by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

When the Buffalo Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott was the Defensive Coordinator for the Carolina Panthers he had one of the best linebacker corps in all of the National Football League. That group was led by perennial All Pro Luke Kuechly in the middle and Shaq Thompson and Thomas Davis outside. That group wasn’t the biggest group as compared to other team’s linebackers, but the common denominator was speed and instincts. They were capable of making plays all over the field on both the run and pass game.

When McDermott came to Buffalo last year the linebacker group wasn’t close to being the same. The most productive player of the group was middle linebacker Preston Brown, who is a very good player but he lacked the physical traits that McDermott was looking for. Because of that, Brown was not re-signed when he became a free agent following the 2017 season.

Trade Up For Tremaine

To get the type of player McDermott wanted at Mike the Bills had to trade up in the first round to select Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds doesn’t have the rare instincts that Kuechly has but this will come as he gains experience. Edmunds left school early and just turned 20 so he is still developing. Edmunds has more size and speed than Kuechly and his upside is unlimited. He’ll be a fixture in the middle of the Bills defense for years.

AT the beginning of 2017 one of the starters outside was veteran Ramon Humber. Humber was a good player but lacked all the traits McDermott was looking for. Humber had to miss some time because of an injury and rookie Matt Milano stepped. His play won over the coaches and it wasn’t long before he became the starter. Milano is another who has very good speed and instincts. Humber is still around and will be an excellent backup to Milano.

The third linebacker will be 12 year vet Lorenzo Alexander. Alexander looks and plays a lot younger than his 35 year old age. He has speed and is a very good pass rusher coming off the edge. Backing up Alexander is 2017 draft choice Tanner Vallejo who should show much improvement in his second year.

Backup Plans

The backup in the middle will be free agent acquisition Julien Stanford, who was with the Jets the last two seasons. Stanford is known for his special teams play but he is also very capable if his has to play because of injury to Edmunds.

All told, with the drafting of Edmunds and the year of experience gained by Milano the Bills linebacker position group looks much better than it did a year ago. While it still may not be quite as good as what McDermott had in Carolina, it’s getting much closer. What will also help the linebackers is new defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. It was Lotulelei’s job to keep offensive lineman off the linebackers in Carolina and he will do the same in Buffalo.

Greg Gabriel on the Bills defensive line, offensive line and wide receivers.


Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

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