The Buffalo Bills hit on most of their choices in the 2017 NFL Draft. They snagged a superstar at cornerback, a franchise left tackle, and a three-down linebacker. That’s a great haul for one draft, and it’s even better that each player is now playing on their second contract with the team.
A team has to hit on its early round draft choices in order to build a solid roster, but the real gold comes late in the draft. When a team can find stud players late in the selection process, that’s when a roster goes from strong to elite.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we discuss one such late-round gem—an undersized linebacker who keeps improving each season.
Name: Matt Milano
Height/Weight: 6’ 223 lbs
Age: 28 (29 on 7/28/2023)
Experience/Draft: 6; selected in the fifth round (No. 163 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft by Buffalo
College: Boston College
Acquired: Fifth-round draft choice
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Milano is entering the second year of his four year, $41.5 million extension that he signed prior to last season. In 2022, he’ll carry a cap hit of $4,923,588. Buffalo would be on the hook for a dead-cap charge of $12.75 million if they were to trade or release him.
2021 Recap: Milano played in 16 of Buffalo’s 17 contests, missing only the team’s Week 5 win over the Kansas City Chiefs thanks to a hamstring injury. He played 92% of the team’s defensive snaps, and he was his typical, outstanding self on defense. Milano racked up 86 tackles (the second-highest total of his career) and 15 tackles for loss, which was a career high. He had five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, three sacks, and six quarterback hits on the year. Opposing quarterbacks completed just 55% of the passes thrown where he was the closest defender, and he allowed only one receiving touchdown. In two playoff games, Milano had 16 tackles and pass one breakup.
Positional outlook: Milano is one of two linebackers, with Tremaine Edmunds the other, who should play nearly every snap of every game when they’re healthy. Terrel Bernard, Tyler Matakevich, Tyrel Dodson, Joe Giles-Harris, Marquel Lee, Andre Smith, and Baylon Spector are the other linebackers on the roster. Von Miller is also listed as a linebacker, but we anticipate him playing more of a defensive end role.
2022 Offseason: Milano is healthy and he has participated in all activities this offseason.
2022 Season outlook: Milano is the perfect weakside linebacker in head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier’s defense. He reads and reacts well, and he attacks the ball with a controlled craziness that lends itself well to making big plays. He also does a fantastic job in both man and zone coverage, although some larger tight ends can give him trouble. Rare is the linebacker who can run stride-for-stride with a running back, though, and Milano is one of those rare players. He’s a great athlete, phenomenal defender, and excellent draft choice by the Bills. He’s under contract through his age-29 season, and while his cap hit goes up dramatically over the next two years (each season it’s a touch over $13 million), that was by design. Milano is worth every penny, and his continued growth and presence in the defense should allow for the Bills to continue their excellence on that side of the ball.