The Buffalo Bills defense was outstanding in 2021. Their passing defense ranked first in a variety of statistics, including lowest completion percentage, lowest yards/attempt, fewest passing TDs allowed, and Pass DVOA. The rush defense was not as good but probably not as bad as some might think. McDermott and Frazier’s unit finished 2021 in the 10-15 range in most rush statistics, the key exception being rush TDs allowed, where only four other teams gave up more scores (Jets, Texans, Chargers, and Jaguars). (For my offensive stat projections, check here.)
Brandon Beane made significant changes to the defensive roster this offseason, including his biggest free agent splash ever in signing Von Miller. The defensive line, once again, saw the biggest overhaul. DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle, and Jordan Phillips replaced Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, and Vernon Butler at DT. Meanwhile, the future Hall of Famer Miller and former Bill Shaq Lawson were brought in to revamp the DE room after the departures of Mario Addison and longtime stalwart Jerry Hughes.
There were far fewer changes to the defensive backfield. Once Tre White returns from his knee injury, three of the back four are set in stone with White, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer. The other likely starter for the majority of the season is 2022 first round pick Kaiir Elam, who should be expected to take over for Dane Jackson at some point after White’s return.
There was very little change in the linebacker room as Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds will continue to see the vast majority of snaps barring injury. The most noteworthy addition here is third round pick Terrel Bernard, and he brings a vastly different skill set at LB than the departed A.J. Klein.
So, statistically speaking, what can we expect from the 2022 Buffalo Bills Defense?
This lineup is based on who is expected to be the starter or get the most snaps at their respective positions.
DT: Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones
DE: Von Miller, Greg Rousseau
LB: Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano
CB: Tre’Davious White, Dane Jackson (or Kaiir Elam), Taron Johnson
S: Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer
If you didn’t recognize Oliver’s breakout last year, his output in the traditional stats won’t let you miss it this year. Playing next to Von Miller and DaQuan Jones will be an upgrade that allows Oliver to shine
These stats might not look like much, but if Jones can help the Buffalo Bills improve on their 29th place ranking in third or fourth and short power run situations (Football Outsiders Power Success metric), then his impact will be recognized.
Expect Miller to see his lowest snap count in a non-injury shortened season by a significant margin. This lower play total results from how the Bills rotate their defensive lineman and a plan to preserve the 33 year old for what is hopefully a long playoff run.
The total pressures for Rousseau is a big jump up from the 24 he had last year. Watch for Groot to be the biggest beneficiary of Miller’s pass rush tutelage.
Edmunds continues to play almost every defensive snap and ends the season as the team leader in tackles. His play will look cleaner or more consistent to the portion of the fanbase that is tired of him, and he’ll get signed to a three-year extension.
Milano finishes the 2022 season as a repeat league leader in reception percentage against (among linebackers) and hearts throbbed.
This projection assumes White misses a month because the Bills will want him to fully recover so he’s at full strength for the rest of the season.
While White is out, Jackson is unofficially CB1 unless Elam takes it from him. Jackson will be solid if unspectacular, in large part because the McDermott and Frazier know how to make their defensive backfield work.
Despite McDermott’s history of bringing rookies along slowly, Elam proves himself enough to be at least CB2 to start the season, and overtakes Jackson for the same role after White’s return. Where Jackson is helped by the scheme, Elam’s athleticism brings increased versatility to how the Bills defend the pass.
All Taron Johnson does is play the slot at a high level. Don’t be surprised if he has an All-Pro season.
Hyde gets smarter with every year, and teams will be playing from behind versus the Bills in 2022, so his INT total remains above his career average.
Playing Batman to Hyde’s Batman (no, that is not a typo), Poyer has another year of elite safety play.
Be careful with your reactions to how this 2022 defense compares to 2021’s. The slate of QBs the Bills face in 2022 is significantly harder. This means the defensive unit could be more talented in 2022, but have less impressive statistics. No matter what, the projection Bills Mafia is most looking for is a Super Bowl victory, and the 2022 Buffalo Bills defense should be up to the challenge.