Bills’ Best Bets at OLB in 2019 NFL Draft

Strong-Side LB: On May 31st, Lorenzo Alexander, the Bills strong-side OLB, turned 35 years old. Behind him on the depth chart are recently-added Keenan Robinson and bubble player Deon Lacey. Robinson was the Giants’ top coverage LB, but he had issues in run defending. Lacey led the Canadian Football League with 29 special-teams tackles in 2014 and was 2nd in 2015, helping the Edmonton Eskimos win the 2015 CFL Grey Cup. I have Strong Side Linebacker as a top need in the 2019 NFL Draft for our DraftTek computer to churn on, along with WR and depth at several positions.

Weak-Side LB Our weak-side LB is Matt Milano, and I have every confidence that he’ll be even better than his rookie season of 32 solo stops and an INT. This defense, with Star-Kyle-Horrible Harry in the middle, will allow Milano to attack more, and more closely rival his 14-sack, 32.5-TFL Boston College career. Behind Milano, though, are 31-year-old Ramon Humber, Julian Stanford, and Corey Thompson. Injuries to starting linebackers on the Bills would be devastating.

The Archetype: Sean McDermott mentioned his own history when gushing about Matt Milano. McDermott played both LB and safety at an All-Conference level at William and Mary. Other qualities McDermott and Beane look for, elaborated in my LB archetypes article for Cover 1 last year:

  • heart, character, community, passion (think Harrison Phillips, but LB)
  • speed (Tremaine Edmunds’ 40-time was 4.54)
  • athleticism (Remember, they let Preston Brown walk)
  • tackling ability / productivity (Luke Kuechly was top tackler in FBS his draft year)
  • instincts
  • work ethic (McDermott description of Khalil Mack)
  • strong special teams player
  • body of work / experience
  • smarts, on and off the field

Let’s look at nine 2019 draftable outside linebackers who fit that McBeane archetype, from most-likely on down –even Day 3 prospects. Note: “Productivity Index” is my own; it adds solo tackles plus passes broken up and divides by the average number of games played per year. These are in Bills’ order not necessarily the order in which they’ll be drafted:

Josh Allen, Kentucky
6-4, 230, 4.59
29 games over 3 (9.7 games per yr.)
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69 career solo tackles plus PBUs
7.14 Productivity Index
Allen’s height and near-Tremaine speed should appeal to McBeane; only Ulysses Gilbert and Mack Wilson have close to Edmunds’ forty time. I know we already have a Josh Allen; why not have two?!? This Allen is tough, has crazy-fast range, is competitive, athletic, shows emerging leadership, and Allen is mature and conscientious. His coaches say everybody who’s ever bumped into or met Josh Allen loves him. He’ll be a RD1 selection, and likely the first LB taken.
Fit For Bills: A+

 

Ulysees Gilbert III, Akron
6-0, 225, 4.56
33 games over 3 (11 games per yr.)
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144 career solo tackles plus PBUs
13.1 Productivity Index
Gilbert will post one of fastest forty times at the Combine, but his 6-0 height will give some teams pause… but not McD. Milano and Humber are that height. Gilbert even says “Trust the Process” at beginning of the video link above. Gilbert and his teammate Chase Hancock are the only returning players in the nation who had at least 125 tackles and 7 passes defended in 2017. Gilbert has been Defensive MVP for the Zips three times, and most likely will make it four in a row. I’m only dinging him for the level of competition.
Fit For Bills: A-

 

Terrill Hanks, New Mexico St
6-2, 225, 4.62
36 games over 3 (12 games per yr.)
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143 career solo tackles plus PBUs
11.9 Productivity Index
A DB in his first year at New Mexico State, Hanks was moved to strong-side linebacker, almost the reverse of Sean McDermott’s journey at William and Mary. Last season at SSLB, Hanks had 111 tackles, 7 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions. His 34.5 career tackles for loss show his disruptive ability. Hanks is durable, too, owning three straight 12-game seasons, tying only Pratt, next on this list. He’s a man of faith, with a great work ethic and intangibles. Fit For Bills: A- 

 

Germaine Pratt, North Carolina St
6-2, 235, 4.68
36 games over 3 years (12 games per yr.)
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73 career solo tackles plus PBUs
6.08  Productivity Index
A Free Safety for the first 2 yrs, Pratt changed to LB in 2017 after he had surgery on a torn labrum in July 2016. He’s already attacked his rehab, and not only did he put in the work: he became a gym rat as a result of his rehab, and you can see that he’s sculpted. Pratt is long at 6’2″, which helps in coverage of bigger WRs and TEs, but only if you’re athletic –and he is. Pratt is fast at his size, but he’s quick as well. He faced a slower learning curve getting used to the FS-to-OLB transition, but Pratt’s ceiling is higher than many others on this list. His work ethic and community spirit comes through in his LinkedIn profile. All adds up to a Shaq Thompson role for Pratt…except that Pratt’s bigger. He’s a guy in Beane’s old stomping grounds.
Fit For Bills: A-

 

Tevis Bartlett, Washington
6-1, 234, 4.67
28 games over 3 years (9.3  games per yr.)
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62 career solo tackles plus PBUs
6.64  Productivity Index
Bartlett is a bit of a whimsy, but McDermott’s eyes will be glued to the fact he’s a wrestling national champion –twice, and a state champ 4x (Hey, it got Harrison Phillips here). Bartlett’s work ethic is off the charts, and his toughness will endear him to McBeane. He’s being moved inside for his senior year due to the graduation of Keishawn Bierria (RD6, Broncos), and the move will only emphasize Bartlett’s versatility and team-first attitude. My BillsMafia editor would love it, too; Cheyenne, Wyoming is Bartlett’s home town.
Fit For Bills: A-

 

Ben Humphreys, Duke
6-2, 225, 4.64
32 games over 3 (10.7 games per yr.)
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100 career solo tackles plus PBUs
9.38  Productivity Index
North Carolina country is Beane’s old stomping ground, so he or his cronies may take a gander at Humphreys the same time they look at Pratt. Humphreys plays with his hair on fire, avoids blocks extremely well, and has the tight wrap-up tackling skills McDermott looks for in this attacking defense. Humphreys has 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks on the LB unit ranked No. 1 in the ACC by Phil Steele Magazine. He also has the smarts that Beane seeks as a two-time All-Academic ACC selection.  
Fit For Bills: B+

 

Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
6-1, 231, 4.64
38 games over 4 (9.5 games per yr.)
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128 career solo tackles plus PBUs
13.5  Productivity Index
If you are looking for a relentless, grit-and-determination-type player with a motor that’s anything but tranquil, it’s Drew Tranquill. He’s leveraged his abiding faith to attack rehab through two ACL injuries in 2.5 years. Notre Dame has played him at Rover, Jumbo Safety, and WILB, which will resonate with McBeane. When he’s been healthy, he’s been a terror, sporting the highest productivity index on my list. His injuries history drops him, but his  personality props him. He’s married and mature. Tranquill’s that risk-reward seelection we’ve seen now and then from the front office, so the Bills ought to take a look, at least.
Fit For Bills: B+

 

Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
6-1, 235, 4.75
24 games over 2 years (12 games per yr.)
Watch     Stats     Read
130 career solo tackles plus PBUs
10.83  Productivity Index
Hodge is the local Bulls’ ILB who just so happens to be Draft Diamonds’ pet cat, and I respect his work. Turns out he’s a textbook tackler, with a motor and work ethic to match. Hodge is  not likely done after two years, but if the Bills took UB’s receiver and linebacker in the same draft, how cool would that be?
Fit For Bills: B+

 

Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas
6-0, 229, 4.64
31 games over 3 (10.3 games per yr.)
Watch      Stats       Read
124 career solo tackles plus PBUs
12 Productivity Index
One of the hundreds of Arkansas kids in foster care, Greenlaw grew to find that “family” meant his football team. Make sure you read the linked article; it’s a variant of the Brian Oher story, with Greenlaw being  adopted out of foster care by his own assistant coach, Brian Early. Greenlaw’s faith and determination have carried him the rest of the way. This season I’d like to see him work on better tackle wrap-up, but his productivity has been top shelf.
Fit For Bills: B+

 

Reasons Why Your Favorite Linebacker Isn’t On The Bills’ Radar:

  • Devin White, LSU – Of my Top 18 OLBs, Devin White has the least experience, tied with Brian Burns and Mack Wilson.
  • Brian Burns, Florida St – See above. Also, he’s more likely a DE than OLB in a 4-3 scheme (although Lorenzo Alexander pulls it off nicely), needs more NFL muscle, and, most importantly,  needs to wrap up better.
  • Ben Banogu, TCU – Banogu played DL at UL-M, sat out 2017, then played DE at TCU, and hasn’t been relatively productive yet (Productivity Index was 4.3). He’s raw, even for the D-Line, and much less for a OLB.
  • Mack Wilson, Alabama – While he’s speedy, Wilson lacks the body of work: 19 games over 2 years would be the least number of games for a player drafted by McBeane. I wouldn’t advise Wilson to declare for 2019.
  • Shaquille Quarterman, Miami – Productive player, but should stay in school one more year, then he’d be RD1. He’s playing ILB now, but his 6-0, 233 size may dictate kicking outside in the NFL, and I can name 13 OLBs in this draft class who’ll clock faster forty times.
  • Kendall Joseph, Clemson – He almost made the list, but what I said about Quarterman applies here, too. If you can make Joseph taller and faster, I’d add him.

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