State Of The Buffalo Bills Roster: Linebacker

ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 09: Kelvin Sheppard #55 of the Buffalo Bills just misses sacking Michael Vick #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brody Wheeler/Getty Images)

Buffalo Rumblings is in the process of breaking down the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position. Installments you may have missed: WR, OT, DE, CB.

Not much has changed near the top of the Buffalo Bills' linebacker depth chart this off-season, which makes the position positively boring when considering the sweeping changes made in other spots (like defensive end). The Bills made a series of moves here, however, that are worth noting.

Noteworthy fact No. 1: three of the four linebackers expected to have significant roles at the outset of the 2012 season are at least 30 years old. That's a potential concern, even though those players are still (at least) fairly productive. Behind those veterans are a slew of young guys vying for roster spots as the Bills transition to a 4-3 defense.

NICK BARNETT
Age: 30 (31 in May 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2014. Will make $6.5 million in base salary, $500,000 in bonuses and $1.5 million guaranteed in the final two years of his deal.

A Green Bay roster casualty last summer, Barnett was signed to replace Paul Posluszny, and did a nice job stuffing the stat sheet in his first year with the Bills. His 130 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and a touchdown made Barnett worthy of Pro Bowl discussion, and bigger things are expected of the veteran now that the Bills have more schematic stability and better talent on defense. As the only proven three-down linebacker on the roster, Barnett's worth to the team is enormous. Here's hoping that he can stay healthy for a second straight season.

KELVIN SHEPPARD
Age: 24
Contract: UFA in 2015. Entering the second year of a four-year, $3 million rookie contract.

A training camp hamstring injury slowed Sheppard's progress some as a rookie, but by the end of the 2011 season, Sheppard had become a starter. Now he's the new middle linebacker - one touted highly by defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt - in the new 4-3. Sheppard has good instincts and great leadership traits, and he brings youth to the position. He has a chance to have a really productive sophomore season, even as he'll likely only be a two-down player, coming off the field in passing situations.

KIRK MORRISON
Age: 30
Contract: UFA in 2014. Signed a two-year, $2.5 million contract this off-season.

2011 was a bit of an anomaly year for Morrison, who'd started 95 of 96 games before spending most of his first year in Buffalo as a reserve. He was re-signed to a two-year deal in March with the starting strong-side linebacker role in mind, but most of Morrison's starting experience has come in the middle, where he'll likely be the go-to option were Sheppard to get hurt. A heady veteran (but a limited athlete), Morrison will also be a run-down defender that comes off the field in lieu of coverage players in nickel and dime packages.

BRYAN SCOTT
Age: 31
Contract: UFA in 2013. Signed a one-year, $825,000 contract this off-season.

The third of the trio of 30-somethings (and the second of that group to be re-signed this spring), Scott is a hybrid safety/linebacker that plays a prominent role as a coverage linebacker in nickel and dime packages. He's held that role for a few years now, and he'll continue in that role in 2012 as one of the team's more valuable reserves.

NIGEL BRADHAM
Age: 22 (23 in September 2012)
Contract: UFA in 2016. Signed a financially undisclosed four-year rookie contract earlier this month.

Selected in the fourth round in this past April's draft, the high-cut, impressively athletic Bradham is a big hitter that, for now, will be a core member of the team's special teams units. With good fluidity in space and solid instincts, however, Bradham profiles as an eventual starter for the Bills - and potentially even one that can handle three-down responsibilities.

TANK CARDER
Age: 23
Contract: UFA in 2016. Signed a financially undisclosed four-year rookie contract earlier this month.

Carder - a fifth-round pick - is similar to Bradham in many ways, most particularly with how he fits onto Buffalo's roster. He's going to play special teams initially, but could be an eventual starter. He has the added versatility of playing inside, but loses some explosiveness to Bradham. Either way, Carder is the second of two impressive young prospects the Bills added to the team this year.

CHRIS WHITE
Age: 23
Contract: UFA in 2015. Entering the second year of a four-year, $2.16 million rookie contract.

Up until landing on IR in his rookie season, White had some stand-out moments on special teams. He'll benefit from a move to the 4-3, where he profiles much the same way Bradham and Carder do, but perhaps with a bit less upside. Either way, White is exactly the type of depth option that the team likes: he's an SEC product, a good athlete, and has big game experience.

ARTHUR MOATS
Age: 24
Contract: UFA in 2014. Entering the third year of a four-year, $1.9 million rookie contract.

In two straight training camps, the Bills have pigeon-holed the former college defensive end as a 3-4 inside linebacker, possibly stunting his growth as a player. In both seasons, the Bills have had to turn to Moats to spark the team's moribund pass rush, and Moats responded with 2.5 sacks in each season. Now he's staying at linebacker (apparently) as the team moves to the 4-3, rather than moving back to defensive end. Moats belongs in the conversation with the three names ahead of him, but has something none of those players have: natural pass rushing ability. We don't know if Moats can play 4-3 linebacker, but we do know that rush ability from that spot is an interesting notion to ponder.

SCOTT McKILLOP
Age: 26
Contract: Under contract for 2012 after signing a reserve/future deal in January.

The former middle linebacker for Wannstedt when the two were together collegiately at Pittsburgh, McKillop was signed to a reserve/future deal in January and has a chance to earn a reserve role as a middle linebacker for Wannstedt as a pro. The former fifth-round draft pick of San Francisco was waived on August 30, 2011, and spent last season out of the league.

GARRICK WILLIAMS
Age: 22 (23 in October 2012)
Contract: Undisclosed. Signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft.

This undrafted free agent is an interesting story; the former high school wide receiver made the switch to inside linebacker at Texas A&M, emerged as a starter and had a productive junior season in 2010 (112 tackles), then lost his starting job as a senior. The Bills must like something about Williams' make-up, because he's not a particularly explosive athlete, registering just a 4.99-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.

POSITIONAL OUTLOOK: Barnett, as the team's only proven (and possibly capable) three-down linebacker, will get by far the most playing time of this group, barring injury. Sheppard will follow, as he'll man the middle and likely only come off the field in passing situations; he'll be replaced by Scott in that role. Morrison will play the strong side in base sets, and would also likely become the middle linebacker in the event that Sheppard were injured. Beyond those four, roles will be limited and competition wide open among a lot of interesting young athletes.

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