The Buffalo Bills signed plenty of new players this March. In an attempt to replace veteran Lorenzo Alexander, who started at outside linebacker for the Bills in all three of head coach Sean McDermott’s years so far at the helm, the team inked veteran A.J. Klein to a three-year deal.
Klein, like many of Buffalo’s free-agent targets, has a connection to McDermott and Bills general manager Brandon Beane from their days with the Carolina Panthers. Klein played in Carolina from 2013-2016 after the team drafted him in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. After his rookie contract expired, Klein moved on to play for the New Orleans Saints, signing a three-year contract in 2017 that just expired this past season.
In order to learn a bit about Buffalo’s newest outside linebacker, we reached out to Chris Dunnels, managing editor at SB Nation’s Canal Street Chronicles, for some insight on Klein’s play.
What was/were Klein’s role(s) in the Saints’ defense?
“A.J. Klein was the long-time backup to Luke Kuechly in Carolina, and when he was signed by the Saints, he was expected to fill a Kuechly-esque role in New Orleans. Klein came in with high expectations in his first year as a starter, as a middle linebacker and calling the plays for the defense in 2017. To say he underwhelmed in this role might be a bit of an understatement. The Saints were forced the following offseason to sign Demario Davis in free agency to fill Klein’s intended spot in the middle of the defense, with Klein shifting more to a role as an outside linebacker.
Klein was a solid, slightly-above-average player on the Saints defense, “boring” in the best possible way. He was generally unspectacular, but when he wasn’t on the field due to injury, the defense was noticeably worse. Removing the play-calling aspect of Klein’s game likely helped him focus on just playing football, and he was solid against the run and could fairly hold his own against the pass.”
What would you say Klein does well? Where does he struggle?
“Klein is a sure-tackler. If he’s got his hands on you, he’s probably taking you to the ground. My previous answer might make it sound like Klein isn’t a “smart” football player, but that’s not the case. He can diagnose a play quickly and make sure to put himself in the best position possible.
However, he doesn’t have elite skills, so he has to rely solely on his his instincts to make contributions on defense. He isn’t the fastest, quickest, or strongest player on any defense, but he’s not a liability due to his physical attributes either.”
Was Klein a player that you and Saints fans in general hoped the team would retain?
“At the right price, of course. I think that’s an answer people will always say for any player, though. At the price he signed with Buffalo, and considering the Saints other needs, I’m not heartbroken he’s gone.”
What was Klein’s value outside of the defense (special teams, community outreach, etc.)?
“I’m sure Klein was active in the community, so I don’t want to discredit him there. Personally, I’m not as familiar with his community outreach as I am about more of the outspoken Saints players like Cam Jordan or Thomas Morstead. So to Klein’s credit, he’s a professional who just goes about his business.
Regarding special teams, Klein has been more than willing to fill in wherever he was needed to help the team win. He played on kickoff coverage units the past couple of seasons.”
Many thanks to Chris for his time!