Three linebackers who could fit the Bills at pick No. 54

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Throughout this series, we have gone through a number of positions that the Buffalo Bills don't have an immediate need at for the 2020 season.

Linebacker is another one of those positions with Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, and newly signed veteran A.J. Klein making up the top-three players on the depth chart. That doesn't mean Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott won't use another valuable resource on the position.

Looking at the track record of Beane, McDermott, and the organization that came from the Carolina Panthers, this is a regime that values linebackers. When Beane and McDermott were members of Carolina's front office and coaching staff, the Panthers invested an early first round pick in Luke Keuchly to pair with Thomas Davis. Despite having one of the best linebacker tandems in the league, Carolina took another linebacker in the first round just a few years later when they selected Shaq Thompson. 

In their first draft together with the Bills, they moved up in the first round to take a linebacker when they selected Edmunds. 

If the Bills are considering linebacker at pick No. 54, three prospects could be on their radar:

 

  • Willie Gay Jr. - Mississippi State

In our safeties version of the series, we discussed the evolution of second-level defenders and how the NFL is looking for "positionless players". Players that can stand their ground against the run, be used in zone coverage, and get moved out in space to cover athletic tight ends and running backs. If the Bills are looking for that player, with a linebacker background rather than safety, Willie Gay Jr. would be their best option in the second round. 

Gay Jr. is a physical specimen with 4.46 speed, a 39.5-inch vertical, and a 11-foot-4 broad jump. All three of those results from the NFL Scouting Combine were in the 97th percentile or above. 

Willie Gay Jr.4.46s 40 (97th percentile)39.5" Vertical (98th)11'4" Broad jump (99th)And it shows up on the fieldpic.twitter.com/4qoFGXddhi

— PFF (@PFF) March 5, 2020

It's true. That speed and athleticism shows up on tape. Gay Jr. looks as explosive on the field where he can close in on the ball in an instant. The way he fires downhill like a rocket and tackles will make a team fall in love with him and his physicality.

Of course, modern three-down linebackers have to be able to cover. There wasn't a draft-eligible linebacker better than Gay Jr. in that area over the last three years. According to Pro Football Focus, his 93.9 coverage grade is first among draft linebackers since 2017. 

The 2018 stat line shows the well-rounded player he can be, posting 44 tackles, five sacks, and two interceptions. 

 

  • Jordyn Brooks - Texas Tech

Like Gay Jr., Jordyn Brooks has the upside to be a star with his physical gifts. The Texas Tech product is a machine working downhill. He is aggressive, explosive, and a fierce tackler. Over four seasons as the Red Raiders' leader on defense, Brooks had 360 tackles with at least 78 tackles in every season.

A defense that likes to blitz their off-ball linebackers will love Brooks. Offensive linemen have to be quick to get a hand on him because of how fast he can crash through the line of scrimmage. If they get their hands on him, Brooks is still a threat to shed blocks and get to the quarterback. 

His final season in 2019 was his best, finishing with 108 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, and three sacks. 

#TexasTech LB Jordyn Brooks was named to the watch list for the Butkus Award yesterday.Brooks was 9th in the Big 12 in tackles last year. #WreckEm pic.twitter.com/OuN0SQRVDV

— Jon Sokoloff (@JonSokoloff) July 23, 2019

Coaches and players praised Brooks for his leadership, which would also go a long way with McDermott. 

 

  • Troy Dye - Oregon

Production, potential, versatility, leadership, toughness, it is all there with Troy Dye. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound linebacker was the heartbeat of the Oregon Ducks defense for four seasons, finishing his career with 234 tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, and five interceptions.

The theme of being multi-dimensional stays true with Dye, but his toughness may be the most impressive part of his game. Over the final month of the 2019 season, Dye played through a broken thumb and a torn meniscus. He didn't just play through it, he dominated through it. 

Oregon LB Troy Dye had 8 tackles, 1 TFL, .5 sacks and an INT vs. Utah in P12CG playing with a broken thumb and torn meniscushttps://t.co/UBg51ZdRqu pic.twitter.com/MJMysz8M3t

— James Crepea (@JamesCrepea) February 27, 2020

Dye is one of the safest bets in this linebacker class to become an instant impact player.

In previous years, he would have been a top linebacker prospect, but due to the presence of LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray, Gay Jr., and Brooks, Dye could fall to the Bills at 54. 

 

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