Disclaimer: First I took a look at the offensive side of the ball and now I’m ranking the order of importance to the Bills’ defense in order to make them a very good or great defense, not necessarily who the best player is. On that note, let the debate begin.
3. Kyle Williams: On a defense that ranked last against the run and 23rd overall Kyle Williams was by far and away the most consistent and best player on the field for the Bills. Williams was fifth on the team and tackles and sadly led the team with 5.5 sacks. For an interior defensive linemen that is more credit to Williams. Pro Football focus named Kyle Williamsthe defensive player of the year in 2010 and Williams continued play and development is going to be crucial for the Bills in 2011.
Not to minimize his importance for the team, but for the Bills to drastically improve on defense it needs to come from other sources not named Kyle Williams. Williams’ effort and consistency should be a given and he will provide stability in the middle of the defense. Williams needs to get more help from the rest of his front seven counterparts if the Bills intend to compete in a loaded AFC East.
2. Marcell Dareus: The difference between 1 and 2 is so minute for me, but to maintain the integrity of the list I went with Dareus only because of his youth and inexperience that their reliance on him will be slightly less. I have Dareus rated above Williams because the need to have him improve the league’s worst ranked rush defense cannot be overstated. Dareus lined up next to Williams will hopefully force opponents to commit at least three blockers to the tandem and free up space for the linebackers. His ability to control the point of attack and penetrate gaps are essential for this team’s success.
Dareus’ versatility to play multiple positions along the defensive line when the Bills play a three or four-man front will go a long way in improving the defense. If Dareus is able to take some of the focus off of Kyle Williams and force teams to be honest in their gap assignments then the defensive line will go from a point of weakness on this team to possibly one of its strengths. You hate to place so much importance on a rookie, especially in a lockout shortened off-season, but Dareus was a top 3 selection for the purpose of coming in immediately and making an impact. How big that impact is and its importance cannot be underestimated.
1. Shawne Merriman: The only thing worse than putting so much importance on a rookie is displacing it to an oft-injured former superstar, right? The Bills were tied for the fourth fewest sacks in the league in 2010 and were led by the aforementioned Kyle Williams (5.5 sacks). In a 3-4 defense the interior linemen should not have that distinction. Merriman has 43.5 career sacks in 60 games and posted double digit sack totals in 2005-2007 with a career high 17 sacks in 2006. Injuries have crippled his production in most of the past three seasons and his ability to rehab from the injury sustained on his first practice day as a Buffalo Bill is the most important development for the Buffalo Bills. Even if Arthur Moats continues his progression as a playmaker on the outside, there is no denying that a great defense needs multiple playermakers.
Merriman has the potential to resurrect his career at only 27 years old and entering what is normally considered your prime playing years he should be motivated to capitalize on these two years in Buffalo for a lucrative final contract. A lack of a consistent pass rush has hurt the Bills for the better part of the last decade and improving upon that should have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Buffalo Bills defense.
So, who is the most important component of the Bills defense? Williams, Dareus or Merriman? Or someone else? For the Bills to be successful, they really need all three of these positions to consistently produce in 2011.