It’s that time of the year if you’re a bad team, like the Buffalo Bills, that misses the playoffs by a mile: It’s end of season positional review time!
Over the coming days, yours truly is going to break down each position group by three factors: depth, reliability and performance. They’ll be graded on all three of these factors accordingly.
Today, we’ll be looking at a surprise unit this season, though one that still needs an infusion of talent: the linebackers.
As they did on the offensive line, the Bills got a little lucky here. They entered the season needing two full-time players at the position – defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system required more depth at defensive back than linebacker – and basically had to choose from Kiko Alonso, Manny Lawson, Arthur Moats and Nigel Bradham.
Alonso and Lawson were clearly the top two options on the team, and the Bills were fortunate to get 16 games out of the former and 15 games out of the latter, not really needing Moats or Bradham in any significant capacity. If they can add another very dependable backup/starter quality piece to this group, they would be set. Grade: B
This was questionable to start the season as Lawson was really the only known, reliable quantity. Alonso was seen as talented then, but can you ever really count on a rookie to not only be there 100 percent of the time but to make defensive calls?
The rookie turned out to be a huge bright spot and by far the best linebacker of the group, getting 100 percent of the snaps. He consistently made plays and held up well throughout the season despite a few lapses (what rookie doesn’t have those?). Grade: A-
It’s hard to ask for a better performance than the one the Bills got from their linebackers this season. Alonso, aside from being on the field in any and all meaningful situations, also led the team in tackles with 159, tied for the team-lead with four interceptions, recovered a pair of fumbles and threw in a pair of sacks. He did it all as a rookie, and the sky is the limit for this kid going forward.
Lawson was his normal, solid self. He chipped in four sacks of his own and finished third on the team with 73 tackles. Bradham and Moats were solid in relief as well. If the team can add another player near Alonso’s caliber and figure out how to stop the run for the first time in eons, the defense will move into elite territory. Grade: B+