The old adage, “defense wins championships” still rings true in today’s NFL; especially for Bills head coach Sean McDermott. With defense in the forefront, coach McDermott, along with Brandon Beane and the rest of the Bills’ staff, have worked tirelessly to assemble a group of bona fide defensive playmakers. With additions in 2017 like Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer through free agency, and Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano through the draft; they have achieved early success thus far. Here are a few defensive playmakers to keep your eyes on at St. John Fisher this summer.
After snagging Josh Allen seventh overall, many Bills fans thought that they might stay put at pick number 22. However, Brandon Beane and his staff swapped choices with the Baltimore Ravens, and selected the Virginia Tech linebacker at pick number 16.
Edmunds grew up around the game, as his father, Ferrell, played seven years in the NFL with Miami and Seattle. If his bloodlines were not strong enough for your liking, Edmunds has two brothers currently playing in the NFL as well. Trey signed with the Saints as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 draft as a running back, and Terrell was selected 28th overall in 2018 by the Steelers.
Edmunds has already opened eyes at the college level, and at OTA’s with the Bills. The most exciting part about his growth as a player is that he is only 20 years old; making him the second youngest player to ever be selected in the NFL draft, behind only Amobi Okoye in 2007.
His room for potential growth, combined with his freakish athleticism and NFL mind, should allow for Edmunds to see immediate success at the next level. In 2017, he was a Butkus Award Finalist; an award given to the nation’s most talented linebacker in college.
Sean McDermott has been impressed by Edmunds’ maturity.
“When Tremaine visited the day after the draft with his family, it was clear early on where he comes from and where his roots are,” McDermott said.
Edmunds’ maturity and high football IQ are just two of the main reasons that the Bills jumped up for a second time to grab him at pick number 16.
“It is important to have athletes,” said McDermott. “But we also look for the football IQ that goes along with it.”
Hyde burst onto the scene in Buffalo last season, immediately establishing himself as one of the top safeties in the NFL. Alongside Jordan Poyer, Hyde struck fear into opposing quarterbacks, and forced offensive coordinators to re-think their strategy on a weekly basis. Sixty-five solo tackles and five interceptions were enough to catapult Hyde into the Pro Bowl.
Hyde has never missed the playoffs since entering the league with Green Bay in 2013, and his approach has in reaching them hasn’t changed either.
“I feel like when you’re a team that knows it’s going to go to the playoffs and it’s just a matter of how far, you have higher expectations for your team,” said Hyde.
He is also determined to ensure that his success alongside Poyer is not just a one-year fluke.
“We’re focused on getting strong, getting faster, and trying to make 2018 a better year,” he said.
Although he seemed to fly around the field in 2017, an improved defensive front, and added help at linebacker should allow Hyde more freedom to patrol the defensive backfield.
Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips will clog up running lanes that might have otherwise opened up, allowing Hyde to focus less on stopping the run, and more on protecting big plays in the passing game.
Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds have the athleticism to cover backs and tight ends that are bunched in a close formation, which should also give Hyde more space to operate. Bills fans should expect more of what they saw in 2017 from Hyde.
Lawson has shown flashes in Buffalo for the better part of two years, but Bills fans are hoping to see a more consistent version of the former first-round pick. Fortunately, there are reasons to believe that the talented defensive end will have a break out season in 2018.
Shoulder issues early in his career affected his ability to contribute, but a rigorous and self-imposed offseason program has worked wonders for the pass rusher.
Lawson is taking a more proactive approach to football in 2018; focusing on keeping his body in top notch shape.
“I’m doing things on the field and off of the field, eating right. Once I take care of my body, I’m good to go,” he said.
Lawson, who has already shed 12 pounds from his frame is focused on slimming down even more before the start of camp.
A slimmed Lawson could be extremely dangerous off the edge; especially with the addition of Trent Murphy, and a healthy Jerry Hughes on the opposite side.
When asked what he is doing on a daily basis to ensure that he reaches his goals in 2018 Lawson pointed to his position coaches.
“I ask them for help,” he said. “I’m just staying on top of my game and working extra after practice.”
Lawson should provide a necessary spark off of the edge, and plenty of contain help in the run game with his instinctive style of play in 2018.
Many had low expectations for Milano in 2017; but after wrestling the starting job away from Ramon Humber, he impressed with his innate ability to be around the ball.
Drafted in the 5th round, many believed that his contributions would come mainly on special teams. Milano’s first career start came on Oct. 8th, 2017 in Cincinnati, and ever since that game, his athletic ability has been on display.
His enormous range allows him to let plays develop before making his break on the ball; or get to spots on the field that most NFL linebackers can’t reach to foil a play.
At this point, Milano should be penciled in to the starting role at strong side linebacker, next to the aforementioned Tremaine Edmunds. Playing next to Edmunds, and behind Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei, and in front of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer; should allow for Milano to use his instincts to diagnose plays early.
Although he is entering just his second year in the NFL, Milano has set some fairly lofty, albeit realistic, goals for the Bills defensive unit in 2018.
“With the addition of a couple of new guys and with the experience of just learning the defense last year, that was our first year running that defense, so I think our goal is top five,” he said.
Bills fans know all about Tre White. After being selected 27th overall in 2017, White cemented himself as the number one cornerback, filling the shoes of Stephon Gilmore better than most had expected.
White started all 16 games in his rookie campaign, compiling four interceptions, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and 18 passes defensed. Despite his season-long success, he was one of the league’s biggest Pro-Bowl snubs; a decision that is sure to motivate him in 2018.
After being voted to the 2017 All-Rookie team, and as a 2nd team All-Pro by Pro Football Focus, White’s focus remained on continually improving. His inner fire burns bright in the heat of competition.
“I feel like I make more plays than I give up,” he said. “That is the code I live by.”
That is a code that Bills fans can certainly attest to.
After lining up opposite the oft-injured E.J. Gaines, White will have the opportunity to play with a stable veteran presence in Vontae Davis this season. White and Davis, combined with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde; make for a secondary that will be tough to throw against. White’s ability to tackle, also makes him a force to be reckoned with in the run game. It is not far-fetched to believe that White will emerge as a top cornerback in the NFL in 2018, and he very well could earn his first Pro-Bowl nod.