The Buffalo Bills are losing a big piece of their locker room and defense with Lorenzo Alexander retiring. Before we look at ways to replace him from outside sources, let’s take a glance at folks already on the roster.
At linebacker, the Bills are set with Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano in their respective positions, but who else plays linebacker that might be able to step up?
First, let’s look at some size comparisons. Alexander plays the biggest, most physical linebacker position in Buffalo’s offense. (Normally this would be described as strong-side linebacker but in Buffalo defense, Alexander has said he lines up on the weak side.) Tyrel Dodson is 6’0”, 237 lbs and is the closest physically to Alexander’s 6’1”, 245-lb frame. Vosean Joseph, listed at 6’1” and 230 lbs is closer than the rest of the LBs in terms of size while Del’Shawn Phillips is 6’2” and 230 lbs. Corey Thompson is listed at 6’1” and 222 lbs.
Joseph is Buffalo’s fifth-round pick from 2019, but he profiles as the exact opposite of Alexander in terms of physicality and shedding blocks. He’s a ‘backer that likes to stay clean, so he’s out. He projects more as a Big Nickel defensive back or backup to Matt Milano.
2019 undrafted free agent Tyrel Dodson is an interesting name to consider. Projected before the draft as a potential SAM linebacker, he is a raw prospect who was accused of domestic violence and assault last May. He pleaded it down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct but was suspended for six games. He was released but signed to the practice squad in November and signed to a reserve contract this offseason. He profiles as more of a backup, but it’s a position he could play after a year now of learning the system and being in an NFL weight and conditioning program.
Buffalo signed Phillips to a reserve deal at the end of the season, too. He spent the last two months of the season on the team’s practice squad. We don’t know where he lined up, but some of his pre-draft scouting reports had him shifting from his inside linebacker position out to strong-side linebacker. Like Dodson, he projects as a backup and not a starter.
Thompson was the man to step in for Milano when the OLB broke his leg in 2018, but he also stepped in for Alexander when Lorenzo took a rest day in training camp during the 2019 offseason. He played 85% of the team’s snaps in their Week 17 game against the New York Jets where they were resting their starters and was a solid special teams contributor in 2019, where he logged 45% of the snaps during the season. If there is a player on the roster who could take over as the starting linebacker in place of Alexander, it’s Thompson, though I don’t think that’s a very strong bet at this point. He had zero defensive snaps until Week 17, but he is valuable for his versatility more so than his ceiling at linebacker and for his special teams prowess.