Jun 162014
 

Quarterback

The Bills drafted EJ Manuel in the first round in 2013, the only team in the league that decided that a quarterback was worth going in the first round in that weak draft class. It was a surprise pick as Geno Smith seemed like the most likely quarterback to be first off the board and it looked like there might not even be a quarterback drafted in the first round, but the Bills fell in love with Manuel’s upside and drafted him at 16 after a trade down.

The Bills’ desperation for a franchise quarterback makes sense. They haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, the longest playoff drought in the NFL, and they are 88-136 since that season. They haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since Jim Kelly left in 1996, last whiffing on JP Losman in the first round in 2004. It’s not that they’ve been particularly awful over that stretch, only twice going 4-12 or worse, but they have been consistently mediocre, winning 6 to 9 games in 11 of the last 14 seasons, including 7 seasons of 6 or 7 wins.

Manuel looked like a reach as a rookie though. Ignore the injuries (several lower body injuries limited him to 706 snaps in 10 games), Manuel really struggled on the field, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst ranked quarterback. He completed 58.8% of his passes for an average of 6.44 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions and even struggled, efficiency wise, as a runner, even though that’s supposed to be an added bonus he offers teams. He rushed for just 186 yards and 2 touchdowns on 35 carries, a pathetic 3.51 YPC.

He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, but so far his career is not off to a great start. If Manuel continues to struggle, backup Thad Lewis, who flashed in Manuel’s absence last season, could become the starter and get more opportunities later this season. The 2010 undrafted free agent out of Duke got his first significant action last season and completed 59.2% of his passes for an average of 6.96 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, and rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (2.17 YPC). He was Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked quarterback out of 42 eligible on 361 snaps. It’s obviously a small sample size for a former undrafted free agent and he wasn’t incredibly impressive, but if Manuel continues to struggle, he might get a shot.

It’s a shame that the Bills couldn’t get strong quarterback play last season because their defense was so good, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 67.58% rate, 6th best in the NFL. However, their offense moved the chains at a 66.27% rate, 28th best in the NFL. They still were 19th in the NFL in rate of moving the chains differential at -1.31%, which was still slightly better than their record. This is a talented team that could sneak into the playoffs if they get good quarterback play, but I’m not confident about that.

Grade: C

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

The Bills obviously made upgrading their supporting cast around EJ Manuel a priority this off-season, drafting Sammy Watkins 4th overall. Clearly they fell in love with the Clemson speedster during the draft process as the Bills traded their 9th overall pick, a 2015 1st round pick, and a 2015 4th round pick to move up to get him. They better hope he becomes the type of player they think he can become and fast, otherwise the Bills could be giving up two top-10 picks for one. For comparison’s sake, the Falcons traded two first round picks in the 20s, a 2nd round pick, and two 4th round picks for Julio Jones. Watkins is going to need to become at least that good for the Bills for this move to make sense in hindsight.

I’m skeptical he can become good enough fast enough, not because of his lack of talent, but because wide receivers usually take a year or so to get adjusted to the NFL. Since 2005, 31 receivers have gone in the 1st round. They’ve averaged 41 catches for 558 yards and 3 touchdowns per season. Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson were top-3 picks and they had 58/780/8 and 48/756/4 respectively as rookies. If Watkins can do that as a rookie, considering the poor quarterback play that the Bills could easily have, it should be considered a success, but even if he does that, I’m skeptical it’ll be enough right away to boost their offense enough for them to make the playoffs.

Watkins could still become their #1 receiver right away. He’ll be replacing Steve Johnson in that role, as Johnson was traded to San Francisco for a 4th round pick for financial reasons. Johnson had 3 good years from 2010-2012, playing all 48 games and posting almost identical 82/1073/10, 76/1004/7, 79/1046/6 lines in those 3 seasons respectively. However, Johnson struggled in his first season in the Bills’ new offensive scheme under Doug Marrone, missing 4 games and catching 52 passes for 597 yards and 3 touchdowns in a run heavy, poorly quarterbacked offense. He averaged about 1.56 yards per route run on 383 routes run, down from 1.95 to 1.83 to 1.90 in 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively and he caught just 54.7% of his targets. He graded out about average on Pro Football Focus in pass catching grade. He was Pro Football Focus’ 54th ranked wide receiver last season, after grading out 40th, 19th, and 22nd in 2010, 2011, and 2012 respectively.

The Bills also traded for Mike Williams this off-season, trading a 6th round pick to Tampa Bay. They’ll be paying him a 1.8 million dollar salary this season. Considering Williams has shown he can be a very solid receiver when he has a fire lit under him, it’s a worthwhile gamble with little downside and potentially high upside. Williams had strong years in 2010 (65/964/11) and 2012 (63/996/9), grading out well above average on Pro Football Focus in each season. However, in 2011, he had just 65 catches for 771 yards and 3 touchdowns, grading out well below average, and reportedly displaying a very poor work ethic. In 2013, he had 22 catches for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns in just 6 games before going down with injury.

After his injury, he reportedly incurred 200K in fines for a variety of activity detrimental to the team, including missing meetings. He has a history of this type of behavior, not just in 2011 and 2013, but dating back to his collegiate days at the Syracuse University, when he was kicked off the team, ironically by head coach Doug Marrone, who is now head coach of the Bills. Williams also has a myriad of minor off the field incidents over the past calendar year, which are concerning when you put everything together. All of that makes up why he was traded to the Bills for a 6th round pick, but this could serve as the wake-up call he needs to continue alternating bad years with strong years. His quarterback play could hold him back though.

Williams and Watkins will work in 3-wide receiver sets with Robert Woods and they could all play a similar amount of snaps. Watkins and Woods can both play in the slot and they’re all similar caliber players at this point in their respective careers. Woods was a 2nd round pick in 2013 and caught 40 passes for 587 yards and 3 touchdowns. He averaged 1.21 yards per route run on 484 routes run and caught 40 of 81 targets, 49.4%. He graded out slightly below average on Pro Football Focus, grading out 79th, but he could be better in his 2nd year in the league.

The Bills also have a pair of recent 3rd round picks in TJ Graham and Marquise Goodwin at wide receiver. Graham, a 2012 3rd round pick, could be on the roster bubble though after struggling in his first 2 years in the league. He was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked wide receiver in 2012 and 6th worst ranked wide receiver in 2013. He played 835 snaps last season so simply having him not play a significant role this season will be helpful. Goodwin, meanwhile, was a 2013 3rd round pick who impressed on 319 snaps as a rookie. He’ll probably slot in as the 4th receiver and could see significant playing time if injuries strike.

The one area the Bills didn’t upgrade on offense this off-season that they should have was tight end. Scott Chandler was retained on a cheap salary. He was actually the Bills’ leading receiver last season, catching 53 passes for 655 yards and 2 touchdowns, catching 53 passes on 79 targets, 67.1%, but he only averaged 1.33 yards per route run on 492 routes run. He was a mediocre blocker as well and graded out below average on Pro Football Focus. Bringing him back on a 2-year, 4.75 million dollar deal wasn’t an issue, but they should have brought in another tight end.

Lee Smith was their #2 tight end last season and he was a solid blocker, playing 437 snaps, but he only ran 88 routes, so when he was on the field, it was pretty obvious that it would be a run. Adding a pass catching tight end would have allowed them to be more successful passing the ball out of two-tight end sets, which would have allowed them to run more two-tight end sets. That would be a valuable addition for a run heavy team and give them added versatility that they didn’t have last season. Smith caught 5 passes for 78 yards last season and has 13 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns in his career. There’s some talent for Manuel to work with in the receiving corps, especially if they get both a strong rookie year from Watkins and a bounce back year from Mike Williams, but expecting both of those things to happen isn’t wise.

Grade: B

Offensive Line

The Bills also added this off-season at right tackle, drafting Cyrus Kouandjio in the 2nd round. He could easily start at right tackle as a rookie at some point, if not week 1. Erik Pears is the incumbent. He’s heading into an age 32 contract year and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 56th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible, holding up in pass protection, but struggling mightily as a run blocker. The veteran also struggled in 2012. Opposite him at right tackle, Cordy Glenn, a 2012 2nd round pick, has developed into one of the better blindside protectors in the game. After a solid rookie year in 2012, when he graded out 33rd at his position, he ranked 13th in 2013. He could be even better, going into his 3rd year in the league, in 2014.

The Bills also made an off-season addition at left guard, which was needed because their play at that position was awful last season, after they lost Andy Levitre to free agency the off-season before. Colin Brown started the first 5 games of last season and was horrendous, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th worst ranked guard despite playing just 400 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out worse. Doug Legursky took over the starting job and was better, but only by default. He was Pro Football Focus’ 63rd ranked guard out of 81 eligible on 780 snaps.

The issue is that the player they brought in to start at that position isn’t much better. In fact, he could be worse. For some reason, the Bills decided to give a 4-year, 13.5 million dollar deal to Chris Williams this off-season, even though he was Pro Football Focus’ 74th ranked guard out of 81 eligible. This isn’t anything new for him. The 14th overall pick by the Bears in 2008 has been a massive bust, struggling at pretty much every position on the offensive line in his career. With the exception of his rookie year, when he played 16 snaps, he’s never graded out above average on Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t a starter in 2012, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 70th ranked guard out of 82 eligible in 2010 and 60th ranked guard out of 78 eligible in 2011. The Bills drafted Cyril Richardson in the 5th round and, if Williams continues to struggle, he could see playing time, though he might not be much of an upgrade as a rookie.

Right guard is better, as Kraig Urbik starts there. The 2009 4th round pick has graded out above average in each of the last 3 seasons with the Bills as a starter, grading out as the 18th, 25th, and 21st ranked guard in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. Eric Wood remains at center, but the 2009 1st round pick has graded out below average in 4 of 5 seasons, including last season when he was Pro Football Focus’ 26th ranked center out of 35 eligible. There’s some talent on this offensive line, but there are also a lot of problems. They’ll need a rookie to step up if they’re going to be even an average offensive line and that seems unlikely at the moment.

Grade: B-

Running Backs

CJ Spiller, the 9th overall pick in 2010, was supposed to have a huge breakout year last year as the feature back in Buffalo’s run heavy offense. He was very impressive in 2012, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd ranked running back, averaging 6.01 yards per carry on 207 carries, rushing for 1244 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also added 43 catches for 459 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, Spiller only played 394 snaps last season for two reasons.

The first reason was injury. He only missed 1 game with injury, but he was limited in others. He had single digit carries in 3 games and showed serious inconsistency, with 5 games in which he had 23 rushing yards or fewer. He averaged 4.62 yards per carry, rushing for 933 yards and 2 touchdowns on 202 carries, but inconsistency was a serious problem. He also only had 33 catches for 185 yards, doing so 145 routes run, a mediocre average of 1.28 yards per route run.

That leads into the second reason why he played so few snaps, which was his struggles on passing downs. He wasn’t awful as a pass catcher, but he was as a pass protector, allowing 1 sack, 3 hits, and 3 hurries on just 21 pass block snaps. As a result, Fred Jackson played the majority of the pass snaps (411 to 171) and the majority of the snaps in general (676 to 394). Jackson isn’t quite as good of a runner, but he still rushed for 890 yards and 9 touchdowns on 206 carries (4.32 YPC) and caught 47 passes for 387 yards and a touchdown.

Spiller could have better health in 2014, which will help him as a rusher and help him play more snaps. He could also bounce back as a pass catcher. The pass protection is the bigger issue though. 300+ touches are his for the taking in this run heavy offense and he could be incredibly efficient, but there’s no guarantee he takes them. There’s obviously incentive for him having a big year, as he heads into his contract year.

The Bills also might need him to do that as Jackson heads into his age 33 season. Jackson has defied father time before, doing so just last year obviously, and it helps that he got a late start to his career, with just 1394 touches in his career. However, he’s still very old for a running back and a year removed from a 2-year stretch in which he missed 10 games and a 2012 season in which he rushed for 3.80 YPC on 115 carries.

The Bills traded a 4th round pick for Bryce Brown to add another running back to the mix. The 2012 7th round pick of the Eagles has flashed in 2 seasons, rushing for 878 yards and 6 touchdowns on 190 carries, an average of 4.62 YPC, while adding 21 catches for 140 yards. He didn’t play a lot of college football for a variety of reasons, which is why he fell to the 7th round, but he was a top high school recruit and clearly has talent. He had an issue with fumbles as a rookie, with 4 fumbles on 128 touches, but he didn’t fumble once on 83 touches last season so those could be behind him. He’s a solid 3rd running back. There’s definitely talent at the running back position, but there are also question marks.

Grade: B+

Defensive Line

I mentioned how well the Bills played last season defensively. Their front 7 play had a lot to do that, but they might not have quite the same level of success this season as they lost defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who did a fantastic job last season in his first year on the job, coming over from the Jets. He ended up getting a head coaching job in Cleveland this off-season. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has had a fair amount of success in his career, but he could still be a downgrade and he’s moving them back to a 4-3, which might not be the best scheme for them, given how well they played in a 3-4 last season.

The switch probably won’t hurt them at defensive tackle, where they have arguably the best defensive tackle duo in the NFL in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Williams has been a dominant defensive lineman over the past 6 seasons, playing 4-3 defensive tackle, 3-4 nose tackle, and 3-4 defensive end. He missed most of the 2011 season with injury, but he was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle in 2008, 13th ranked defensive tackle in 2009, 1st ranked defensive tackle in 2010, 3rd ranked defensive tackle in 2012, and 3rd ranked 3-4 defensive end in 2013. The scheme switch shouldn’t affect him, though the fact that he’s going into his age 31 season is a very minor concern.

Marcell Dareus, meanwhile, was the 3rd overall pick in the loaded 2011 draft and is now going into his 4th season in the league, only his age 25 season. The Bills already picked up his 5th year option and for good reason. He’s played both 4-3 defensive tackle and 3-4 nose tackle in his career, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked defensive tackle in both 2011 and 2012 and their 6th ranked defensive tackle in 2013. The scheme switch shouldn’t affect him either and he could be even better in his 4th year in the league.

Someone the scheme switch could affect negatively though is Jerry Hughes. Hughes is a former 1st round pick of the Colts, going 31st overall in 2010, and looked like a bust in the first 2 years of his career with the Colts, struggling on just 240 snaps combined at 4-3 defensive end. He was a little better on 610 snaps in his 3rd year in the league as a 3-4 rush linebacker in 2012 on 610 snaps and broke out in Buffalo last season as a rush linebacker, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked 3-4 rush linebacker, including 3rd in pure pass rush grade, on 621 snaps. He actually led all players in pass rush efficiency with 11 sacks, 9 hits, and 31 hurries on 318 pass rush snaps, an average of 16.0%, essentially a pressure every 6 snaps.

There’s obviously concern though with him switching back to 4-3 defensive end and with Mike Pettine being gone. He obviously has natural talent, which is why he went in the first round, but he’s still a one year wonder and losing both the defensive coordinator and the scheme in which he broke out last season has to be concerning. In order to deal with this concern, the Bills are planning on having Manny Lawson play the majority of the snaps in base packages, so Hughes can focus on just rushing the passer out of sub packages, something the athletic, but undersized Hughes (6-2 255, ex-collegiate running back) could still excel at in Jim Schwartz’ wide nine defense.

Manny Lawson is another former first round pick, going in the first round in 2006. He’s never lived up to that, but he’s had some moderate success as a part-time run stopper over the past few seasons. However, he’s been doing that as both a 3-4 and 4-3 outside linebacker and has never played 4-3 defensive end in his career, though that was his collegiate position. He’s stopped the run well as a linebacker, but he’s only 6-5 240 and he could have trouble stopping the run as a down defensive lineman. He’s probably the smallest base defensive end in the NFL.

It would make more sense for him to continue playing outside linebacker and play the two-down outside linebacker role. In that situation, they could use Alan Branch at defensive end and have him play essentially the Red Bryant role, as they use in Jacksonville, Seattle. Branch is a talented defensive lineman, but doesn’t really have a role right now with the switch to a 4-3. He was two-down run stopping defensive end last season who didn’t really play in sub packages. He struggled mightily as a pass rusher, grading 4th worst among 3-4 defensive ends as a pass rusher, but he was 7th best as a run stopper and 20th best overall on 576 snaps. He also was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 defensive tackle in 2011, including 3rd as a run stopper. He could play a depth role at defensive tackle, but it might be a better use of him to have him play as a base defensive end. Either way, it looks like he’s another player who the scheme switch will negatively affect.

Mario Williams will be an every down defensive end on the other side. He’s another player who probably won’t be affected by the scheme change. He’s been a solid, but unspectacular player in pretty much every season since he was drafted first overall in 2006 by the Texans, grading out well above average in each of the past 7 seasons, maxing out at 11th in 2009. Last season, he was 17th among 3-4 rush linebackers. He’s played both 4-3 end and 3-4 outside linebacker and has been equally good in both schemes. He’s very durable and has played all 16 games and 900+ snaps in 6 of 8 professional seasons. He might not necessarily be worth the 6-year, 96 million dollar deal the Bills gave him before the 2012 season, but he’s an obvious asset for them and should continue to be one this season. He’s part of a dominant defensive line, but the scheme change could hurt the unit a little bit.

Grade: A

Linebackers

Kiko Alonso is another one of their talented front 7 players. The 2013 2nd round pick was a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 10th ranked middle linebacker. He excelled in coverage, with only Derrick Johnson grading out better in coverage than he did last season, as he allowed just 237 yards on 44 attempts and picked off 4 passes. He allowed just 0.43 yards per coverage snap, best at his position, and displayed excellent closing speed. He could be better in his 2nd year in the league, now moving to 4-3 outside linebacker, where he’ll play every down. This assumes he won’t miss Mike Pettine’s tutelage and scheme though.

The rest of the Bills’ linebacking corps is really up for grabs though. Brandon Spikes was a big free agent acquisition, as the Bills paid him 3.5 million on a one-year deal for him to come over from the Patriots. Spikes is pretty much just a two-down part-time player though. Brandon Spikes was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked middle linebacker last season, but that’s a little misleading. That was fueled solely by his run play as he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ first ranked middle linebacker in terms of run grade by a mile, but he ranked 38th out of 55 middle linebackers in terms of coverage grade. He also played only 694 snaps as a part-time two-down player. He’s a pure base package player in a league that’s devaluing pure base package players, though he’s an excellent one at that.

This isn’t a new thing for him. In 2012, he graded out 9th among middle linebackers, including 1st as a run stopper, playing just 742 snaps. In 2011, he graded out 18th among middle linebackers, 19th in run grade, and played 364 snaps. In 2010, he graded out 9th among middle linebackers, 4th in run grade, and played 356 snaps. He also has a history of injury and issues with the coaching staff. All this being said, he is phenomenal at what he does.

The 2nd linebacker role in sub packages is very much up for grabs though. Da’Norris Searcy, a hybrid safety/linebacker at 5-11 223, would often play down around the line of scrimmage as that 2nd linebacker in sub packages last season, meaning the Bills would essentially use three safeties, but the Bills lost Jairus Byrd this off-season so Searcy might have to focus more on being a pure safety. Preston Brown was their 3rd round pick and he could have a big role right away, but it’s hard to count on him.

Brown is in the mix at the other outside linebacker position as well, which is also up for grabs. I mentioned that Manny Lawson will be moving to 4-3 defensive end, but that might not last long. Nigel Bradham is also an option. The 2012 4th round pick has flashed on 690 snaps over the last two seasons, excelling against the run and holding up in coverage, and could be ready for a bigger role. Ty Powell, a 2013 7th round pick who played 15 snaps as a rookie, is reportedly also in the mix. There’s talent in the linebacking corps, but things are still in flux.

Grade: B+

Secondary

I mentioned earlier the Bills’ loss of Jairus Byrd this off-season. Along with losing Mike Pettine, his absence is part of the reason why the Bills might not be quite as good defensively as they were last season. Byrd got a well-deserved 6-year, 54 million dollar deal with the Saints. He’s one of the top safeties in the game. Last year, he was “only” Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked safety and that was because he missed 5 games and only played 646 snaps. No one played fewer snaps and graded out higher than him. He was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked safety in 2011 and 2nd ranked safety in 2012. Only Eric Weddle has also graded out in the top-8 in each of the last 3 seasons. He’ll be very tough to replace.

Da’Norris Searcy is one option to replace him, as he did last year when Byrd was hurt, but the 2011 4th round pick graded out below average on 756 snaps last season and he could also play some linebacker in sub packages. Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks are the other options. They were 4th and 5th round picks in the 2013 draft respectively, but they played 36 snaps and 0 snaps respectively last season. There was some talk that free agent acquisition Corey Graham could convert from cornerback and play safety, but for now he’s at cornerback. It might be something they revisit later in the off-season. It’s an obvious downgrade from Byrd either way.

The Bills did lock up one safety long-term as they gave a 4-year, 26 million dollar to Aaron Williams. He is locked into the other safety spot. Williams struggled in his first two years in the league on 1007 snaps as a cornerback, after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, but found success last season at safety, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked safety and leading the secondary in snaps played with 955. The Bills probably jumped the gun on that extension, making him the 12th highest paid safety in the NFL in terms of average salary, when he was still a one-year wonder and when he still had one year left on his deal. The Bills better hope he doesn’t regress without Pettine. He should still be an asset though.

Leodis McKelvin is probably the Bills’ top cornerback. McKelvin was a bust as the 11th overall pick in 2008, but he broke out last season, at least at cornerback (he was a very solid return man prior to last season). He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 17th ranked cornerback and allowed 46.1% completion. The Bills will have to hope he doesn’t prove to be a one-year wonder without Pettine. He graded out above average in every season from 2010-2012, but he’s never graded out this high before and he never played as many snaps over that time period as the 947 snaps he played last season. He played just 868 snaps combined in 2011 and 2012.

Stephon Gilmore will be the other starting cornerback. I thought the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft would have a breakout year in his 2nd year in the league in 2013. In his first 5 NFL games in 2012, he struggled, allowing 19 completions on 31 attempts for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns. This was completely understandable as, even for a talented prospect such as Gilmore, the transition to the NFL can be a tough one, especially for a cornerback and especially for a cornerback frequently asked to cover opponent’s #1 receivers from day one.

However, in week 6 of 2012, Gilmore seemed to hit his stride and played very well from there on out. He allowed 30 completions on 56 attempts for 409 yards. He didn’t allow a touchdown the rest of the way and intercepted his only pass of the season week 13. He did commit 11 penalties in those 11 games, but I expected that to improve as he matured. He didn’t have that breakout year in 2013 though as he broke his hand and missed the first 5 weeks of the season, which seemed to put him behind the 8-ball. He graded out below average for the second straight season. He could have that breakout year in 2014, the naturally talented cornerback’s 3rd year in the league. After all, he doesn’t even turn 24 until September, but there’s no guarantee there.

Corey Graham will, at the very least, line up as the slot cornerback in sub packages, but he could also play outside in base packages and, as I mentioned earlier, he’s an option to play safety if they need him to. Graham comes over from Baltimore on a 4-year, 16 million dollar deal. He’s developed into a pretty solid cornerback over the past 2 seasons, grading out above average in each of the last 2 seasons, on 588 snaps and 703 snaps respectively. He did this despite playing a combined 321 snaps from 2009-2011. The slot specialist is a 2007 5th round pick out of New Hampshire.

Part of the rationale behind moving Graham to safety is that the Bills had a perfectly good slot cornerback last season, Nickell Robey, who now doesn’t really have a role. The 2013 undrafted free agent had a fantastic rookie season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked cornerback. He allowed 32 completions on 61 attempts (52.5%) for 339 yards (5.56 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, while deflecting 5 passes and committing 6 penalties. He ranked 6th in yards allowed per slot coverage snap and 5th in receptions allowed per slot coverage snap.

There’s no guarantee he’d be as good in 2014. After all, he was undrafted and he still remains a one year wonder. However, he was undrafted primarily because of his size at 5-8 165 and he seemed to have carved out a niche on the slot last season, though he did lose his defensive coordinator. It’ll be a shame if he can’t get playing time this season, but he’s a hell of a player to have as your 4th cornerback and primary depth cornerback. There’s definitely still talent in the Bills’ secondary, but they’ll miss Byrd.

Grade: B

Conclusion

The Bills were a little bit better than their record suggested last season. They probably won’t be as good defensively this season with Mike Pettine and Jairus Byrd gone, but Jim Schwartz is still a solid defensive mind and they have a lot of defensive talent still, with guys like Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, and Jerry Hughes. They’ll still have a strong defense and their offense should be better.

I don’t have huge expectations for EJ Manuel, but he should be, by default, healthier and better this season. Their receiving corps will be better simply because they won’t have a rookie Robert Woods and a terrible TJ Graham leading them in snaps played at wide receiver. The additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams should help. They also could finally get that feature back breakout year from CJ Spiller at running back. There’s a good amount of talent here. They have about 6 guys that should be in my top-200 list, coming up in August (those 5 defensive players, plus Cordy Glenn). If they can get decent quarterback play, they’ll be in the playoff mix, but, again, I have my doubts about that. I’ll have an official wins prediction for all teams at the end of all my previews.

Prediction: 7-9 2nd in AFC East

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)