Lorenzo Alexander is retiring and the Buffalo Bills have a hole to fill on their defense. We won’t talk about the leadership or speaking with the media, we’ll just focus on the linebacker/hybrid role Alexander has played for the last several seasons.
We’ve analyzed it every which way we can and now it’s your turn to vote. Here are excerpts from all of our articles on the subject. Click the link to get the full info.
(By Jeff Kantrowski)
The Buffalo Bills love nickel defense but that doesn’t mean they don’t operate a 4-3 on a regular basis. Officially listed as a linebacker, Lorenzo Alexander was the starter for the “base” defensive package with Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano.
One of the reasons Milano and Edmunds are part of the 100% club is because of their versatility. That’s a word to keep in mind for this article and in general when discussing the Bills’ defensive philosophy. This play in coverage for Alexander isn’t a fluke either. In 2019 he logged nine passes defended. That’s good for a second-place tie on the team.
Back on track; Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, and Levi Wallace each had nine defended passes as well. Levi Wallace had about 300 more snaps than Alexander. Milano outpaced Alexander by about 400 and Edmunds was just about double Alexander’s 495 snaps. Since we’re talking efficiency, Lorenzo Alexander actually slightly outpaced Tre’Davious White in this measure. You read that right but it bears repeating.
On a per-snap basis, Lorenzo Alexander defended a pass more frequently than Tre’Davious White. Now obviously there are other variables at play, but I’m betting that’s not a sentence you expected to see.
Personally I’d be trying to keep the versatility that Alexander brought with him as much as possible. When opposing defenses saw 57 take the field it gave very little information to tip the defense’s hand. You had to wait to see him line up, and even then Lorenzo Alexander had options.
(By Matt Warren)
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 that 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 Del’Shawn 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 LB on the roster that 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.
(By Jeff Kantrowski)
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.
(By Sean Murphy)
Jamie Collins (New England Patriots)
Collins has been one of the linchpins of the New England Patriots multi-faceted defensive front, a player equally adept in pass coverage as he is at rushing the passer. Spotrac projects that he’ll command around $9 million annually, so the 30-year old may be a bit out of Buffalo’s expected price range. However, if the team wanted to add a strong, versatile veteran presence who also can handle special teams (he played on 44% of New England’s special teams snaps last year), they’ll be hard-pressed to find a player better than Collins.
Kyle Van Noy (New England Patriots)
Van Noy is more pass rusher than pass defender—on his 814 defensive snaps last season with the Patriots, he was targeted on only nine pass attempts—but he is a very effective edge rusher. While he only played ten special teams snaps this year, he did play on 28% of New England’s snaps in that phase of the game in 2018. Van Noy fits the Alexander profile more closely than Collins, as he is best served rushing the passer as a “move” defender.
Nigel Bradham (Philadelphia Eagles)
Old friend alert! Bradham was drafted in the fourth round by Buffalo in 2012. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, where he remained until his release this past February. Bradham has played multiple spots in multiple defenses—he was a WILL with the Bills in 2014, he was an inside linebacker the following year when the team switched to a 3-4 under Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman, and he was a SAM with Philadelphia—so he clearly has the versatility Buffalo covets at the position.
A.J. Klein (New Orleans Saints)
A former Carolina Panthers player must appear in every free-agent article, so I’m glad to hit my quota by including Klein, who played in Charlotte from 2013-2016. Under former Panthers defensive coordinator and current Bills head coach Sean McDermott, Klein was a sub-package player who saw most of his action on special teams. He never played more than 33% of the defensive snaps while in Carolina, and he never played fewer than 48% of the special teams snaps there, either. Depending on how his market develops, he could be a player to watch, as he has the ability to come in and take over Alexander’s special teams snaps while also serving as a solid contributor in the 4-3 defense.
Alec Ogletree (New York Giants)
Veteran? Check. Versatile? Check. Proven track record of success? Check. Solid in pass coverage? Check. There really isn’t anything that Ogletree can’t do, and after he was released by the New York Giants, the Bills don’t have to wait until the official opening of free agency on March 18 to sign him if they wish. One potential drawback is Ogletree’s lack of experience on special teams, but I think the Bills could overcome that via the young depth they have. Ogletree would give Buffalo three legitimate three-down linebackers, but the cost is likely far too high.
Kevin Pierre-Louis (Chicago Bears)
A wild card could be if the Bills decide that they like the young depth they have, so they instead try to add a player who could contribute on special teams while competing for a larger role than he had with his previous team. A player like Pierre-Louis, who has played for four teams in six years, could fit that mold. At 28 years old, the former fourth-round draft choice of the Seattle Seahawks has made a nice career for himself as a special teams player, but he hasn’t done much on defense to show himself worthy of an expanded role.
(By Andrew Griffin)
Perhaps not the greatest block shedder, Murray plays like his hair is on fire and manages to make plays and tackles all over the field. He has the ability to be a jack-of-all-trades. Baun is used to playing several different roles on the Wisconsin defense, thanks to coordinator Jim Leonard. The senior isn’t the most adept at coverage responsibilities, but he can certainly rush the passer.
Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech)
Chris Orr (Wisconsin)
(By Bruce Nolan)
If you’re the Buffalo Bills, how do you best go about replacing a player that unique in both role and leadership?
Short answer? You don’t.
So if the on-field and off-field roles don’t get replaced one-to-one with an individual player, how does the team replace Lorenzo Alexander specifically at linebacker?
First off, it should be noted that nickel is the predominate defensive personnel grouping in the NFL, and in 2020 the Bills were no exception. Buffalo spend roughly 75% of their defensive snaps in nickel, per Buffalo Rumblings’ own Jeff Kantrowski. That means it’s important not to over-value the third linebacker position to the point where significant and unbalanced resources are spent on it. I am of the opinion that Buffalo should look in-house for that replacement. The Bills have three in-house options at the position that we should evaluate for the potential spot.
If you let Dodson and Thompson fight it out for the third linebacker position in a base 4-3 look, it will allow the team to dedicate their draft and cash resources on positions that have greater impact on the game overall.
Now it’s your turn to vote. There are a bunch of options for you in the poll.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to vote in the poll and you’re using a mobile device, you’ll need to click through to the site. Apple News and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) strips the poll from the page.
How should the Bills replace Lorenzo Alexander?
This poll is closed
Keep the players they have now, elevating a reserve linebacker to the "starting" role
Re-sign Shaq Lawson to use with Trent Murphy as "Swiss Army Knives"
Sign a free agent to plug-and-go at LB
Draft a linebacker to learn on the job at LB