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Three most important players on the Buffalo Bills defense in 2011

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.

Twitter: @brianbund

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Three most important Buffalo Bills offensive players

The Buffalo Bills showed a lot of promise on offense last year and because of that progression the team was able to focus their efforts on defense in the 2011 draft.  Still, the Bills ranked 25th in total offense and 28th in points per game (17.7).  The continued evolution of the Bills’ offense under Chan Gailey is going to be one of the more important and fun questions to watch develop this season.  Let’s take a look at the three most important pieces to that progress:

 

3. I’m going a different direction to start here by not singling out one player, but instead, a position.  Whoever ends up being the starting right tackle for the Buffalo Bills this year is going to have a huge part in their success.  When I look around the entire offense there really aren’t that many positions that leave you completely worried.  The skill positions are actually very strong and even though Fitzpatrick’s performance is a big part of the equation, we basically saw last season what the team should expect to get out of him.  The right tackle position is a total question mark amongst an offensive line that I’m becoming more and more comfortable with.

Would you like to see a stronger Demetrius Bell or upgrade at that position? Absolutely.  Would you like the right guard position solidified moving into the season?  Who wouldn’t? The point is that Bell showed some significant signs of progress in 2010 and with increased weight training should make another leap in the 2011 season. The Bills need to try and solidify the right tackle position in a big way from both a passing and ground attack position. As Bell continues to improve teams will study tape and develop games plans to attack the right side.  If Chris Hairston or Erik Pears or Mansfield Wrotto can become at least an adequate right tackle the Bills will have a relatively balanced offensive lineup. 

A balanced lineup doesn’t mean they are explosive or that there is not room for potential upgrades.  What it does mean is if you can minimize your glaring weaknesses that it makes it more difficult for opposing teams to game plan.  That in turn should allow Ryan Fitzpatrick to have more versatility when handling the offense and thus improve his play. If the Bills can have this offensive line group improve on last year’s performance and continue to grow, it will play a huge role in this team’s success in 2011.

 

2. The same case as above could be made for Eric Wood.  As Buffalo Rumbling’s points out that the offensive line’s identity starts and ends with the center.  Wood has dealt with some injury issues since entering the league in 2009.  Last season, Wood made the switch to his more natural center position and it is widely assumed he’ll have those duties for the entire 2011 season.  In a division of 3-4 defenses the center position plays an integral part to an offense’s success.  Facing opponents like Vince Wilfork, it is primarily the center’s obligation to try and handle that match-up.  If the center is unable to win that battle and a guard is called upon to double team the nose tackle it plays immediately into the defensive coordinator’s hands.

Wood had his struggles during the 2010 season against Jacksonville and Baltimore, but also excelled at times in those games and throughout the season.  A full offseason and film study at the center position should allow Wood to continue to improve and at just 25 definitely still has room to grow.  Whether or not Wood can progress into a stud center remains to be seen, but his development at the position over the next 3-4 years is going to be crucial for the Bills development and that starts in 2011.

1. The most popular answer to this question is going to be Ryan Fitzpatrick.  After a 3,000 yard, 23 TD season in 14 starts fans are eager to see how Fitzpatrick handles the play calling responsibilities for a full year.  Fitzpatrick’s play was a catalyst for the team’s improved play in the second half of the season and will remain the driving force behind their offensive success in 2011.

 

The NFL is a quarterback’s league and having quality play come from the game’s most important position is one of the main driving forces for success.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is and will continue to remain the most important offensive player for the Bills in the 2011 season.  Can he improve upon his 58% completion percentage?  Can he minimize the untimely interception (See Baltimore game)? Can he continue to spread the ball around effectively and utilize all the weapons the Bills have?  If Fitzpatrick is able to do these things throughout the entire 2011 season the Bills are going to be in a much better position to succeed.  Ryan Fitzpatrick’s success will dictate the level of success the Bills have as a whole.

 

Who do you think the most important player on the Bills offense?

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GM for a day

What I would do if I were Buddy Nix once free agency/CBA opens up:

1.  I would re-sign Paul Pozluczny.  The Bills made selection of Kelvin Sheppard to build depth at the position, not be the cornerstone.  Pairing Sheppard and Pozlucny together you get two smart, instinctive players who may not possess elite athleticism, but will more often than not make the right play.  Losing Pozluczny would put adding pressure on Sheppard while hurting some of the progress that the entire defense made through the draft.  Merriman-Pozluczny-Sheppard-Kelsay/Coleman/Batten/Moats could be a substantial improvement over 2010.

2a. Find a backup for Ryan Fitzpatrick.  There are a lot of viable options in this year’s free agent class that would be suitable.  Tyler Thigpen, Tarvaris Jackson, Drew Stanton and others would be serviceable and have seen time in the NFL but do not jeopardize Fitzpatrick’s position on the team.  Some of the available players will be determined based on whether or not the league reverts back to 2010 rules or not, but the Bills should be able to get a viable option.

2b. I would re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick now.  I think the Bills will do this because they don’t want to have Fitzpatrick build off last year’s performance and possibly dictate more on the free market.  I would try to get him a slightly lower amount this year for a three year extension and address the quarterback position in next year’s draft.  There will be a rookie wage scale for next year’s draft class which should minimize the financial impact of drafting a quarterback highly meaning a little more money can be invested in Fitzpatrick.  Three year extension would allow him to start in 2012 and bench the rookie and then possibly in 2013 or 2014 would be open quarterback competition and you would still have Fitzpatrick as a backup.  In a perfect world this would create an Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees situation that would allow the Bills to sit their young quarterback one if not two years.

3.  Re-sign Drayton Florence and cut Terrance McGee.  This is easier said than done because you already have one signed to decent money and the other is going to look for the best available contract, however McGee’s inability to stay on the field is detrimental to the secondary and with the focus on the secondary in the draft the Bills are trying to reposition their depth chart there anyways.  Florence made several of the bigger plays by the second in 2010 and had his struggles.  If you can’t re-sign Florence keeping McGee and/or signing another free agent may be the force play to maintain the secondary.

4.   Look to upgrade the tight end position. The Bills passed on several opportunities to upgrade the position through the draft however there is a respectable pool of free agents at the position that include Zach Miller (Raiders), Kevin Boss (NYG), Matt Spaeth (Steelers) and others, including Robert Royal (kidding….seriously I’m kidding). None of these are you elite pass catching tight ends (save possibly Zach Miller) but should fit in with the Bills plan of dual purpose tight ends that should not break the bank.  I wouldn’t expect the Bills to be a huge player in the free agency market at all so upgrading this position would be a place they could be a player.

5.  As obvious as it  sounds, part ways with Donte Whitner one way or another.  I have a hard time knocking Whitner as much as some people because he is a pretty good safety, however like many people on the Bills roster he’s good, not great.  The problem is he thinks he is great.  The Bills drafted Da’Norris Searcy and have George Wilson that can play the strong safety position and both could spell at free safety if need be. I’m not sure how they’ll manage to do it, but I think the Bills would easily take some form of draft pick to part ways with Whitner should he return to the Bills with the league reverting back to the 2010 rules.

6.  Consider extending Stevie Johnson’s contract.  The Bills have several talented young wide receivers and Stevie Johnson led them all in 2010.  Re-signing him after one breakout season though possesses some risk, but letting his contract expire after a second breakout season is even riskier in my opinion.  By no means should the Bills overpay Johnson, but it is at least something I would consider.

7.  Definitely extend Kyle Williams contract.  The Bills are building a young front seven and need someone like Williams to lead the group.  He is your typical lunch-pail toting professional that can help teach young pros how to be pros.  His work ethic and play are things that coaches can only preach, but having him there to mentor some of these young players will be imperative to the team’s development.  Oh yeah, he’s pretty good too.

Obviously this is a pretty boring offseason plan for the Bills, but they have stated over and over again about building through the draft so I wouldn’t expect them to be in the market for a big name player in any position.  Even as I said I would be a player at potentially upgrading the tight end position the team is going to operate out of a lot of spread formations allowing Fitzpatrick the freedom to make his own reads.  Because of that, I don’t have my heart set on them doing much there, however looking at the roster it is one of the few real holes that I think a starter could be brought into.  I  believe that the Bills think they have their starting offensive line and front seven already on the roster and may add depth, but not much else.  There are a few holes in the secondary at cornerback, but they also have several ways to go about addressing those holes.

I do hope that they Bills clean up some of the key personal players who are entering into contract years earlier as opposed to later since there are only a handful to address.  I would honestly be shocked if they don’t extend Fitzpatrick by at least two years and think he’d be smart to ask for that third year.

I do think this team is at the point where they are a player or two away from really competing for playoff spots although the division presents a big problem, but if Dareus can couple with a hopefully emerging Moats to be playmakers on defense and Stevie Johnson & company can provide playmaking ability on offense I think this team is closer than some think, but still not quite there yet. Nonetheless, I am excited about the trip to get there.

Twitter: @brianbund

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Delayed reactions to the Bills draft

After taking a day or two to sit back and reflect how the Buffalo Bills approached their 2011 draft one thing has become obvious about Buddy Nix.  He really doesn’t listen to draft gurus who tell them they need to address the quarterback position.  Nix and coach Chan Gailey have both admitted that they need address the game’s most important position, yet also giving their support to Ryan Fitzpatrick.  One thing to consider about the quarterback position is that there is no greater where for a GM and coach to put his job on the line than with drafting a quarterback highly and having it not work out.  So rather than race to find their franchise guy the Bills seem content (as am I) riding at least this season out with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their quarterback.  This is a contract year for Fitzpatrick, but I’d be shocked at this point if they try to get him an extension for two to three years once they have the authority to do so.

I’m not a fan of handing out grades because we know nothing about how they actually perform.  One grade I will give Buddy Nix and company is an A+++ for effort.  They stuck to their draft board and picked players of huge need (i.e. Defense…see Joe @ Buffalo Wins)

As for the players the Bills selected the common theme was defense which when assessing last years team seemed to have the more immediate and gapping holes.  The Bills also continued their theme of trying to find players who are more suited for the 3-4 front which demonstrated their commitment to that switch and although they will use multiple defensive fronts I would look for more of those to be in the base 3-4.  Picking up Marcell Dareus and Kelvin Sheppard the Bills picked up big, physical players who many consider to have the ability to contribute early in their careers.  Both picks also filled a need for the Bills at the 5-technique as well as ILB.  In the second round, the Bills addressed a more under the radar need in the secondary.  Reviewing all the picks:

Marcell Dareus, DT/DE Alabama – Should at the very least be able to help the defensive front rotation.  With the Bills using both a 3-4 and 4-3 front Dareus should play DE in the 3-4 and be able to slide inside when they mix in the 4-3 front.  Nothing about this pick is ‘sexy’.  He was not a sack machine, but he is a strong, nasty defender that will occupy his blocker and maybe another which is really what you want from your 3-4 end.  He possesses good agility for his size and should still be disruptive in the passing game.  This pick made so much sense for the Bills on a variety of levels.

Aaron Williams, DB Texas – When looking at the Bills needs in this draft, DB was under the radar.  With the continued injuries to Terrence McGee and uncertain return of Drayton Florence, the Bills took a first round talent at the top of round 2.  He’s a big corner over 200lbs and should have no problem helping support the run game.  Depending what the Bills do with free agency when it opens up, Williams should at a minimum compete to be the teams nickel back.

Kelvin Sheppard, ILB LSU – Most of the people I have spoken with love this pick.  Gailey coached Sheppard at the Senior Bowl and loved the ‘intangibles’ of the kid.  A subpar pro day workout hurt his potential draft stock, however I am happy that Nix and Gailey referred to what they saw in Mobile and game tape rather than rely specifically in his measurables.  Again, depending what the Bills do in free agency there is little reason to doubt that Sheppard will be given every opportunity to start at ILB in 3-4 situations.  He’s not a Ray Lewis/Patrick Willis freak on the field, but is a smart defender and fills a huge need for the Bills. 

Da’Norris Searcy, DB UNC – First little, and only head stretcher for me.  There were several highly rated TE on the board and potentially some help along the offensive line.  However, what I think doesn’t matter and the Bills secondary was hardly set in stone.  It is expected that Searcy will make a move to strong safety at some point and will have opportunity to compete in nickel and dime situations.  He is another 200lb plus defensive back that continued the trend of the Bills getting big and physical on defense.

Chris Hairston, OT Clemson – 6’6” 328lbs. He’s a big strong man that finished second at the combine in bench press (33) and first among offensive tackles.  The Bills are going to continue this year with Demetrius Bell on the left side and it should be an open competition on the right side.  Many would have liked to see the Bills address this earlier, but I believe Green Bay selecting Sheard out of Mississippi State at least somewhat toppled that plan. I have long contended that this group is more serviceable than some would suggest.  I think being the third year that some of them play together should allow them to gel.  I think the Bills again could address the right side in free agency, however if they do not this along with quarterback I imagine will be the first two picks in 2012.

Johnny White, RB UNC – The south has risen once again.  White was considered an underrated back by Todd McShay and has played multiple positions in college.  He will be an immediate special teams contributor and should compete for the Bills third RB.

Chris White, LB Mississippi St. – Another senior bowl linkage for Gailey. He should provide some depth at the position and contribute on special teams.  He’s again a big physical defender that allowed Nix to stack positions and try to build some depth.

Justin Rogers, DB Richmond – I really don’t know anything, but a late round smaller school player will probably need to be ‘coached up’.  Bills secondary is depleted so there will be an opportunity for him to make the team barring what the team does in free agency.

Michael Jasper, DT Bethel – He’s big and chuncky like Moto Moto from Madagascar 2 (yeah I have a two year old).  Honestly, he’s a very large man that Nix and Gailey will really have to work and will probably not see much time at all this season.

I love what the team did in the draft, but it’s going to take at least one more for them to stack depth at positions and carry that depth.  I’m not as concerned they didn’t address the quarterback position although I would expect Ryan Fitzpatrick to be re-signed very soon once the team is permitted to do so. At the very least, the team appeared to get better this past weekend.  They’ve officially got me excited to see some of these young guys.  Even amidst a lockout….damn you NFL!

Twitter: @brianbund

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The Bills are still in the same position

After the Buffalo Bills took Marcell Dareus with the third overall pick in the NFL draft, they sat back patiently and let the rest of the first round unfold.  Now the Bills sit with the second pick in the second round coming up tonight.  The first pick of the round belongs to the New England Patriots and lets be serious, there is probably no way they are making the pick.  They will look to shop this pick and move back hopefully only a few spots and get one of their top players on their board.

This leaves the Bills with a chance to get one of their top two remaining players depending who that first pick is.  Much like the third pick the Bills are going to have to decide whether or not one of the remaining quarterbacks (Dalton, Mallett or Kaepernick) are the right person to lead this franchise or whether they should address other needs (Kyle Rudolph, Akeem Ayers, etc).  I personally believe the Packers selecting Derek Sherrod out of Mississippi State took one of the players that the Bills would have been forced to strongly consider off the board. 

Buddy Nix and company are in a great position to once again get a player they feel should help this team for the next decade.  Assuming that someone trades with the Patriots for a quarterback then the Bills are in a similar position to the third overall pick in that their choice may off the board and they will need to decide whether a secondary quarterback is the best fit or fill other needs.  Based on what I’ve come to understand of Buddy Nix he’s not going to force the decision for the quarterback.  If they want Mallett, Dalton or Kaepernick he will take them without reservation, but he also will not be afraid to go another direction.

I’m almost more excited for this pick compared to the first because of the uncertainty.  I’m sure Adam Schefter and all other beat writers will ruin the suspense at some point today, but I like where the Bills are at.  I really do.

@brianbund

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Patience Bills fans

I keep hearing Bills fans scream that the quarterback is the most critical component of a successful team and I could not agree more.  However, for the time being there are two thoughts I have on QBs and the Bills.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is good enough to get this team to a winning record and playoff contention.  Two that this team does need to upgrade the QB position to compete for a Super Bowl or have the ability to win games when they don’t play their best.

All of that being said, I don’t think it is critical for this team to select a QB this year for the sake of saying they have addressed the position.  I would personally be just as happy if not more so for following the New York Jets model several years when they took Fergurson and Nick Mangold, then the following year made a point to trade up for Mark Sanchez.  I would like to see the Bills address defense with the first pick and a player that can help them be more competitive this year with their second.  Then in 2012 chances are they’ll still have a top 15 pick and could move up into the top 10 for a quarterback.  Is this perfect?  Nothing is in the draft and if they end up taking a quarterback, I’m ok with that too.  But I hope I really don’t hear too much about how they had to address the quarterback position, because there are more than enough needs to be addressed over the next couple seasons. 

Regardless of how the next several hours and days pan out.  Let’s remember that this team has multiple holes and that one draft isn’t going to fix it all.  It’s going to come down to string several good drafts together and hopefully last years’ continues its development and can be supplemented by this group, regardless of positions.

Twitter: @brianbund

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Dear Buffalo Bills draft selection: Prove it

I have two two-word sentences to whoever the Buffalo Bills select tonight.  ‘Good luck. Prove it’.  Other than that I don’t care who it is they select, what position he plays (unless it’s a running back) and whether he is a one-year wonder or college production machine.  The truth of the matter is that there are probably 5-15 players you could argue that the Bills could end up with that many fans would be happy with and would on paper help this team.  None of that matters unless that player actually ends up helping the team and based on recent first round experiences I will reserve the majority of my judgment until it is time to see them on the football field. 

Here’s a list of players that depending whether or not the Bills trade out of the third spot they could end up with any of the likes of Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, Blaine Gabbert, Patrick Peterson, AJ Green,Nick Fairley, JJ Watt, Cameron Jordan and on and on.  There’s arguments that Buddy Nix will not take a player who could be classified as a one-year wonder (Fairley or Newton) and will look for a player who had multiple seasons of production (Green, Peterson, Miller).  Looking at the last two drafts you can see an example of each.  In 2009 the Bills selected Aaron Maybin who was riding the production of 1 year and possessing an edge speed rush that had Bills fans salivating.  Now he can’t even get on the field and hasn’t registered one sack or made any significant contribution to the team.  In 2010, the Buffalo Bills selected what could be argued as the antithesis of Maybin in CJ Spiller.  Although it was seen as a luxury pick that the Bills could not waste CJ Spiller was one of the most productive college football players in history with 4,324 career total yards.  He was seen as explosive and dynamic and would open up the Bills playbook with his versatility.  After one season, it is my opinion that it is impossible to truly judge Spiller’s affect however it is easy to say that he did not necessarily burst onto the NFL scene.

The point here is that whenever the Buffalo Bills make the selection on Thursday night, it will be praised and ridiculed from people all over the country when in fact none of it even matters until he produces (or doesn’t) on the field.  Tim Graham of ESPN.com had an article where Buddy Nix that goes onto to show how important parts of the process are AFTER the draft into the development of a player.  I truly am of the belief that the Bills are not as far as some may be from being a playoff team, however as successful as they have been in rounds after the first, the first round and especially top 10 picks present an opportunity to obtain impact players.  The Bills need to make sure they get someone that can produce on the field for the next decade, regardless of position.

For the record, the only player I really don’t want the Bills to pick is Nick Fairley and even that could end up being moot.  I think that the Bills football operations have had a significant overhaul in the culture of how they approach the draft.  Nix is a disciple of John Butler and AJ Smith and Bill Polian who many people praise for their handling of the football departments.  So regardless of who they pick my words to them are, ‘Good luck. Prove it.’

Twitter: @brianbund

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