1 - Shaq Lawson: It’s time for me to step up
When Shaq Lawson arrives at St. John Fisher College for Bills training camp this summer, it will likely be the absence of an irreplaceable presence that immediately catches his attention.
Next season’s training camp will be Lawson’s first without Kyle Williams, a 13-year veteran who retired after the conclusion of the 2018 campaign. Lawson, a defensive end who often lined up alongside Williams, matured as a person and player thanks to his interactions with his fellow lineman.
“That’s what I told Kyle here [Sunday], I enjoyed my three years with him,” Lawson said. “Learned how to become a pro and things like that.”
Lawson’s on and off-field maturation was evident in the 2018 season. His playing time increased as he achieved what was being asked of him off the field, playing on at least 40 percent of the Bills’ defensive snaps in their final five contests. His statistical production jumped late in the season, as well, closing the campaign out with four consecutive multi-tackle games.
Lawson finished his third professional season with 30 tackles and four sacks, two of which came in Buffalo’s Week 17 rout of the Dolphins.
When Lawson checks into camp this July, he’ll be one of the most tenured Bills on a roster that has seen quite a bit of turnover in recent years. He’s eager to take on a leadership role in his fourth season.
“It’s my fourth year,” Lawson said. “It’s basically time for me to step up. I’ve been around this organization for three, four years now. It’s time for me to step up. Kyle’s going to be gone for the D-line. Jerry [Hughes] and Star [Lotulelei] and [Lorenzo Alexander], with those guys, those guys are going to bring me along and help me lead. I’m a big talkative person, but when I talk, I crack jokes and stuff. I’m just going to try to lead by example, on the field and off the field.”
2 - This stat places Tremaine Edmunds in elite company
A desire for an impactful player at the middle linebacker position prompted Buffalo to trade up for Tremaine Edmunds in the 2018 draft.
In his rookie campaign, the 20-year-old was able to provide quite an impact.
Not only did Edmunds effectively serve as the defensive signal caller, relaying plays to a unit that finished second in total defense, but he was also a playmaker, consistently coming up with impactful plays throughout the season. In addition to his team-high 121 tackles, Edmunds tallied two sacks and two interceptions. He also led the team in pass deflections with 12.
According to ESPN, Edmunds was one of the most impactful linebackers in the league last season. He recorded a sack, interception, or pass deflection on 2.2 percent of his coverage snaps, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL.
Only five linebackers finished the 2018 campaign with a higher “disrupted dropback” percentage than Edmunds, and that list is a who’s who of established veterans and rising stars. Von Miller, T.J. Watt, Darius Leonard, Khalil Mack, and Deion Jones are the only linebackers who came up with an impact play on a higher percentage of their coverage snaps.
Edmunds is not the only Buffalo linebacker who appeared on ESPN’s list. Matt Milano finished the season with a disrupted dropback percentage of 1.5 percent, the same percentage as Luke Kuechly and Roquan Smith.
3 - Bills finish among NFL leaders in deep passes
His elite arm was one of his most talked about assets in the lead up to the 2018 draft, and in his debut season, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen frequently put his arm strength on display.
He wasn’t afraid to take shots deep down the field. According to The Buffalo News, 19.7 percent of Allen’s passing attempts traveled 20 or more yards through the air. He was the focal point of a Buffalo offense that looked to stretch the field often, as according to ESPN, the team attempted 89 deep passes throughout the 2018 season. Only the Packers attempted more passes that went 20 or more yards downfield.
A large portion of Allen’s deep attempts came late in the 2018 season, as the Bills didn’t inject speed into their starting lineup until Week 10. Rookie wideout Robert Foster, whose straight-line speed earned him a spot on the 53-man roster out of training camp, emerged after being re-promoted to the active roster in Week 10. Allen connected with Foster on 22 occasions throughout the final six games of the season, picking up 406 yards and three touchdowns.
Though it wasn't until late in the season that Allen started to consistently trust his arm, what was physically his longest pass of the campaign came in Week 2. A 57-yard completion to Zay Jones actually traveled 63.9 yards through the air, the longest pass thrown by a quarterback in the 2018 season.