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2020 All-22 analysis: Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Klein

From scapegoat to GOAT, a season in review

To say A.J. Klein had a tumultuous season in Buffalo would be an understatement. From popular whipping boy to AFC Defensive Player of the Week is quite the switch to flip. The up-and-down nature of his season can make it harder to assess if Klein is a player the Buffalo Bills should look to retain. Let’s dive into the film room to find out.

NOTE: The games selected for Klein focus on the ones he subbed in for the injured Matt Milano. These games should be ones where he was included in the game plan for the week, which should be a better reflection of his ability.


Play 1

For a good chunk of the season, if you said the name “A.J. Klein” to Bills fans, something like this is likely what came to mind. Kudos to Klein for his read-and-react ability, but Cam Newton could have gotten some easy yards over the middle if he saw this.

Play 2

When I gave kudos for his read-and-react ability it was sincere. One thing that does jump out for Klein is his on-field awareness.

Play 3

So if he’s good at reading plays and reacting to them, does that mean his poor play for stretches was imaginary? No. A lack of speed and short-area burst mean this play goes for a lot more yards than it had any business gaining.

Play 4

Back to some positives, while A.J. Klein may not win every shoving match, he shows some savvy techniques like we see here. The extended arm allows him to shift to the play in case it comes his way. It does and he flows well to it. Klein is also a solid tackler once contact is made.

Play 5

I like this play because of the discipline in watching the play develop and making sure he’s constantly moving to a spot where there’s a shot he can make a difference.

Play 6

And now for the game that earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Week. The Bills asked Klein to do a lot of things differently in this game and it led to quite a bit of success. The first thing to note here is that they’re working on building confusion against a young quarterback by shifting players away from their usual spots. Buffalo also has Klein show one thing, then do another. The coverage is a bit more deliberate, unlike the zone scheme that saw him get beat over the middle above.

Play 7

Where Klein struggles with sideline-to-sideline speed, he’s a good deal better downhill. He won’t force his way through the line but with a well-called play he can find favorable matchups that lead to negative plays for the opponent.


Summary

Should the Buffalo Bills work to keep A.J. Klein around? Well that depends. The Bills will need to take a long look at their defense and see what their plan is for the linebacker position. They dabbled around with more 4-3 after Matt Milano came back from injury. Mixed in with coverage linebackers like Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, Klein isn’t a bad fit for 4-3 looks. If the Bills want to get even faster on defense, Klein would be a poor fit.

Klein knows the system and the Buffalo coaching staff now has experience scheming to his strengths. Now I don’t work the contract angle, but those factors add some value when it comes to roster building. With a player like Klein on a team that can modify their identity week-to-week, I’d personally lean toward keeping him unless/until a clear upgrade presents itself.

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