2016 was another miserable year for a franchise that has been hurting since 2000. 2016 proved to be the last year of the two-year Rex Ryan experiment and the fourth and final year of Doug Whaley’s era as GM. The Buffalo Bills finished 7-9.
The Bills entered 2017 not knowing where to go at quarterback as the front office were still unsure whether they wanted Tyrod Taylor to be ‘the guy’. Buffalo had a solid draft taking talented CB Tre’Davious White 27th overall after trading down before selecting WR Zay Jones in the 2nd round. The Bills took QB Nathan Peterman out of Pittsburgh in the 5th round. Buffalo enters 2017 in the first year of the Sean McDermott-era (former DC at Carolina) and with new GM Brandon Beane (also of the Panthers) trying to evaluate the talent on this roster ahead of the 2018 Draft. The Bills traded away CB Ronald Darby, WR Sammy Watkins and saw CB Stephon Gilmore leave in free agency to New England this off season. The Bills have loaded up on draft picks for the upcoming 2018 class. Could the Bills be compiling draft capital to make a play at one of the QBs expected to declare for 2018? Read my preview of the upcoming 2018 QB Class here!
The Buffalo Bills have a conundrum at the quarterback position. Tyrod Taylor signed a 6-year, $92m contract prior to the 2016 season but was inactive for the final game as his 2017 salary would be full guaranteed if he suffered an injury.. Taylor is a unique QB who is able to connect deep down field while also possessing the athleticism that forces DEs to contain against the read-option. Operating out of the shotgun gives star RB LeSean McCoy one less defender in the box as DEs/ OLBs are forced to play contain. Taylor has been the starter the past two seasons in Buffalo and has played well despite poor talent at the wide receiver position. While he is not a proto-typical ‘franchise QB’, Taylor does bring a unique skill set which compliments Buffalo’s run-heavy offensive game plan. The Bills also have journeyman T.J. Yates on the roster who is with his 5th team in 7 years and rookie Nathan Peterman. Peterman was selected in the 5th round and is a developmental QB who has all the makings of a future starter. He has excellent deep ball accuracy, can command a huddle and showed great maturity and poise in the pocket during his time in College Football. Scouts compared him favorably to Kirk Cousins.
The Bills will likely play the majority of early downs out of the ‘Pro Set’/ ‘Three-end formation’ utilizing the versatility of Taylor at QB, LeSean McCoy at HB, recently signed Patrick DiMarco at FB and Charles Clay at TE. Thankfully for the Bills this limits them to only two wide receivers. The Bills are extremely thin at WR after trading away their 2014, 4th overall selection Sammy Watkins and the retirement of newly signed Anquan Boldin. The Bills will likely line up Week 1 with newly acquired Jordan Matthews, an ok no.3 receiver but not a no.1, and rookie Zay Jones as their starters. Newly signed Corey Brown, Andrew Holme and Rod Streater will all compete for snaps with Brown slated to start in the slot. The Bills have an extremely athletic pass-catching tight end in Charles Clay, however, in his first two years in Buffalo he failed to eclipse either 60 catches, 600 yards or more than 4 TDs. After Clay, the tight end position makes difficult viewing with Nick O’Leary (9 receptions in 7 starts last season and only 1 catch in ’15) as Clay’s backup. O’Leary will not help Taylor’s production but he is an excellent run blocking tight end – clearly fans should not be expecting to see sexy football in Buffalo this season.
LeSean McCoy is the most elusive running back in the NFL. He posses the ability to stop on a dime, cut and make defenders miss. McCoy is also a great receiving back and could end up leading this team in rushing yards and receiving yards. Buffalo signed TWO FULL BACKS this off-season, however, Mike Tolbert will supposedly convert to HB and I presume become a short-yardage specialist. Patrick DiMarco was excellent in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in Atlanta and will likely be an excellent run blocker and help create lanes for Shady McCoy.
The Buffalo Bills’ offensive line fly’s under the radar as it consists of a group of solid starters with minimal name value. The likely starting 5 will be: Cordy Glenn at LT, Richie Incognito at LG, Eric Wood at C, John Miller at RG and Jordan Mills at RT. Glenn has been a solid LT for a number of years and forms a solid partnership on the left-side with Incognito. Both are great pass blockers and tough, gritty run blockers who help open up holes for McCoy. Center Eric Woods only played in 9 games due to injury last season but he’s a solid center who like the rest of this line is a great run blocker. Right guard John Miller played well in his 2nd year and was excellent in moving defenders off the ball and opening up holes for a team that led the NFL in rushing yards. Jordan Mills was the weak point of the line last year and will likely battle it out with rookie 2nd round pick Dion Dawkins. Dawkins is the ideal right tackle for Buffalo as he’s a big physical tackle who looks to pound defensive ends in the run game while going toe-to-toe with bull rushes in pass protection.
The Buffalo Bills will operate out of a 4-3 front under first year defensive co-ordinator Leslie Frazier. The switch from Rex Ryan’s previous 3-4 alignment will be overseen by former Panthers DC and new Bills HC Sean McDermott. Defensive end Jerry Hughes is a great pass-rusher, notching up 31 sacks in his pass four years in Buffalo. He struggles to anchor against the run but on first down and in obvious passing situations he can wreak havoc on opposing tackles. 2016, 19th overall pick Shaw Lawson looked like a baller coming out of Clemson but shoulder surgery in May meant he only saw limited snaps in 2016. Despite seeing very limited playing time, Lawson managed two sacks in his rookie year and should look to make a strong showing as a pass rusher this season. 34-year old Kyle Williams and 27-year old Marcell Dareus are a dynamic interior duo as both excel in stuffing the run and allowing Buffalo’s pass rushers to get home. Adolphus Washington (3rd round pick in 2016) will look to get more snaps as he features more heavily in the rotation with the aging Williams.
At linebacker the Bills have pass rusher Lorenzo Alexander who had 12.5 sacks in ’16 and was also solid against the run. He will likely start on the strong-side as SAM while newly signed ultra-athletic Gerald Hodges should fly over the field as WILL. This should leave Preston Brown and last years 2nd round pick Reggie Ragland to battle it out for the MLB spot. Special-teamer Ramon Humber could also feature heavily in rotation.
Secondary could be a big problem for Buffalo with the departure of starting CBs Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore this past offseason. The Bills will likely start rookie Tre’Davious White (27th overall pick – read our scouting report here!) and recently acquired EJ Gaines. White is a firey competitor but at 5 ft 11 and with Gaines at 5 ft 10, the Bills could be the victim of opposing teams playing jump ball over the smaller corners. Leonard Johnson will likely start at nickel and is also 5 ft 10. CB Kevon Seymour (6ft – 2016 6th round pick) could challenge White for starting time if the rookie struggles. Newly signed Shareece Wright will also be in the hunt for the starting gig. Ex-Packers strong safety Micah Hyde is a thumper in run defense and is a good addition for this Buffalo defense. Jordan Poyer who has the struggled the past few seasons will likely play free safety despite being effective in the box last season. Buffalo is thin on talent in the back-end, particularly at safety – something which the team will hope doesn’t develop into an Achilles heel.
Players To Watch
Shaq Lawson – Lawson looked like a flat-out baller coming out of Clemson. Lawson should excel in Buffalo’s new 4-3 and has the potential to bounce back with double digit sack campaign.
Zay Jones – Buffalo’s second round pick this season should look to establish himself as a promising young receiver. He put up video game numbers during his four years at East Carolina (he had 158 CATCHES LAST SEASON?!) and needs to prove that he can be productive in the NFL. The Bills need to asses whether he is suited to playing inside or if he can develop as a No.2 WR.
Tre’Davious White – The phrase high floor, low-ceiling was routinely used to describe the LSU CB in the draft process. The Bills will hope White can develop quickly as a rookie and lock down the left side for a long-time.
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