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Buffalo Bills replacement options at defensive end are very green

The Bills will be hurting at defensive end.

The Buffalo Bills really love to rotate players on their defensive line. One of their key cogs is up for free agency this offseason, and the Bills are going to need to either replace Shaq Lawson or re-sign him. They don’t have a player ready to step into that role yet.

In each of the three seasons under head coach Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier, lead pass rusher Jerry Hughes has played around 66% of the snaps. That’s all by design and a clear contrast from previous coach Rex Ryan, where Hughes was up in the 80%-plus range.

On the other side of the field, Trent Murphy was near 65%. Lawson played 46% of the snaps, most of the time spelling Murphy but sometimes Hughes. Darryl Johnson played 21% of the snaps as the clear fourth man in the rotation.

Johnson, a 2019 seventh-round pick, proved he wasn’t ready for the next step in his career. In Buffalo’s defense, that would mean at least one-third of the snaps possibly up to 50%. He was wasn’t effective enough in the job to warrant that leap in playing time.

Mike Love was on injured reserve all year after suffering an injury during the preseason. He will come back but he appeared in just two games during the 2018 season, tallying fewer than 30% of the snaps and was outplayed by Johnson in the 2019 preseason. He could be ready to step into a complementary role, but he’d probably be better off as the fourth defensive end until he proves more.

Eddie Yarbrough, who was a Bills fan favorite and played on the team’s active roster in 2018, was poached off the practice squad at the end of the 2019 season. He’s not coming back.

Also on the roster was Jonathan Woodard, who signed futures deal after ending the season on Buffalo’s practice squad. A former seventh-round pick, he’s been released four times by three teams since then. He did spend a brief moment on the Miami Dolphins roster, nabbing one sack and a few tackles in six games in 2018.

If the Bills are going to let Lawson test free agency, they’ll need to keep Hughes and Murphy at two-thirds of the snaps and hope one or two of these young players can up their games. It’s a big ask, especially with Murphy’s play lacking for a big chunk of 2019.

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