The Buffalo Bills are coming off a season where they probably met their expectations by finishing near the middle of the pack with a 6-10 record, how they will fare this season is the subject of our third team preview. Training camp hasn’t yet started, so I add my usual caveat about this only far too early to know for sure.
A position by position breakdown will follow, as well as a record prediction at the articles conclusion. The Bills have shown flashes of becoming one of the more explosive teams in the league in recent years, and are hoping that they have added the right pieces to the puzzle to get back to the post season.
The Bills are desperate for a playoff appearance, having gone 16 years without a post season birth, the last time they made the playoffs Jim Kelly was still playing quarterback. Bills fans have reason to hope this season could be the year the streak ends however, as the team spent the 16th overall draft pick on Florida States EJ Manuel to become their franchise quarterback.
What was a suspect position for the Buffalo Bills hopes to become a strength, yet starting a rookie at the games most important position is no sure bet. Realizing that Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t anything more than a middle of the road NFL passer, and would not develop into a franchise quarterback for the team, management pulled the trigger and selected a quarterback in the first round.
EJ Manuel will now become the team’s most prized possession as he becomes their franchise quarterback. However he wasn’t supposed to be the first quarterback selected in the draft according to almost all experts, making the choice of Manuel over more highly touted players like Geno Smith a bit of a head scratcher. If Manuel pans out, the Bills management will look like geniuses, however that is no guarantee.
Manuel has all the tools that you look for in an elite quarterback these days. He has a strong arm, and can make and extend plays with his feet. He is an above average decision maker with good accuracy to boot. Apparently he has done a good job picking up the team’s playbook, as he told the media that the Bills offense was easier to understand than the one he ran at Florida State.
If Manuel can come on and play at half the level that fellow young mobile passer RGIII was able to play at last season before suffering that devastating knee injury, the Bills will stand a great shot at bettering their record from last year.
CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson have become one of the best running back tandems in the NFL over the past few seasons. That being said, they should not be used as such. Fred Jackson is beginning to look less explosive, and he isn’t getting any younger. CJ Spiller on the other hand, was one of the most explosive players in the entire NFL last season.
Spiller lead the league in yards per carry, and was one of the top running backs in terms of fantasy football production despite being mired in a time share and receiving only limited touches.
Spiller has shown to the world that he is an elite running back, and the Bills have yet to adjust accordingly to this. A new coaching staff should be able to see this and make him a featured back, if they do it will take a lot of pressure off of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel.
Stevie Johnson has developed into a legitimate threat at wide receiver for this team over the past two seasons. He has produced some of the most consistent numbers of anyone at the position, and despite having a slight dip in production last year as opposed to his breakout season, he remained a man that defenses had to pay attention to each and every play.
Realizing that Johnson was really the team’s only passing threat, they went heavy on wide receivers early in this year’s draft. The second round saw them select Robert Woods out of USC, and the fourth saw them take Texas’ Marquise Goodwin. If either of these proves to be a starting caliber player early, the Bills will have assembled a scary offense full of explosive talent.
When the Bills offense has the ball between the 20s, there really isn’t much to talk about with the tight end position. Primarily a blocking tight end, Scott Chandler remains quiet until the team gets the ball in the red zone. As soon as the team gets the ball in scoring position however, he becomes one of the biggest threats to score on the team. An all or nothing player for fantasy purposes because of this, Chandler often will put up little to no yardage, but he will be near the top of league in terms of touchdowns by a tight end when all is said and done this season.
A group that has produced a top ten running game in back to back seasons, this is a group that knows how to punish an opposing front and clear them off the line of scrimmage. New offensive line coach Pat Morris has to like the talent of this group, despite the fact that they are said to be lacking in the speed department by some experts. This team has emphasized foot speed thus far in its OTAs, and as a result of the added cardio many of the team’s lineman are reportedly down in the weight department. Giving up size on the line is a risky proposition for new coach Doug Marrone, as size has always been crucial to the success of an NFL offensive line.
Playing in a 3-4 scheme, the defensive line typically isn’t called on to make a lot of plays on their own. The system usually requires bigger ends, near the 300 pound mark, as well as a powerful run stopping nose tackle to eat up blockers and allow the linebackers to make plays. The Bills have a solid end in Kyle Williams, who is able to excel at filling his gap. He is also an above average pass rusher, something unusual for a 300 pound end.
This season the Bills are lacking a true nose tackle, and as a result they ranked near the bottom in terms of run defense last season. After being 30th ranked, the Bills made surprisingly little effort to land a top tier tackle in the off season, and seem likely to produce similar to how they produced last year once again.
Recently signed outside linebacker Manny Lawson didn’t even know where Buffalo was when he signed with the team as a free agent. However he will be expected to emerge as a pass rushing threat to compliment Mario Williams this year. The former Bengal has shown flashes of play making ability in his career but will have to be more consistent if this defense wants to earn respect this season.
Kiko Alonso and Nigel Bradham are expected to make up the middle of this linebacking corps. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard these names yet, as they make up one of the most inexperienced linebacker tandems in the league. If they are able to adjust to the speed of starting in the NFL quickly, they are talented enough to be expected. Odds are it takes awhile for them to adjust and this defense struggles early as a result.
The secondary here is actually one of the groups of Buffalo Bills I like most in this preview. Safety Jarius Byrd and corner Leodis McKelvin are two extremely talented big play guys for this group. They should emerge as effective leaders and take pressure off of teammats Stephon Gilmore and Da’Norris Searcy, enabling them to develop into effective play makers themselves by season’s end. If these two can show they are starting caliber, the Bills will surprise people with their secondary this year.
Although the Buffalo Bills have added more talent to their roster this year, this preview primarily noticed that those additions were on the offensive side of the ball. The offense will be good, but it will have to score huge totals every game if it wants to come out with a victory. Not enough changes were made on a defense that was a disappointment to say the least last season. The run defense will still be a major weakness for this team, they have two young linebackers starting, and no true nose tackle to prevent lineman from getting to the second level often. Bet the over on this team a lot this season, points will be plentiful in Bills games this year.
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The Guardian Express