Perhaps the Bills biggest need on the defensive side of the ball this offseason resides at linebacker. With new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine calling the shots, there figure to be more3-4 looks in Buffalo’s defense. That means more linebackers on the 53-man roster, and with the subtraction of veteran Nick Barnett, the Bills need to add capable talent both inside and outside.
The heavy hitters
Connor Barwin – OLB – Houston – Barwin is a good rusher off the edge and has a blue collar approach to the game. Not great in coverage, but can handle the underneath assignments and is solid against the run. Age 26.
Justin Durant – OLB – Detroit – Coming off his first career 100-tackle season, Durant is a rangy linebacker with strong run-pass recognition skills. A reliable tackler and the athleticism to execute coverage assignments Durant is consistent and offers leadership intangibles. Age 27.
Dannell Ellerbe – ILB – Baltimore – After earning a starting job this past season Ellerbe put up career-best numbers. A true three down player, Ellerbe had a solid postseason showing the ability to blitz, the athleticism to cover and the read and react instincts to put himself in position to make plays. Age 27.
Jasper Brinkley – ILB – Minnesota – Brinkley is coming off a career-high tackle season, and is a solid stopper against the run. The inside backer is quick to diagnose plays and has improved in shedding blocks to make plays. His only limitation is coverage. Age 27.
Erin Henderson – OLB – Minnesota – A weak side linebacker that provides some pop, Henderson is good against the run and has improved in getting off of blocks. Also called upon more to rush the passer last year and proved himself capable with coverage assignments. Age 26.
Rey Maualuga – ILB – Cincinnati – A run defender first with great instincts and an ability to get off blocks consistently. Coming off a career-best season Maualuga is limited in coverage, but could help in zone coverages. A leader on the field who leads by example. Age 26.
Nick Roach – OLB – Chicago – Hard-working player that’s improved every season. Despite being a bit undersized Roach plays a physical style and moves well in space when asked to cover. Effectively relies on technique and instincts to make up for lack of ideal size. Age 27.
Daryl Smith – OLB – Jacksonville – A productive three-down linebacker with sideline to sideline range. Solid in all facets of his game, Smith is quick to recognize run or pass and is always around the ball. Handles coverage assignments in man or zone and consistently gets off blocks to make plays. Age 30.
Erik Walden – OLB – Green Bay – Has earned his stripes in the Packers defense. Used mainly as an edge rusher, Walden has improved his hand fighting, but has also shown an ability to handle coverage assignments. He’s a player that benefited from more opportunity. Age 27.
Bradie James – ILB - Houston
Rocky McIntosh – OLB – St. Louis
Calvin Pace – OLB – NY Jets
Shaun Phillips – OLB - San Diego
Bart Scott – ILB – NY Jets
Brian Urlacher – ILB - Chicago
Will Witherspoon – ILB – Tennessee
Possible fits for the Bills
Justin Durant – OLB – Detroit – Solid production and leadership intangibles could make Durant a very good fit at the currently vacant outside linebacker spot.
Dannell Ellerbe – ILB – Baltimore – Ellerbe played in a similar system to that of Mike Pettine’s and appears to be entering the peak of his career at inside backer.
Erin Henderson – OLB – Minnesota – The Vikings might find it hard to hold onto Henderson and Brinkley. Henderson has the better overall game and would fill a hole outside.
Erik Walden – OLB – Green Bay – A player that has improved almost every facet of his game. He still might have some potential to reach, but can rush off the edge and cover.