Buffalo Bills: The future is bright at the linebacker position

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans runs after a catch in the fourth quarter defended by Tremaine Edmunds #49 of the Buffalo Bills at NRG Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 14: DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans runs after a catch in the fourth quarter defended by Tremaine Edmunds #49 of the Buffalo Bills at NRG Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Despite Matt Milano suffering a broken leg that ended his season against the New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills have two of the most promising young players at the linebacker position that have only just begun to scratch the surface of their potential.

There should be no argument that the defense of the Buffalo Bills has been their best unit through two years of the Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane era and the two have built quite the reputation of being able to find the perfect players for the defense no matter the situation.

One area this applies to is the secondary. Last season the Bills were able to revamp the back end of the defense with savvy free agent signings in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer as well as trading back in the first round to add Tre’Davious White. They have been able to get by with players like Ryan Lewis and have had Levi Wallace come on to become a starter this season.

The team has promising players along the defensive line where they added Trent Murphy and Star Lotulelei for big money and drafted Harrison Phillips. Jordan Phillips has been a nice addition as well and both Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes are the key veterans the team inherited.

However, the team’s brightest future on the defensive side of the ball lies within their linebacking corp.

Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano are growing into their roles at the second level of the Buffalo defense. Milano came to the Bills as a fifth-round pick (No. 168) in 2017 and had to fight to get into the starting lineup in his first season with the team. He finally earned his full-time starting role this season with the team and developed into a premier playmaker in the league.

Milano is currently still tied for first in the NFL with three fumble recoveries and tied for second amongst all NFL linebackers with three interceptions this season. Not to mention he is currently second on the team with 78 total tackles and tied for first for tackles for loss with 12.

On the other end of the spectrum, Buffalo traded up this past year to No. 16 overall to select Edmunds. A physical specimen, Edmunds has been the starter at middle linebacker from day one. At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, Edmunds stands larger than almost anyone on the field – including his own defensive lineman. He has been expected to contribute from the get-go and has done just that.

Through his first 13 games as a pro (he missed one due to a concussion), Edmunds leads the team with 98 tackles, adding one sack, two forced fumbles, and one interception. At just 20 years old, Edmunds has to continued to grow every single week.

What stands out about the young duo, other than their play, is how the team has gravitated to them. We all know Tre White has the most personality on the defense, but it appears that Milano and Edmunds are taking more and more responsibilities as the season progresses.

Kyle Williams has handed over the reins to defensive meetings to Edmunds and he has been the play caller on the defense from day one. As for Milano, the team FaceTimed him following their win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday in the locker room duo to his absence from a broken leg.

It appears what the Bills are trying to recreate is what McDermott had in Carolina with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Kuechly was the high first-round pick that instantly became one of the best middle linebackers in the league to his size, speed and abilities. Edmunds will hopefully turn into that for the Bills except somehow bigger and faster.

Davis was a former safety in college that has turned into one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. Milano has already proven to be one of the better cover linebackers in the NFL because of his experience as a safety at Boston College. He transitioned to linebacker at the back end of his collegiate career but has tallied four interceptions in two seasons in the pros and can cover linebackers and running backs, adding another dimension to the team’s defense.

While the two young linebackers are the future of the defense, veteran Lorenzo Alexander has been an ageless wonder at age 35. Not only does he bring incredible leadership to a young group, but his play on the field has given Buffalo one of the best overall linebacking groups in the entire league.

In his 13th year in the NFL, Alexander is fourth on the team in tackles with 53 and currently leads the team with 6.5 sacks. He has done everything the team could possibly ask him to – rushing the passer, stuffing the run and showing off his coverage skills. His importance to the defense cannot be overlooked.

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With the youth, experience and athletic ability at the position already, the Bills’ linebacking position is the foundation of the team’s defense. For the next several seasons, opposing offenses will have to scheme around two elite playmakers and athletes. Both Milano and Edmunds will only continue to improve with playing time and lead the defensive charge for the foreseeable future.