The defense is on the board!! Today’s post marks the start for injury positional reviews on the defensive side of the ball. The Bills defense has demonstrated elite talent that has carried the team at times through the past 2 seasons. However, when injuries occurred, the replacements and gaping holes as a result were glaring. Today’s post will review the defensive end position and what this means going forward into 2019.
First up is DE Nate Orchard. The veteran end came to Buffalo off waivers from Cleveland, spending roughly a month with the team. During his time in Buffalo, he appeared in 3 games registering 4 total tackles, 3 solo, 1 assist and was cut on 10/2. He then was picked up by Kansas City for a month before finding a home in Seattle for 2019. He did not suffer any injuries during his time and is not likely to return unless he is some type of camp casualty and the Bills need emergency depth.
DE Mike Love appears next in today’s review, appearing in 3 games without any stats. He was signed from the practice squad late in the season to assess what the team has for depth going forward. Due to his limited playing time, he did not suffer any injuries but should come back next season as he is a cheap option for depth and could continue to develop behind veterans at the position.
DE Eddie Yarbrough rounds out depth at the end position during today’s article. The 3rd year player out of Wyoming continues to demonstrate solid play worthy of a roster spot, evident with the Bills resigning Yarbrough to a 1 year extension as a ERFA. The youthful end appears in 15 games accumulating 29 total tackles, 21 solo, 8 assisted with 4 tackles for loss. In addition, Yarbrough managed to avoid injury which was key as several veterans mentioned later were not as lucky, leading to Yarbrough getting valuable playing time. He should be back next season and barring a sudden influx of talented defensive ends, should make the 53 man roster.
DE Shaq Lawson begins the run on injured ends in this article. The former 1st round draft pick has begun to show flashes of brilliance of why he was drafted 19th overall in 2016, but has not been able to consistently string together a season in which he can demonstrate he is the best defender out on the field. During the 2018 season, Lawson appeared in 14 games with 6 starts, accumulating 1 forced fumble, 4 sacks, 30 total tackles, 18 solo, 12 assisted, and 5 tackles for loss. While these are acceptable numbers from a rotational defensive end, more should be expected from a once highly drafted player.
Lawson suffered minor injuries this season, missing 2 games due to a pulled hamstring early in the season trying to chase down Ravens QB Joe Flacco. After the hamstring, Lawson was questionable with an elbow injury sustained in practice prior to the Jacksonville game but the specifics of the injury were not disclosed and he did not miss any time. Going into next season, Lawson will be healthy but have to fight incredibly hard to justify sticking around past next season. He will make the 53 man roster, but he needs to stay healthy and shine like a first round pick should if he wants several more years in Buffalo.
DE Jerry Hughes continues to be a monster coming off the end and is one of the few moves along with RB LeSean McCoy that made former Bills GM Doug Whaley look halfway competent. Hughes came over in a player for player trade from the Colts for LB Kelvin Sheppard in 2013 and hasn’t looked back. The dominant end started all 16 games, accumulating 3 forced fumbles, 7 sacks, 37 total tackles, 30 solo, 7 assists, 13 tackles for loss. He showed up this season and was clearly the best defensive end for the Bills this season. In addition to his dominant play, he was able to remain healthy, only suffering a right knee injury that may have been a minor knee sprain or contusion during the Jets game but did not miss anytime. Even though he is going into the last season of his contract, he is clearly a lock for the 53 man roster. He still demonstrates an ability to play at a high level and should garner another contract before his time in Buffalo is through.
Finally, DE Trent Murphy rounds out the defensive end position. The beleaguered end from Washington just could not stay healthy this year. Even though Murphy only missed 3 games this season, he was never quite healthy. He appeared in 13 games with 10 starts racking up 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 24 total tackles, 14 solo, 10 assisted, 5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks. Despite the average stats for a player making the money that he is, he constantly dealt with injury which led to his down year. Early in training camp, Murphy suffered a groin strain that appeared to be minor, appearing to come back too quickly, and re-aggravating the issue. As a result, he missed the rest of the preseason and never quite got the reps he needed to improve his football skills after missing all of the 2017 season with an ACL tear.
Once returning to the field during the regular season, Murphy had a breakout game against the Vikings with a sack, two tackles, and a forced fumble. Due to needing as many game reps to get back into shape forced him to play into the 4th quarter which led to a right ankle injury that was the result of getting rolled up on. He did not miss any time but was limited afterward. Murphy then sustained another ankle injury, though it wasn’t clear which ankle he injured during the loss to the Texans. Video review shows him taking an awkward step with what appeared to be his left foot. He did miss some time but was able to return.
Unfortunately, the next week wasn’t any kinder to Murphy as he sustained another late 4th quarter injury, this time injuring his right knee. He was in the process of engaging an offensive player during a block when another player got thrown into his knee with his knee bent and foot on the ground. The mechanism suggested an MCL sprain and as a result, missed 3 games but also had the benefit of the bye week to recover. But Murphy wasn’t done with injuries; he sustained some type of chest injury in the win over the Lions late in the season that did not force him to miss anytime. Once again, Murphy did not miss many games, but he was clearly not at 100% throughout the entire season.
There have been some calls for the Bills to release him after an underwhelming performance in 2018. However, I believe that Murphy will bounce back with a strong season in 2019. He will have the benefit of not having to recover from a season ending injury such as the ACL in 2017. While all the injuries were minor, cumulatively, they took their toll. He will have the ability to heal up completely and focus on football and injury prevention rather than rehab. There has also been multiple instances in which a player has a down year following an ACL tear followed up by an improved year as the player returns to baseline 2 years after original injury. While we hope that Murphy can regain some of his 9 sack season during his last season in Washington, any improvement over last year will be gladly taken. Expect him to make the 53 man roster with a significant bounce back year in 2019. I am high on Murphy taking the next step forward as an important cog in the defense.
Overall, expect Hughes, Lawson, and Murphy return as the top end players at defensive end. Yarbrough will continue to be a depth piece and Love has a chance to make the roster with a strong training camp, but could more likely be on the practice squad. DE Eli Harold also has a strong chance to make the roster after time with San Francisco and Detroit, but is far from guaranteed. To read more on Harold, his injury profile can be found here. I also expect the Bills to address defensive end in the draft at some point which could reshape this position based on what round a defensive end is picked.
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