The Buffalo Bills have a major hole on the defensive side of the ball with the retirement of linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. We’ve examined what he meant to the defense and the Rumblings staff has given plenty of possible replacements whether in-house, through free agency, or via the draft. Many options struggle to replace the versatility Alexander brought to the table. There might be another solution that’s less conventional.
To begin, let’s nail down Lorenzo Alexander’s 2019 role with the Buffalo Bills. Looking at formations he appeared in that occurred four or more times gives us 311 snaps or approximately 60% of his playing time in 2019. This should serve as a valid audit tool.
Of that time, Alexander played eight snaps at defensive end, 114 at defensive tackle and 189 as a linebacker. For defensive end and tackle, 114 of the combined 122 snaps were on passing downs. In short, if Alexander was on the line, it was for a passing play.
As a linebacker, he appeared on the field for 60 passing plays and 129 running plays. That’s a 2:1 ration in favor of putting him in the game on run downs as a linebacker.
That narrows down the skill set we’re looking to replace to be quite a bit more refined. With that in mind, two new names might appear in the race to replace Alexander’s time on the field.
Looking at the ways in which Alexander appeared on defense, Lawson checks off the defensive end box nicely. The Buffalo Bills have occasionally asked him to play inside, much like Lorenzo Alexander has in his “defensive tackle” role. This is another area Lawson would likely do well in.
As a linebacker, remember that two-thirds of the snaps are on running plays. Lawson has often been applauded for his ability to diagnose and assist on run plays. Doing so from the linebacker position might be a skill he can adapt to quickly. As a coverage linebacker, he’d probably have a steeper climb, but has done this in a limited capacity already.
This opens up new areas of the field for him to appear in making it very easy for Lawson to get enough reps to be considered a starter and justify the contract he’ll be looking for.
Murphy is often seen as a downgrade to Lawson in the defensive end department, but overall he’s been a steady player at that spot. There wouldn’t be a learning curve for this role as much as a “refinement curve.” Kicking inside to the defensive tackle spot is something Lawson is probably better equipped to do than Murphy. However, on these downs the Bills use a wide-9 look that relies on confusion and opening up lanes. Murphy could be better than expected here.
As a linebacker, Murphy can relate to Alexander in that he was asked to alter positions and make significant changes to his body to do so. Originally drafted as a linebacker, Murphy has experience there and has generally played pretty well against the pass and run. In this area he’d have an advantage over Lawson.
Why not both?
Putting it down in writing it’s easy to see that the Bills could use both existing players. Lawson could be relied upon to fill in on those defensive tackle reps more often than Trent Murphy. The opposite would be true for linebacker.
This allows the Bills to maximize the abilities of their current roster while maintaining the advantages of the Swiss Army Knife style of player that keeps an offense guessing. An added benefit is that the Bills could still add a player or two they like to work into the system.