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2020 All-22 Analysis: Buffalo Bills linebacker Tyrell Adams

The depth signings keep rolling in

In his first four years in the league, linebacker Tyrell Adams averaged just over five games per season—and only two starts total. That all changed in 2020 when Adams was forced into the spotlight. Appearing in all 16 games and starting 12 of them, Adams broke onto the tackling scene with 76 solo and 125 total. Those numbers were respectively good for ties at 21st and tenth in the league. That was also one less solo tackle than Tremaine Edmunds and six more total tackles. The two also tied in sacks and quarterback hits. With five tackles for a loss, Adams edged out Edmunds by one. Buffalo Bills fans know from experience that linebacker stats can be deceiving but those are eye-popping numbers for a player who is likely fighting for the third linebacker spot on a team that rarely uses more than two. Let’s dive in.


Play 1

The two things I like on this play: how quickly Tyrell Adams reacts when he sees the ball come out and also his tackling form. It’s not perfect, but he’s not shy and his instinct is to wrap after impact.

Play 2

Another look at Adams’s read-and-react ability as he takes on a running play. Adams didn’t present as the most physical presence in the middle of the field at 230 lbs but was able to use positioning to get in place for tackles on a routine basis. I like the extension of the arm to be able to stay clean and make the tackle. I love that it seems effortless. He’s not even looking, it just happens.

Play 3

I was less enthusiastic with Adams’s coverage ability over distance. One problem that did creep up semi-routinely was difficulty navigating through traffic side-to-side. That’s not to insinuate it’s an easy task but some players have a knack for it, with a grace that looks nearly like they’re skating to the sideline.

Play 4

Moving forward, Adams does seem to have a better handle on cruising through the clutter when crashing downhill. His instincts pop up again in the plus column and that sidestep to avoid the block is excellent.

Play 5

I’d have to be a mind reader to say for sure what Adams saw on this play but I would guess that film study and play recognition played a big part. It appears that he reads the lead blocker and makes a move to cut off the lane. You need a hefty dose of faith that you’re seeing the right thing to make a jump back like this and Adams guessed right.

Play 6

This is a 2nd-and-9 play where it’s likely Adams’s job to limit the damage. For this type of coverage Adams was solid and could generally keep up with running backs and tight ends. Adding some extra speed or finesse could be a bit of an issue though.

Play 7

As is tradition, end on a high note. He could force the ball back inside...or just make the dang tackle himself.


Summary

Tyrell Adams is an interesting case. Based on his 2020 play he looks the part of a starting linebacker which makes it curious that he landed in Buffalo. With two established starters for a team that has been preposterously nickel heavy the last couple seasons, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that a potential starter finds a home where he’ll be projected as depth.

Could the Bills revamp their scheme to go back to a more traditional 4-3? It’s possible but I’m not sold that Adams is the player to prompt that change. Adams seems quite a bit better in run support than pass and doesn’t seem to be much more physically imposing than a larger defensive back. Add that up and I don’t believe Adams will consistently bring what Buffalo wants on passing downs. A small shift back to 4-3 with Adams on run downs wouldn’t be shocking.

Also possible is the simple fact of a spotty track record. While 2020 was a solid year for Adams, one out of five isn’t a great history.