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Who are the Buffalo Bills’ internal candidates to replace Jerry Hughes?

Could Eddie Yarbrough, Ryan Davis, or Cedric Thornton fill Hughes’ role as pass rusher?

There’s no doubt that defensive end Jerry Hughes has made a big impact on defense for the Buffalo Bills. From the moment the Bills dealt linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to the Indianapolis Colts for Hughes on April 29, 2013, the Bills swindled the Colts in terms of productivity.

At the end of five seasons in Western New York, Hughes has compiled 35 sacks while appearing in 80 games. He has started 63 of the last 64 games for the Bills.

Following a 2017 campaign where Hughes recorded a team-high four sacks with 44 total tackles, his future with the Bills could be in jeopardy. For starters, Hughes’ four sacks were his lowest in his Buffalo career. With a cap hit of $10.4 million, the third-highest on the team for 2018, Hughes’ lack of production in 2017 could make him expendable this off season.

Hughes wasn’t the only Bill to see his sack production decline in 2017. As a team, the Bills managed only 27 total sacks, led by Hughes and Shaq Lawson. Lawson should factor into the Bills’ plans, either as one of the two starting defensive ends, but let’s talk about the other side. Should the Bills release Hughes in a cap-saving move, the internal candidates to step up and replace Hughes are headlined by Eddie Yarbrough and Ryan Davis.

Before he was placed on the season-ending injured reserve list with an injury suffered in Week 13 against the New England Patriots, Lawson was having the best season of his brief NFL career. He was leading the team with four sacks in 11 games (10 starts). Lawson recorded a sack in back-to-back games against the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, and also added sacks of Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers, and Tom Brady and the Patriots before suffering the ankle injury. At age 23, Lawson is hopefully starting to realize the vast potential he had as a first-round pick out of Clemson.

Yarbrough was a preseason sensation for the Bills, but managed only one sack with 34 total tackles while appearing in 16 games (six starts). He did record his first regular-season sack with the Bills when he brought down Cam Newton during a Week 2 loss at Carolina.

Davis appeared in all 16 games along the defensive line, recording three sacks (tied for third-most on the team) to go with 26 tackles (17 solo) and one forced fumble. Davis emerged as a valuable rotational member of the defensive line once Marcell Dareus was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars, posting sacks in consecutive weeks against the Colts and Miami Dolphins. Davis should contribute even more in 2018.

Neither of them seemed poised for a much larger role, and Bills fans aren’t clamoring for it.

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