drop back into coverage. However, he’s getting up in age and you have to wonder if Buffalo will bring him back with Torbor and Davis still on the roster and the drafted duo of Sheppard and White.
3) Keith Ellison
2010: 8 games, 20 tackles
Ellison, a sixth-round pick of the Bills in 2006, has put together a pretty decent career given his physical limitations. Lacking great athleticism and badly undersized at 6-0, 220 pounds, Ellison has stepped in season after season when his fellow linebackers have gone down to injury and performed admirably. Has he always been very successful? No. But for a sixth-round pick, the Bills have gotten pretty good value out of him.
That being said, I’d be very surprised to see him back in a Bills uniform in 2011. I think the drafting of Sheppard and White means Buffalo will go in a different direction.
So, there’s a lot of moving parts to the inside linebacking puzzle in Buffalo. Do Posluszny and Ayodele come back? Is Sheppard ready to step in to a major role? Will the Bills bring anyone else in? Lots of questions to be answered once the lockout ends.