When Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso went down with a torn ACL last spring, the team turned to third-year linebacker Nigel Bradham to replace him. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise. After all, Bradham started 11 times as a rookie in 2012. What was somewhat of a surprise was how well Bradham played in Alonso's absence -- well enough to make Alonso expendable when a new coaching staff came to town earlier this spring.
Bradham's 2014 season didn't start off too hot. He was suspended the first game for a weed possession charge. When he came back, I could tell he wasn't the same guy whom I had seen previously on film. It looked like the game finally slowed down for Bradham, or maybe he sped up.
Whatever it was, he was a lot more productive last season than he had ever been, in all phases of the game. In 2014, Bradham recorded his first 2.5 sacks and his first interception to go along with six passes defensed, triple the total from his first two seasons combined.
The thing I love about Bradham is that he's a thumper. He loves to hit people and it shows. He also knows how to explode into contact -- more often than not he's the hammer and not the nail when he takes on ball carriers. Every defense needs guys like that. Guys who get the "oooo weeeee" hits. Guys who become a fucking brick wall when trying to keep the opposition from crossing the goal line. Those descriptions fit Bradham to a T!
There are several reasons why I'm sure Bradham will break out this season. The suspension, plus another game Bradham missed due to injury, prevented him from being even more productive last year. There's also the fact that his new head coach/defensive coordinator Rex Ryan knows exactly how to maximize thumpers like Bradham, as evidenced by his time with the Ravens and the Jets. Add it all up and there's no reason to believe Bradham won't emerge from this season as one of the top 3-4 inside linebackers in the game.
If he stays healthy, I wouldn't expect anything less of Nigel Bradham than to be pushing for a Pro Bowl bid at season's end. He has a ton of potential and Ryan's scheme should put him in position to make plays all over the field.