The Buffalo Bills have had plenty of consistency at linebacker since the 2018 NFL season began. Two players were written in the lineup in Sharpie®, and for the most part, those two players have remained in the lineup. There have been some injury hiccups at times, but we always knew that the team had a linebacker duo that was going to start when those players were healthy.
Heading into the 2023 NFL season, that duo has split. One of those players signed a mega-deal with the Chicago Bears, which has led many to speculate that a change in the defense is afoot. Given that Buffalo keeps adding smaller, athletic linebackers to the fold rather than hulking super-athletes, that theory seems to track.
In today’s installment of our “90 players in 90 days” series, we discuss one such linebacker addition — an oft-injured, undersized player who has plenty of upside if he can beat the injury bug.
Name: Travin Howard
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 219 pounds
Age: 27 (28 on 5/10/2024)
Acquired: Signed with Bills on 5/14/2023
Financial situation: Howard’s contract details aren’t officially listed on either Spotrac or Over the Cap. We’re assuming it’s a one-year deal at or near the veteran’s minimum with little to no guarantees.
2022 Recap: As he’s done over most of his professional career, Howard missed considerable time last season due to injury. He had core muscle surgery in the offseason, began the year on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, returned to play in Week 9, and then ended the year on injured reserve. It was the third consecutive season where Howard spent time on IR. After playing in all 16 games during the 2019 season, he missed all of 2020 on injured reserve, then missed four games in 2021 and 16 games in 2022. Last year, he played a total of 24 snaps, all on special teams. He had one tackle in that Week 9 game.
Positional outlook: Howard joins a positional group that has one clear starter in Matt Milano — and then a lot of questions as to which player will replace Tremaine Edmunds in the lineup. There are a pair of third-round picks (2022 third-rounder Terrel Bernard and 2023 third-rounder Dorian Williams), last year’s seventh-round choice (Baylon Spector), and some guys who have been in the system for a while (Tyler Matakevich, A.J. Klein, and Tyrel Dodson) to fend off if Howard is going to make the roster. Von Miller and Shane Ray are both listed as linebackers on the team roster; however, they function as defensive ends in the system, so we’ll discuss them as such here.
2023 Offseason: Howard participated in Buffalo’s rookie minicamp, showing well enough that he earned himself a contract.
2023 Season outlook: Howard is certainly talented, there’s no denying that fact. However, his inability to stay healthy has been a huge issue. During the Rams’ Super Bowl run in 2022 NFL Playoffs, Howard started two games and played on defense in three, totaling 10 tackles, two pass breakups, and a game-sealing interception in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. If he can stay healthy, he has at least an outside shot to make the roster as a reserve and a special teams player, as he is more athletic than someone like Klein. Where Klein has a big leg up, however, is in his versatility and his knowledge of the defense. I think Howard is auditioning for a spot on the practice squad, but a strong preseason showing coupled with some good luck regarding his health could make this an undercover impactful signing.