Note: over the next five days, Buffalo Rumblings will be highlighting five players that are "Unsung Heroes" in Buffalo. These five players aren't necessarily talked about as much as other Bills, yet the team would struggle to win without them. Our series starts today with LB Keith Ellison.
An Unexpected Rookie Sensation
While the word "sensational" may be a bit strong to describe the rookie season of Bills LB Keith Ellison, it is safe to say that of the rookies that contributed to an improved Bills team last season, Ellison's contributions were some of the most unexpected. A sixth-round pick last year, Ellison impressed the coaching staff enough to allow the trade of Takeo Spikes and the release of London Fletcher. That confidence gained in his first season (in which he amassed seven starts, 65 tackles, a sack and an INT in fourteen games) has elevated Ellison to the most unlikely Year Two starter in recent memory for the Bills. Yet are Bills fans placing too much faith in a player who a year ago remained a virtual unknown to most of us?
What sets Ellison apart from (likely) fellow starters Angelo Crowell and Paul Posluszny are his cover skills. A dual threat as a safety and a linebacker in college, Ellison has coverage experience matched only by fellow converted safety Coy Wire in the linebacking corps. That skill makes him the most valuable linebacker we have for nickel and dime downs. Ellison is one of the smartest players on the team as well, which means he's usually in the perfect position to make plays and tackles. It would not shock me to see him lining teammates up, picking off passes and taking on more of a leadership role this season.
Is there too much pressure on Ellison?
As a second-year starter, there is going to be a lot of pressure on Ellison this season. He is already our best coverage linebacker. He's already being counted on to become a solid starter despite his sixth-round pedigree. There comes a point where the pressure may be "too much, too soon" for the young linebacker. There's little doubt that Ellison has the talent to be not only an NFL starter, but an upper-tier Cover-2 linebacker. But is it unfair to expect him to be that already? Is it unfair to expect big things from a second-year player who has just seven starts under his belt? Time will tell of course, but at points I worry about the amount of responsibility that burdens Ellison at this young stage of his career.
My expectations are high for Ellison. It's not a matter of placing too much pressure on the kid, it's a matter of believing that he has the intelligence and moxie to meet those expectations. While Crowell and Posluszny get all the pub, I believe that it is Ellison that is the most vital player to our starting trio. This team needs his speed, athleticism and cover skills at that position if they are going to be successful on defense. No other linebacker can provide the skills and smarts that Ellison possesses. I believe he is a budding star in this league, and that he will overcome the pressures of being a second-year starter to prove that this year.
But that's just me. How do you feel about Ellison? Let's hear it; leave a comment about Unsung Hero #1, Keith Ellison.