The Buffalo Bills boast two linebackers with range and skills coveted by nearly every team in the NFL. Given that the Bills spend the majority of defensive snaps in a nickel formation, a lot falls on those two players to be great on each and every down. When they miss an assignment, it shows. When they make a play, it shows. While the linebacker position may feel like it’s less important than the secondary or the defensive line, as it’s sandwiched in between two spots with more handsomely paid players, it’s a critical layer of Buffalo’s defense.
With that in mind, the Bills went to work this offseason in building depth behind their top two linebackers. General manager Brandon Beane added two plus athletes through the draft, and he’s also done well to keep a stable of special teams studs among the team’s reserves. As with all other positions on the roster, Beane has crafted a group that has plenty of options, and a clear pecking order—there are clear starters, developmental athletes, special teams players, and system guys all competing for spots on the roster.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss a developmental linebacker whose athleticism makes him an interesting prospect for the future—but whose ball skills make him a good depth option for the present, as well.
Name: Terrel Bernard
Height/Weight: 6’1” 224 lbs
Age: 23 (24 on 5/7/2023)
Experience/Draft: R; selected in the third round (No. 89 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft by Buffalo
Acquired: Third-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Bernard’s four-year rookie deal includes $912,992 in signing bonus money and $5,042,992 overall. For the 2022 season, he carries a cap hit of $933,248 overall if he makes the roster.
2021 Recap: Bernard had a fantastic senior year, as he was named First-Team All-Big 12 by both the conference and the Associated Press. He was also a team captain. He started 13 of Baylor’s 14 games, as he missed the team’s game against Oklahoma State with an injury. In the Sugar Bowl, Bernard recorded 20 tackles and a sack in earning Most Valuable Player honors. Overall, Bernard made 103 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks on the season. While he had four pass breakups, it was the first year of his collegiate career where he did not record an interception.
Positional outlook: Bernard enters the summer as one of ten linebackers on the roster. One of those is Von Miller, who is sure to serve as more of a defensive end/edge/pass rush specialist in Buffalo’s defense, so Bernard is one of nine off-the-ball linebackers looking for a roster spot. Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tyrel Dodson, Andre Smith, Tyler Matakevich, Joe Giles-Harris, Marquel Lee, and Baylon Spector are the others.
2022 Offseason: Bernard is healthy and he has participated in OTAs to date.
2022 Season outlook: Bernard will obviously have to learn the defense, but if he picks it up quickly, he likely slides in as the primary fill-in for at least Milano if the veteran were to suffer an injury. I don’t think the Bills would use him as a replacement for Edmunds—unless they slid Milano out of position, which isn’t impossible, but it’s unlikely—so his usage in the early going will probably be limited to special teams and injury replacement. However, he is an elite athlete whose speed and explosion are incredibly valuable. He may be built like a Milano replacement now, but a year in a professional strength and conditioning program could definitely add another 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. Bernard is solid depth for now and a great prospect for the future.