Buffalo Bills' Breakout Performances of 2012: Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard

Robert QuinnCorrespondent IMay 8, 2012

In the first installment of “Predicting Bills’ Breakout Players of 2012,” I’ll take a look at second-year inside linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard.

The Buffalo Bills selected Kelvin Sheppard in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft at No. 68 overall out of LSU. The 6’2″, 244 pounder wasn’t expected to see many snaps in his rookie season, as veterans Andra Davis and Nick Barnett were holding down the inside linebacker positions in the Bills’ 3-4 defensive front.

However, Davis’ play declined by the game, and by Week Seven, Sheppard was thrust into the starting lineup. He displayed the tenacity and instincts you covet in a middle linebacker and finished the year with 70 tackles.

With the Bills going back to a 4-3 defensive front, Sheppard will return to his natural Mike linebacker position that he played in the Tigers’ defense. During his time at LSU, Sheppard racked up an incredible 311 tackles—26 of which were for a loss—and 4.5 sacks and forced six fumbles.

Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt has had nothing but praise for the 24-year-old linebacker and is confident that he could lead the defense. In a statement with BuffaloBills.com, Wannstedt stated,

“I’ve got all the confidence in the world with Shep being the middle linebacker. To me he’s about what you’re looking for in a 4-3 middle linebacker. He did a great job (last year). He really, I thought, got better and better as the year went on. He became more confident and quicker and now he’s got to play in the box and doesn’t need to play on the edge as much. I think it’s going to fit his skills to a ‘T’. I think he’s going to be a very, very productive player for us.”

Sheppard seemed to catch on to the nuances of playing the inside linebacker position fairly quickly last year, and with his rookie season behind him—along with the chance to have a full training camp—Sheppard could have a solid 2012 campaign.