What Now? - Kiko Alonso
Say it ain’t so. The injury bug strikes the linebacker position yet again, as Bills young gun Kiko Alonso suffered a torn ACL while working out in Oregon. Alonso was given a 7-9 month timetable, so he’ll be placed on injured reserve.
This marks the third major injury to starting linebackers this offseason, with both Sean Lee and Sean Weatherspoon also out for the season. Additionally, Daryl Washington won’t play in 2014 due to suspension.
An ascending player, Alonso exceeded all expectations in his rookie campaign, racking up 159 total tackles, two sacks, and four interceptions. He finished the season as a surprise Top 10 IDP in balanced scoring systems and was high on the collective radar entering 2014 despite talk that he’d be moved to weak side linebacker in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme.
With Alonso sidelined, what’s a fantasy owner to do?
Buffalo signed Patriots castoff Brandon Spikes to man the middle, and buffalobills.com stated that Keith Rivers is all but locked into a starting job on the strong side. There is a chance Rivers moves to the weak side, which would mean we could see Manny Lawson being shifted back to linebacker on the strong side. While this is certainly a possibly, it’s more likely they keep Spikes and Rivers in their current spots.
Neither player has shown a propensity for coverage in their careers, and there was widespread speculation that the Bills would use Alonso as their only three-down linebacker. Of the two, Spikes has the better chance to see three downs, so he should be highest on draft boards. That being said, he’s no more than a late-round flier. If the Bills rotate Spikes off the field in the subpackages, he’ll have no more than matchup value in 2014. We’ll have to hit the snooze button here until camp opens up.
That being said, we still need to address Alonso’s replacement. Looking down the depth chart, three names pop out as potential candidates – Nigel Bradham, Preston Brown, and Ty Powell.
Second-year man Powell and rookie Brown both project best as MIKE linebackers, but with Spikes in the base the Bills envisioned both players as subpackage options this season. Bradham was allegedly on the roster bubble less than a month ago, but he’s the most experienced of the three and could make for the best replacement.
Not a favorite of the previous regime, Bradham saw his snaps drastically cut last season after starting 12 games in 2012. Still, our Peter Damilatis pegs Bradham as a 2014 Secret Superstar. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Bradham in the starting spot on the weak side when camp opens up.
But is there any fantasy value to be had out of this situation?
If the Bills end up going with Spikes, Rivers, and Bradham, there’s really no logical three-down option. Spikes and Bradham are strong run stuffers, though they haven’t excelled in coverage. Likewise, Rivers has been a chronic underachiever in his career. There’s a chance that we could see not of them play every-down. While that’s unlikely, the possibility remains that all three come off the field and Brown or Powell get subpackage duties.
What we are likely to see is the Bills lean more heavily on their safeties in the subpackages. This isn’t out of the ordinary for Buffalo, as Brian Scott played a hybrid safety/linebacker subpackage role for a number of seasons. The player best suited to that spot would be Da’Norris Searcy.
With Aaron Williams locked into an every-down free safety job, there has been a lot of talk this offseason about who plays strong safety. Searcy is the clubhouse favorite, though Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks are in the mix. If the Bills do go with a Big Nickel look with three safeties on the field, Williams or Meeks are more likely to come on the field in subpackages with Searcy playing all three downs.
So while there may not be a clear beneficiary from Alonso’s injury at the linebacker position, Searcy is the most likely Buffalo defended to receive an IDP boost in 2014.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven of PFF Fantasy.