Don't sleep on the Bills' defensive line

March 31, 2020 - 11:32 am
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If you feel out the vibe around this Buffalo Bills defensive line, it would be hard to tell that the team lost two of its best lineman from the 2019 season in free agency.

Despite both defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips skipping town, the defensive line is primed to be vastly improved in 2020.

It is truly a testament to how well general manager Brandon Beane has done with this roster over the course of the free agency period. It isn't easy to replace two players entering their primes coming off the best seasons of their careers. That is 16 combined sacks from last season walking out the door, heading to the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals respectively.

Yet, the Bills likely won't feel that loss.

Buffalo made a number of signings up front to compliment what they already have in second-year defensive tackle Ed Oliver and a long-time starter on the edge in Jerry Hughes. Beane and head coach Sean McDermott dipped back into a pool they love to swim in that is former Carolina Panthers players, signing defensive end Mario Addison and defensive tackle Vernon Butler. They then brought in one of the most underrated interior lineman in former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson.

Those three signings compared to Phillips and Lawson? It looks to be a significant upgrade, especially on the inside.

Oliver became one of the most efficient pass rushing tackles in the league during the second half of the 2019 season. He finished the year with five sacks, and the rookie had the seventh-highest pass rush win rate of any interior lineman.

Now to add next to Oliver and replace Phillips, the Bills bring in Jefferson, who, in his prime at 27-years-old, is coming off an extremely productive season where he finished with the fifth-highest pass rush win rate of all defensive tackles.

The Bills now have two of the seven most-efficient pass rushers on the inside. They compliment that with Butler, who is also coming off a career-year in 2019 with six sacks of his own.

Quarterbacks hate pressure up the middle, and there might only be a few teams that will generate it on a more consistent basis than Buffalo in 2020.

On the edge, Addison is much older than Lawson at 32, but he brings far more consistent production in the pass rush. Over the last four seasons with Carolina, Addison has totaled at least nine sacks (9.5 in 2016, 11 in 2017, nine in 2018, and 9.5 in 2019).

The long-term future at defensive end isn't as secure since both Addison and Hughes are in their 30s, but the Bills have an entire seven-round draft coming up that can provide another young pass rusher who won't have to shoulder the load in his first few seasons.

It opens the door for Beane to take chances on guys that might not be finished products, but they have a huge ceiling to work with. Prospects that come to mind in Day 2 or Day 3 of the NFL Draft are Alabama's Terrell Lewis, Michigan's Joshua Uche, and Tennessee's Darrell Taylor.

Since McDermott took over this Bills defense in 2017, they have been one of the best units in the league every year. Their secondary is elite, they have a really exciting young duo at linebacker, and now they might have one of the deepest defensive lines.

This was already a top-three defense in the NFL last season. Add more prospects in the draft up front? Limitless potential for 2020 and beyond.

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