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2021 NFL Draft: Replacing Matt Milano

If the Bills lose their weakside linebacker, here is the backup plan

Since coming to the team as a fifth-round pick and eventually earning the starting weak-side linebacker position his rookie year, Matt Milano has been one of the team’s more consistent defenders—when on the field. The former safety from Boston College has accumulated 273 tackles, five interceptions and six sacks during his Bills tenure. However, the major concern with Milano is his injury history, as he’s fresh off hamstring and chest injuries that kept him out of several game in the 2020 season.

Considering that injury history, in conjunction with the high salary the young player will likely command on the open market, general manager Brandon Beane and the rest of Buffalo’s front office could decide that it might be best for both parties to move on. If that happens, it will likely come down to the NFL Draft to replace that type of production from the linebacker position. Luckily, this is a deep draft for rangy linebackers who can cover and blitz. Below are just a few of the players the Bills might consider.

Tier I

Micah Parsons (Penn State)
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
Nick Bolton (Missouri)

A true middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions, Parsons is absolutely athletic enough to be able to drop a few pounds and keep in coverage. On the weak side his instincts would still stand out, as would his dominant tackling ability. Excelling as a blitzer throughout his tenure with the Fighting Irish, Owusu-Koramoah is at his best threatening the quarterback or dropping into coverage. He just needs to work on his tacking. That’s not a problem for Bolton, who is one of the better tacklers in the draft. He’s doesn’t offer as much in coverage as some of his peers though.

Tier II

Baron Browning (Ohio State)
Dylan Moses (Alabama)
Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)
Jabril Cox (LSU)

One of my draft crushes, Browning didn’t get nearly as much respect as he deserves as part of an elite Buckeyes defense. His strong work during the Senior Bowl should help his stock. Moses, had a down year in 2020 and seemed hesitant. However, he was coming back from an injury and Alabama has a great track record in producing linebackers. A former quarterback, Surratt loves to burst through gaps and bust up plays in the backfield. He still has improvements to make in the technical aspects of the position however. An athletic freak, Cox plays with great effort and has the coverage skills of safety in a 6’4” frame. He needs to be kept clean from blocks though, as he’s too easily swamped when facing offensive linemen.

Tier III

Pete Werner (Ohio State)
Tony Fields II (West Virginia)
Garret Wallow (TCU)
Riley Cole (South Alabama)

Improving every year in the Buckeyes’ system, Werner has that Milano-like ability to use his flexibility and strength to avoid blockers, rather than taking them on one-on-one. Fields needs to put on some muscle in order to take on larger NFL players, but he has the straight-line speed and energy you want in a WILL linebacker. A converted defensive back, Wallow has the requisite coverage abilities and agility but doesn’t bring that physicality you want at the position, and misses too many tackles. He was one of the more productive players during the Senior Bowl, but Cole still needs to prove he can hold up in either man or zone coverage.

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