Had the Buffalo Bills been shut out of the quarterback shuffle in the first round of the NFL Draft, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds figured to be a consideration with the 12th overall pick.
Instead, the Bills got both – taking Wyoming’s Josh Allen at No. 7 and then moving up again in the first round to select Edmunds 16th overall. Just like that, the team had what it hopes will become cornerstones for both the offense and defense.
Allen’s selection has somewhat overshadowed the addition of Edmunds, but it hasn’t lowered expectations for a player some consider a favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Edmunds doesn’t fit the traditional physical definition of a linebacker at 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds. It’s that size and speed combination, however, that makes him such an intriguing prospect – and the key to the position for the Bills.
Returnees: Ramon Humber, Deon Lacey, Matt Milano, Lorenzo Alexander, Tanner Vallejo, Xavier Woodson-Luster.
Newcomers: Tremaine Edmunds (draft), Julian Stanford (free agent), Corey Thompson (undrafted free agent).
Departures: Preston Brown (free agent, Cincinnati).
What the numbers say: The Bills lost the leading tackler in the NFL from a season ago when Brown signed with his hometown Bengals. He made 144 of them last year.
What to expect: Edmunds has been a starter since Day One of organized team activities. He’s on the same path as last year’s first-round pick, cornerback Tre’Davious White, in becoming an immediate difference-maker. If he can do for the Bills’ defense what Luke Kuechly does for Carolina’s, he’ll be a star.
Edmunds will be joined by Milano as the every-down linebackers. The third spot in the team’s base 4-3 defense is a bit more up in the air. Veteran Lorenzo Alexander currently holds that job. At 35, it’s worth wondering how many snaps make sense for him. The Bills could use Alexander as more of a designated pass rusher and contributor on special teams. Either way, he’s a respected team leader who can serve as a mentor to the younger players on the roster.
Both Humber and Vallejo are key contributors on special teams. The same type of role is expected for Stanford, who signed as a free agent from the New York Jets.
There are some intriguing underdog candidates who will be worth watching at training camp, too. Woodson-Luster played in 14 games with the Raiders as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2017. The Bills added him to their practice squad a day after Christmas, then signed him to a futures contract in January.
Thompson played both safety and linebacker at LSU. He spent six years with the Tigers, missing two full seasons because of injuries (a torn ACL in 2014 and broken leg in 2016). He made eight starts in 2017, finishing with 43 tackles and six sacks.