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Bill Terrel Bernard: Baylor leader will have important role as third linebacker

2022 NFL Draft follow-up: Live blog and pick-by-pick analysis

The Bills completed their Day 2 selections of the NFL Draft on Friday giving themselves a much-needed boost to a position they hadn’t drafted since 2019. Needing a developing linebacker, the team selected Terrel Bernard of Baylor with the 89th pick.

“Super instinctive. You can blitz anybody, but he’s got a sense for it – a talent for it,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said. “He’s fun to watch.”

The Bills called Bernard the “alpha leader” of the Baylor defense and said they were impressed with his versatility to potentially play all three linebacker positions in their defense.

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Classification of the large painting: Bernard was Brugler’s 129th top Top 300 prospect. He was ranked well below other prospects who had had top-30 visits with the Bills, including Memphis interior offensive lineman Dylan Parham (No. 72), Maryland safety Nick Cross (No. 84 ) and UCLA guard Sean Rhyan (#94).

Introduction: Somewhat overlooked as a freshman in 2017, the former Texas three-star linebacker finally found his way to Baylor. Bernard showed explosiveness in his pre-draft practices, posting a 4.59 dash for 40 yards, an 89th percentile long jump and an 80th percentile vertical.

Bernard was a three-year starter and weakside linebacker in head coach Dave Aranda’s basic 3-3-5 scheme. Bernard averaged 8.4 tackles per game. A team captain as a senior, he had 31 1/2 career tackles and 16 1/2 sacks.

How it fits: The Bills had a clear need for a linebacker for 2022 after releasing veteran AJ Klein to free up some space. The only options the Bills had in front of starters Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds were unproven and inexperienced with Tyler Matakevich, Tyrel Dodson and Andre Smith. This trio mostly stayed around Buffalo for special teams.

If Bernard wins the third linebacker job in 2022, he probably won’t see the field as a rookie, barring injury. The Bills prefer to play just two linebackers, so his main contributions would be on special teams. Long term, the Bills believe Bernard has the potential to play outside and middle linebacker positions in their defense. His best fit, due to his size above all else, is as an outside linebacker and primary substitute for Milan.

Second guess? Although Bernard’s choice filled a need, the Bills didn’t have much depth on their interior offensive line, and starting guard Rodger Saffold was a free agent at the end of the season. Instead of a linebacker, they could have used Parham or Rhyan to give them much better depth.

Rookie Impact: The Bills expect Bernard to compete for the primary backup role for Milano and Edmunds. This role also serves as a base defense when the Bills are up against heavier formations. They moved away from that in 2021 and preferred to keep nickel Taron Johnson on the pitch, but there were exceptions. Bernard will face special teams, likely in all four phases as a rookie.

Impact of the depth map: The Bills typically have six linebackers on their 53-man roster, and Bernard’s pick rounds out that group with him, two starters in Milan and Edmunds, a special teams ace in Matakevich and two younger linebackers in Dodson and Smith.

Quick assessment: Although it was a little earlier than expected, you could tell Beane was excited about Bernard’s pick on Friday night. The Bills believe in Bernard’s explosiveness, instinct and blitz ability above all else. If he can become a reliable replacement behind Edmunds and Milano – a place where there is a huge drop on the depth chart – he will end up being a great addition.

(Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)