The Buffalo Bills traded third-year linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in early March, and in the nearly two months since, national pundits have reiterated ad nauseam that one of the Bills' most pressing 2015 NFL Draft needs is at linebacker, where Alonso allegedly needs to be replaced.
It's tough for some to understand this, for whatever reason, but the Bills don't have a pressing need at linebacker. They're transitioning back to a hybrid defense under new coaches Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman, and it's a defense that requires only two traditional linebackers to be on the field on any given play. The Bills already have those two linebackers in place: second-year pro Preston Brown and fourth-year pro Nigel Bradham. Both were every-down options a year ago under departed coordinator Jim Schwartz, and both are athletic and instinctive enough to handle that workload for Ryan.
So, no. The Bills don't need to replace Alonso, and linebacker is not even close to being their most pressing need entering draft weekend. But that doesn't mean they don't need help at linebacker, either.
Is there an instant contributor?
It's highly unlikely. Brown and Bradham are going to play huge roles in this defense, and there really won't be much in the way of platooning to keep them fresh. It's possible that a strong-side linebacker in the base defense could usurp Manny Lawson for a chunk of playing time, but that linebacker does not necessarily need to fit the mold of a traditional 'backer; in fact, an edge rusher might have a better shot at stealing reps from Lawson than anyone.
Where does a project fit in?
Right now, the Bills have suspect depth. Ty Powell is a valued member of Danny Crossman's special teams units, and has inside-outside versatility, but does not have much experience. Randell Johnson is highly athletic and a worthwhile developmental player, but may not be ready to be counted on as a reserve on game days. (Jimmy Gaines, a practice squad player from a year ago, is in a similar boat.)
Bradham is scheduled for unrestricted free agency next spring, and while the team has made it known that they'd like to lock him up long-term, that's obviously far from a given, especially with much bigger fish to fry in Marcell Dareus and Cordy Glenn. A developmental rookie linebacker with athleticism and versatility might not contribute much to the Bills in 2015, but there's a chance he'd fill a much larger role in 2016.
Is it a need in 2015? 2016?
The Bills need depth here, and much like at defensive tackle and pass rusher, they need to start developing players to eventually fill major roles. It is, essentially, a down-the-line concern. But don't listen to anyone saying that linebacker is a pressing concern for the Bills. It isn't. This is the Brown and Bradham show for now.