Matt Milano: Buy Or Sell?

– OLB Fits For The Bills

Photo of OLB Matt Milano from buffalobills.com.

I’m just a fan.

But I’m going to make a case for keeping Matt Milano in Buffalo, and give you some draftable options if Vosean Joseph isn’t your guy (he’s not mine).

Let’s be clear; I want the 2019 Milano. This year, the third-year linebacker notched 101 tackles, 1.5 sacks, broke up 9 passes, forced a fumble and recovered one (The 2018 Milano broke his leg, so I’d prefer the late model).

The Safety that Boston College signed and converted to LB in his sophomore year has been worth every penny of his 4-year, $2,661,506 contract with the Bills, 143rd-highest in its cap hit among NFL linebackers. His Over The Cap valuation is north of $8M. I’d pay more. Here’s why.

ORCHARD PARK, NY – OCTOBER 29: Matt Milano #58 of the Buffalo Bills runs with the ball after recovering a fumble during the second quarter of an NFL game against the Oakland Raiders on October 29, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images).

Milano comes up big in big games. In December, Milano logged 12 tackles (nine solo) in the 24-17 loss to New England. Earlier that month, he’d forced a fumble and posted 5 tackles against the Steelers and used his speed to keep Baltimore Ravens’ QB Lamar Jackson in check with seven tackles, despite playing every down. November saw Milano post 7-tackle games against the Dolphins and Browns. The previous month, he made 13 tackles (10 solo) in a 31-13 loss to the Eagles, and that was returning from a hamstring injury. Here, Belichick himself discusses a play vs the Vikings where Milano recovers the fumble forced by Jerry Hughes.

Milano is a slobberknocker. In three seasons, he has recorded 26 tackles for loss, and it would have been higher had he not been injured. In 15 games this year, he registered seven QB hits, and those take their toll, especially late in games.

Milano’s a bear to throw against. Per NextGen Stats, Milano forces a “tight window” on over 27% of his targets — the highest percentage in the NFL. His 63.6% coverage success rate is second highest, and pass catchers go down quick –a 2.1 yard average YAC (second-lowest in the NFL). He does this against pass-catching running backs (James White) and tight ends (Tyler Eifert), both of whom had tough days against Milano.

Photo of OLB Matt Milano from buffalonews.com.

Milano is a disciplined guy. As Cover 1 shows here, Milano always does his 1/11th for the defense, maintaining gap integrity. Billy Stephens shows here that Milano “staying home” to cover the middle in their 4-2-5 looks (almost always used in third down) also frees Tremaine to become a blitzer. How do you say goodbye to this football intelligence? But what if the Bills don’t have the wherewithal to re-sign Matt Milano?

They could look at this list of OLB free agents, plus Jadeveon Clowney and Chris Landrum, formerly of the Texans, who was just cut. Man, I don’t see the long-term advantage to exploring this option.

They could look in-house. Maybe Vosean Joseph could be better than scouting reports (like this one) (and this one) (oh, and this one) were saying. Maybe they could use A.J. Klein (3 yrs, $18M) or Tyler Matakevich more than anyone was expecting. I suppose Tyrel Dodson or Julian Stanford (a FA himself) could move outside. If Vosean isn’t the answer, my bet is that Mike Bell could impress. Bell has size (6-3, 220), and converted to LB for the Bills. He played FS at Fresno State. During his collegiate career, Bell totaled 199 tackles, 9 for loss, 4 interceptions, 12 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble. While many think he’s more likely a Big Nickel like Taron Johnson or Siran Neal, just remember that’s what they thought of Milano.

Let’s turn our attention to the 2021 linebacker class. Could Brandon Beane nab another Matt Milano there?

Here are the 5 draftable OLBs who played in a 4-3, with roughly Milano’s speed (4.58 forty), and I’ll throw in 2 promising PFAs:

Photo of Penn Stat ILB/OLB Micah Parsons from 247sports.com.

Micah Parsons ILB/OLB Penn State (6’2″ 245 4.45), a Junior, RD1#8 on my own board
Anthony Hines OLB/ILB Texas A&M (6’3″ 226 4.54), RS junior, currently RD2#61
Garret Wallow OLB/S TCU (6’2” 212 4.54), a Senior, currently RD5#137
DaShaun White ILB/OLB Oklahoma (6’0″ 228 4.50), a Junior, currently RD7#256
Markees Watts OLB Charlotte (6’0″ 218 4.54), a Junior, currently RD7#258
Sam Williams OLB/ILB Mississippi (6’2” 251 4.45), a Senior, currently UDFA#278
Zakoby McClain OLB Auburn (6’0″ 210 4.56), a Junior, currently UDFA#333

It’s a small crop to begin with, and depending on who declares among the 5 Juniors, the crop could be very meager. Trying to match Milano’s 6-0, 223 size makes it even more difficult. It gets worse: Milano’s average Tackles For Loss over his career at Boston College was an impressive .90 per game. None of the linebackers in the entire draft class come close. The highest are ILB Baron Browning of Ohio State (0.64) and OLB O’Rien Vance of Iowa State (.60). Milano certainly has a unique skillset behind the line of scrimmage, which would be hard to replace.

Would Brandon Beane look at linebackers from defenses that play the 3-4? He sure would! In fact, he has regularly drafted and signed players from other schemes and positions. That widened net brought players like Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips to Buffalo in the draft. Doing this could yield a richer crop than the 4-3 OLBs.

Photo of Alabama OLB/ILB Dylan Moses (#32) from 247sports.com.

Six players I’d add from teams who play 3-4 or hybrid are:
Dylan Moses OLB/ILB Alabama (6’3″ 235 4.54), a Senior, currently RD1#11
Hamilcar Rashed OLB Oregon State (6’4” 236 4.54), RS Senior, currently RD1#18
Jabril Cox OLB LSU (6’2″ 233 4.55), RS Senior, currently RD1#20
Chazz Surratt OLB/QB North Carolina (6’3″ 230 4.54), RS Senior, currently RD1#32
Cameron McGrone OLB Michigan (6’1″ 232 4.42), RS Sophomore, currently RD4#117
Joseph Ossai OLB Texas 6’3″ 245 4.54 3-4 Junior, currently RD6#183

Photo of Notre Dame SS/OLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah from hudl.com.

Even though they’ll play out of position and won’t be outside linebackers this year, here are four more names I’d add to Beane’s “look list”:
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah SS/OLB Notre Dame (6’1″ 216 4.58), RS Soph, RD1#31
Isaac Slade-Matautia ILB/OLB Oregon (6’0″ 235 4.47) RS Junior, currently RD5#165
Max Richardson ILB Boston College (6’0″ 230 4.65) RS Senior, currently RD6#187
Rayshard Ashby ILB Virginia Tech (5’10” 237 4.62) Senior, currently RD7 #205

What will Brandon Beane do? I think he’ll surprise us as usual, with some clever sleight of hand. He’ll get Milano and Dawkins signed to creative contracts that allow him elbow room in re-signing Allen, Edmunds, and Tre White. How will he do it?

I dunno. I’m just a fan.

Editor’s babble: Just a fan with a WHOLE LOTTA knowledge! We’re so grateful and fortunate Dean shares his work with us. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.

2 Replies to “Matt Milano: Buy Or Sell?”

  1. Question: are there any big safeties, other than the prospect from Notre Dame, that could potentially be moved to OLB? Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson were both primarily safeties in college and Milano was a hybrid safety in college as well. Could the Bills look to go that route again?

  2. There are. Other than Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6’1″216 4.58), we have Terrel Bernard OLB/SS at Baylor. He’s 6’1″ 222 4.64, familiar with 4-2-5 scheme the Bills play, and –like so many defensive players on our team– played out of position (MLB). He’s too small to back up Tremaine, so he’d need to change to OLB or SS, and he doesn’t have speed for OLB. He’s a Day 3 prospect for now.