The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is the one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player for the 2012 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Buffalo Bills, that player is middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard.
Kelvin Sheppard was a 3rd round pick of the Buffalo Bills out of LSU in the 2011 NFL Draft. Sheppard exceeded expectations as a 3rd round rookie last season, managing 70 tackles (46 solo, 24 assisted) and ranking 19th among all middle linebackers on ProFootballFocus against the run, despite only playing 442 snaps.
Sheppard was even better in his final 9 games, where he had 59 of his 70 tackles, despite still only playing in 369 of his team’s 592 snaps over that period. Perhaps most impressive, Sheppard only missed 1 tackle, fewest among eligible middle linebackers.
As he heads into his 2nd season in the league, he has a strong chance for a breakout year. He played most of his rookie year in the 250-255 range, which he even admits was overweight. Sheppard weighed in at 244 at The Combine in 2011 and has worked hard this offseason to get himself down to 240 pounds, where he is now.
This will not only improve his overall play, but allow him to be an every down linebacker in the Bills’ new 4-3 scheme and stay on the field on passing downs and in base packages. Coverage was a major issue for the overweight Sheppard as a rookie as he ranked 38th among 50 eligible middle linebackers in coverage, allowing 17 catches on 19 attempts for 178 yards and a touchdown, with only one deflection.
If Sheppard can nail down an every down role and play upwards of 800-900 snaps, he could easily have 100-120 tackles in 2012 and if he plays even alright in coverage, he’ll have established himself as one of the best young linebackers in the league.