A poor man’s look at the state of the Bills roster

With the NFL Draft less than a week I thought I would take a look at the Bills position by position and try to sum up where they are and hopefully how that will impact them in 2011.  With the current labor situation it is unknown as to what level free agency will play in addressing these needs which would typically help more in the short-term than developing a younger player.  Looking at this current state of the Bills I don’t think they are as far away as some from being a legitimate playoff team, however competing for a Super Bowl there are lacking the game changing talents.  Here is a look at the state of the Bills roster:

Offense

Quarterback

 Most Bills fans were happy with the Ryan Fitzpatrick experiment  and after the first two games for Trent Edwards it was imperative the team needed to head a different direction.  Fitzpatrick played for most of the remaining 14 games on the schedule after Edwards’ release and threw for 3,000 yards, 23 TD and 15 INT.  Over the course of a full season those numbers would have been roughly 3,400 yards, 26TDs and 16 INTs.  Fitzpatrick was also just 14 yards away from being the second leading rusher on the team with 269 yards.  The Bills had the 24th ranked passing attack in terms of passing yards.

With everything that went right about this experiment and solidifying the position to at least a capable level, many fans and analysts wonder if Fitzpatrick can be a quarterback who elevates his team to a playoff caliber team.  I’m off the belief that he is capable of helping lead the Bills to the playoffs, but not capable of propelling them to a championship unless the rest of the talent on the team is upgraded tremendously.  He completed only 58% of his passes and made some timely poor decisions that exhibit his limited physical talents, but over the long haul Fitzpatrick is a guy you want on your team and can hopefully serve as the starter for the next year or two and then is willing to relinquish the role to a younger guy and stay on as a backup for almost as long as he is willing. 

Brian Brohm is a restricted free agent this year and Levi Brown is still under contract.  The Bills could look to bring in someone to remove Brohm and hopefully upgrade the backup position.  If they draft a young quarterback then that will potentially fill that spot as well.

That being said the Bills are going to address this position at some point through the draft albeit this year or next, but if Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert are available the Bills will have a lot of gut checking to do in determining whether either is a franchise quarterback.  My gut says Newton is gone and that the Bills pass on Gabbert to improve the defense.  Depending who’s available early in round 2 they could address this, but I think the Bills live with Fitz 1 more season before properly addressing the position.  If Newton is available it becomes a 50/50 proposition in my opinion. 

Running Back

 The Bills ranked 18th in rushing last year and after finally trading Marshawn Lynch, the Bills gave the overwhelming percentage of carries to Fred Jackson (61%) for 927 yards.  He added 31 catches out of the backfield for 215 yards and combined for 7TDs.  CJ Spiller was never fully incorporated into the offense averaging 3.8 yards/rush and adding 24 catches.  The labor situation hurts players like Spiller who would have had an opportunity to get into their first full offseason working with coaches on the playbook and technique.  I expect Spiller to be a much better contributor to the team in 2012 with Fred Jackson still carrying the bulk of the work. The depth chart also lists Quinton Ganther and Jehuu Caulcrick where the Bills could look to add another runner in the late rounds or undrafted FA if the current labor situations clears up how those will be handled.

Wide Reciever

 The 2010 receiving core was one of the brightest spots for the Bills with the emergence of Stevie Johnson and play of undrafted free agents David Nelson, Donald Jones and Naaman Roosevelt.  Additionally, Roscoe Parrish before his injury provided the Bills with a slot presence and emerged into a role that both he and fans were hoping.  Lee Evans had a statistically down year and injuries sidelined him to end the year, but with him and Stevie Johnson the Bills appear to have a legitimate 1-2 punch at the position.  With the addition of Nelson, Parrish and others the Bills depth at this position appears strong for the future and should not be a point of emphasis , although as last year’s CJ Spiller pick demonstrated anything is possible. Roscoe Parrish and Stevie Johnson both have contracts that are expiring in 2012 and you would have to imagine that with emergence of Donald Jones the Bills may let Parrish walk while working out a deal to sign Johnson.

Tight End – The current depth chart the Bills have listed is David Martin, Jonathan Stupar, Scott Chandler and Mike Caussin.  The Bills have lacked a pass catching tight end this century and in a league filled with players at this position asked to do virtually everything the Bills will be well served to finally nail a pick for this position after several have not panned out.  The position combined for 23 caught balls in 2010 and 187 yards.  For perspective the Patriots two-head monster of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski combined for 87 catches and over 1100 yards. This is a position of need for the Bills any way you slice it. 

Many mock drafts having the Bills selecting Lance Kendricks in the 3rd round out of Wisconsin, but many Bills fans would like to see them select Kyle Rudolph out of Notre Dame if he’s still available in round 2.

Offensive Line

 Demetrius Bell made significant strides at LT for the Bills in 2010 and will hopefully continue his progress in 2011 along with the continued development of interior linemen Andy Levitre and Eric Wood.  Many people believe that Wood will slide to his more natural position of center and  mid-season addition Kraig Urbik could provide the Bills with an interior line that would be young and have several seasons under their belt.  The improved play of this unit could ultimately determine the Bills success in 2011 with improved run blocking and providing Ryan Fitzpatrick with the appropriate time to attack teams downfield.   At RT right now it would appear that Mansfield Wrotto would be slotted to start, but If the Bills choose to address this position in round 2 they would hopefully get someone who could step in and compete for that spot. 

The Bills appear to have a solid group coming together on the line, but no true dominant player at any of the positions.  The starting five appears to be somewhat set, especially given the current labor situation.  The Bills need depth across the line given the slate of injuries that 2010 brought and if possible could be well served to address any potential upgrades at any position, most notably along the right side.

Defense

Defensive line

Kyle Williams is fresh off his Pro Bowl appearance and was arguably the Bills best player.  Many questioned his ability to play in the middle of the 3-4 and he answered most of those questions.  Williams had 5.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss while finishing fifth on the team with 77 tackles. Dwan Edwards was a solid contributor at the end spot and should be the opening day starter again for the Bills.  With the release of Marcus Stroud the Bills appear to be going in a different direction with either second year man Alex Carrington or possibly Spencer Johnson.  Additionally, second year NT Torell Troup will be looking for even more time this year and with the Bills employing multiple fronts.  All of these players should see significant playing time.

Many analysts look at the Bills defensive line as their biggest priority.  Having allowed the most yards in the league hardly nullifies this opinion, but it is hard for me to believe that Buddy Nix and company are going to take a defensive line player just for the sake of it.  The team drafted one in each the second and third round in 2010.  If they see a player they truly believe is a game changer they are going to take that person regardless of position. 

Line Backer

If, and they say they will, the Bills continue to use a 3-4 front they need to get substantially more production from the line backing group.  Consisting mostly of some combination of Paul Pozluszny, Reggie Torbor, Andra Davis, Keith Ellison, Akin Ayodele and Chris Kelsay along with late season bloomer Arthur ‘don’t cross the’ Moats the unit as a whole lacked any big play potential.  Ayodele and Ellison are likely to leave or added back for depth.  Many believe that Pozluszny coming back is more of a formality and given the state of the group it would be important to bring him back.  Pozluszny is not the game changing Ray Lewis/Patrick Willis type middle linebacker but he’s a responsible player that at this point the unit needs desparately.

The in season trade of Shawne Merriman remains the extreme variable for this team.  At his height, Merriman was one of the most feared and punishing players in the NFL and at only 26 years old the Bills hope that he can heal from several seasons of injuries and regain even a high fraction of his old self.  The contract extension to Chris Kelsay still remains to be seen how it plays out, but last season in the 3-4 Kelsay appeared lost in coverage assignments or incapable of executing them.  The contract extension and re-signing Merriman tied up a decent amount of money to the outside players and along with Moats it would appear that the Bills have limited options to upgrade unless they do it with the third pick. 

At this point many of the draft analyst (both professional and amateur) believe the Bills will take Von Miller out of Texas A&M as an attempt to upgrade their edge pass rush.  Miller played in the Senior Bowl with Chan Gailey and was a consensus winner out of the week he spent there.  In addition, unlike many of the top draft prospects (Newton, Fairly, Bowers, etc) Miller was able to put together 17 and 11 sack seasons playing in the Big 12.  People constantly point to his explosiveness off the edge which should allow the Bills to generate some pass rush while most still point to his ability to drop into coverage as an additional strength.  The main concern for Bills fans appears to be the size he possesses at 6’3” 243lbs which he should be able to add onto.  In my honest opinion the Bills draft choice at #3 comes down to Dareus, Newton or Miller for the Bills.  Unfortunately (or fortunately) for the Bills the two teams in front of them may have made up their mind for them.

As much time as was spent on the outside linebacker position the Bills will most likely utilize the Pozluszny and Davis combination heading into the 2011 season, but will probably take a 2nd to 5th round pick on another linebacker that can hopefully play in the middle of that group.  If the Bills can find and use outside playmakers in their 3-4 front than players like Pozluszny should flourish.

Secondary

 It appears, but is not final that Donte Whitner will most likely not be back with the Buffalo Bills in 2011.  The Bills re-signed George Wilson to a 3-year extension that along with Jairus Byrd should solidify the Bills starting safeties. Bryan Scott provides depth at the SS position, but the Bills will most likely need to add someone through free agency to help back up Byrd although If needed Wilson can play both positions.  The Bills only had 11 INTs four came from safeties, five from corners and two from linebackers.   If the Bills are to improve on defense in 2011 they need to generate more turnovers in the passing game.  Some of this can be attributed to the lack of pass rush (27 total sacks) and last ranked run defense that put additional pressure on the secondary in certain situations, however as a unit they need to improve on that total regardless of what happens in front of them. 

Corner should be an interesting position to watch for the Bills this offseason in the draft and into the season.  Drayton Florence provided the Bills with an up and down campaign with 3 INTs including one returned for a touchdown.  However, his and Leodis McKelvin’s inability to consistently match up with opposing wide receivers cost the Bills.  Much like the Bills offensive line where there are some respectable pieces this group lacks a star quality player despite having two first round picks (Terrence McGee and McKelvin) that can shut down opposing teams top threat and make game changing plays on a routine basis.  I mentioned above that I felt like the Bills are in a three-man race for their third pick, however not knowing how they actually evaluate the talent the wild card in this case is Patrick Peterson.  Many believe he is the single greatest talent in this draft and that it is team needs at the top that is driving down his draft position.  Peterson only had seven career INTs at LSU but most of this is attributed to the fact that opposing teams refused to throw the ball his way and at 6’2” and 219lbs he is a big, big corner that still ran a 4.34- 40 .  He’s a talent that may be too tough to pass on, especially If the players the Bills really wanted go 1-2.

Summation:  The Bills have a lot of high quality role players, but in many of the key positions lack that big play talent that can change the course of the game on any snap.  The Bills need to nail the 3rd pick and find a game changing talent regardless of the position.  If, IF the Bills stay at the third selection I think they will take one of four plays mentioned before, but there is a growing hope among fans that the Bills may be able to move down between 5-11 in the draft and still potentially obtain one of these types of talents as well as build depth across this year’s draft.  The biggest problem with trading down this year is the inability to include players so teams trying to make a big jump to #3 may need to forfeit future draft picks which may not be the worst thing for the Bills to still get a very good player in the top ten as well as an additional 1st round pick in 2012.

I will follow up with several scenarios I think could play out for the Bills to include two options that I’m most hoping for.

Follow me on Twitter: @brianbund

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