But all good things must come to an end. At 36 years old and set to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019 season, it’s very possible the Bills look to fill that linebacker spot with a younger player. If they look to the draft for a replacement, here are a few candidates that would fit nicely on the Bills roster next season.
First Round Target:
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson (6’4, 230 lbs):
This is the ONLY linebacker I would consider in the first round if I’m the Bills. He started his college career as an oversized strong safety but has grown into the perfect weakside linebacker. Simmons is an athletic freak. He has the speed to play sideline to sideline, the instincts that allow him to always be in the right position, and the physicality to bring the hammer on a ball carrier. He’s a tremendous blitzer but also plays well in coverage due to his background as a safety. Simmons was recently named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. If he’s on the board when the Bills select in the mid 20s, he will surely be under consideration. Unfortunately, he might go about 5-10 picks earlier, but you never know.
Day 2 Targets:
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma (6’2, 240 lbs):
Murray is a heat-seeking missile on the field. Turn on any Oklahoma tape and you’ll see a tackling machine flying around sideline to sideline. He looks like the perfect linebacker for the modern NFL: strong, fast, and able to stay on the field in pass coverage. Murray does have a tendency to be a little over-aggressive, sometimes running himself out of a play. He’s most likely a borderline round 1-2 pick at this point. With an impressive showing at the combine, he could work himself into the back half of round 1. Linebacker is no longer considered a premium position in the NFL so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a talent like Murray fall to the Bills in the 2nd round.
Joe Bachie, Michigan State (6’2, 230 lbs):
The Michigan State captain was suspended for the final few games of the 2019 season due to performance-enhancing drugs. It may cause the talented linebacker to fall, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him available near the end of the 3rd round or even later. Bachie has a highly productive player and has been a 2-time All Big Ten player. He’s fast, aggressive, and always in the right place. His game is probably more suited to the middle linebacker position, but he’s a bit undersized to play there. It wouldn’t shock me to see him transition to the weakside linebacker spot due to his 230 lb frame.
Late Round Targets:
Malik Harrison, Ohio State (6’3, 240 lbs):
Harrison is a supreme athlete who’s underwhelmed a bit from a production standpoint. As a first-year starter in 2018, Harrison spent a lot of time running in the wrong direction. Last year’s defense in a Columbus got shredded on more than a few occasions and much of that was due to the linebackers being out of position quite often. Ohio State switched defensive coordinators in the offseason, simplified the scheme, and Harrison responded with the best season of his career (77 tackles, 4.5 sacks). He’s fast and has all the physical tools to be a great player. He could be a possible target early on Day 3.
David Reese II, Florida (6’1, 230 lbs):
Reese is a hard-nosed football player. He’s not an elite athlete. He doesn’t wow you with his blazing speed or quick-twitch athleticism. But he has been an indispensable part of Florida’s defense the past three seasons. Reese is a plus run defender. He displays toughness and great instincts in the run game. His coverage skills are a work in progress, and he doesn’t offer much in terms of blitzing or getting after the quarterback. But if the Bills are looking for a gritty, smart linebacker late in the draft, they could do a whole lot worse than Reese.
The weakside linebacker position is one the Bills will likely address in the offseason. Whether it’s through free agency, the draft or even resigning Lorenzo Alexander to another 1-year deal remains to be seen. Whether Alexander comes back or not, there’s a good chance the Bills will look for a future replacement. What do you think #BillsMafia? Where do you think linebacker falls on the list of offseason needs?