So much of the Buffalo Bills’ success on defense is credited to two things: an outstanding secondary and great defensive coaches. While head coach Sean McDermott and assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier certainly deserve accolades for designing a scheme that puts their personnel in places to succeed, there is another, overlooked layer of this defense that allows it to flourish.
The linebackers that Buffalo deploys on nearly every snap are two of the best in football at what they do. They allow the Bills to run a variety of coverages thanks to their ability to match up with running backs and tight ends in man coverage, but it’s also their ability to play a variety of zones that helps the defense to shine. In the modern NFL, a linebacker’s ability to play pass coverage is just as valuable as his ability to plug gaps in the run game.
In today’s installment of “90 players in 90 days,” we highlight one of Buffalo’s 2022 NFL Draft choices—a player whose athletic profile looks an awful lot like someone who is already on the roster at his position.
Name: Baylon Spector
Height/Weight: 6’ 233 lbs
Age: 23 (24 on 10/20/2022)
Experience/Draft: R; selected in the seventh round (No. 231 overall) by Buffalo in the 2022 NFL Draft
Acquired: Seventh-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Spector signed his rookie contract, a pact worth a total of $3,763,724 over four years. Of that total, $103,724 is guaranteed. For the 2022 season, Spector would carry a cap hit of $730,931 if he makes the 53-man roster.
2021 Recap: Spector made up one half of the “Bruise Brothers,” as Dabo Swinney referred to his linebacker duo of Spector and James Skalski, and he had a solid season for the Tigers. Spector played in 11 games, starting ten, and he was voted a team captain. According to the coaches’ film, Spector made 85 tackles; however, he was officially credited with 74 or 75, depending on the source. In any case, Spector was around the ball often. He had 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception, and one fumble recovery on the season.
Positional outlook: Spector joins a linebacker group that, on the surface, seems to be settled—but definitely has some room on the fringes, especially on special teams. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds sit atop the depth chart, and fellow rookie Terrel Bernard figures to be a key reserve this year. Tyrel Dodson has subbed for both Edmunds and Milano in the past. Joe Giles-Harris, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith, and Marquel Lee all provide value on special teams. The team still lists Von Miller as a linebacker.
2022 Offseason: Spector is healthy and ready to roll for training camp. He participated in rookie minicamp.
2022 Season outlook: As a seventh-round pick, the pathway to the roster is a difficult one; however, there is an opening thanks to Andre Smith’s PED suspension. Smith, who was a key component to Buffalo’s coverage units, is slated to miss the first six games of the year. If we assume that Edmunds, Milano, and Bernard are roster locks, and that Miller is more defensive end than he is off-the-ball linebacker, that means there is probably room for three other players. Matakevich and Dodson would be the next two probable players, leaving Spector to battle with Giles-Harris and Lee for the last spot on the roster until Smith returns.
Had Smith not been suspended, I’ve have given it 95% odds that Spector is a priority add to the practice squad; however, that suspension gives him an opening. If I were a betting person, I’d wager on Giles-Harris, who played over 70% of the special teams snaps in both of his games with Buffalo last year. Spector’s athletic profile is eerily similar to that of Matt Milano, though, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he comes out during camp and earns himself that last spot.
On a roster as good as Buffalo’s, most of the true battles are going to take place on the back end of the roster, and this is a great example of just that. How the team chooses to fill out the linebacker group will be one of the big questions throughout camp, and Spector is a player worth remembering regardless of his draft position.