The Bills finished above average for the first time since 2004 last season, going 9-7. However, immediately after the best season in recent franchise history, their starting quarterback retired and their head coach quit. That was not good news for a team that was already working without a 1st round pick, after trading it in a deal to get Sammy Watkins during last year’s draft. The Bills solved the head coach problem by landing Rex Ryan, a solid head coach who was let go by the Jets after 6 seasons because they felt they needed to go in another direction.
However, the quarterback situation remains a nightmare. The retired Kyle Orton wasn’t fantastic by any means in 12 starts last season, as he completed 64.2% of his passes for an average of 6.75 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, while grading out 37th among 39 eligible quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus and leading an offense that finished the season 29th in rate of moving the chains. However, he was still better than EJ Manuel, who graded out 41st among 42 eligible quarterbacks as a rookie and then was Pro Football Focus’ 3rd worst ranked quarterback through 4 weeks in 2014, prior to being benched for Orton. In the 4 games he started, the Bills moved the chains at a mere 63.30% rate, as opposed to a slightly better 66.67% rate in the 12 games started by Orton. The 2013 1st round pick has completed just 58.6% of his passes for an average of 6.43 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in his career.
The Bills brought in Matt Cassel via trade with Minnesota this off-season, sending a 5th round pick and a 7th round pick to the Vikings for a quarterback in Cassel who will make just 4.75 million this season and who they were hoping could be their new Kyle Orton, a veteran stopgap game manager (the Bills also added a 6th round pick in the trade). Cassel was decent in 2013, grading out 28th among 42 eligible quarterbacks, and has decent career numbers, completing 59.0% of his passes for an average of 6.64 YPA, 96 touchdowns, and 70 interceptions. However, he struggled mightily on 146 snaps in 2014, before missing the final 13 games of the season with a foot injury, and is now going into his age 33 season. He also hasn’t graded out above average since 2010.
He had the potential to be what the Bills were looking for at quarterback, but he’s reportedly really struggled on the practice field in his return from injury this off-season, not exactly a surprise. Owed a decent amount of money next season, there’s talk that the Bills could let him go completely, if he can’t lock down the starting job, to get out of the non-guaranteed money they would owe him this season. This team needs as much long-term financial flexibility as they can get and they can transfer the cap space they save by letting him go to next off-season, when the likes of Cordy Glenn, Marcell Dareus, and Nigel Bradham become free agents.
With Cassel struggling, Manuel seems to be the favorite for the starting job. With the regime that drafted him now gone and nothing but poor tape to show for his first 2 years in the league, Manuel is on a very short leash and is only the de facto #1 quarterback out of sheer desperation. Tyrod Taylor, a free agent acquisition, has a very real chance to make starts for this team this season. The 2011 6th round pick never made a start in 4 seasons in Baltimore and has completed just 54.3% of his passes on 35 attempts for an average of 5.69 YPA, no touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in his career. Except maybe Cleveland, no one has as bad of a quarterback situation as the Bills do, which severely hurts their chances of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999, the longest active playoff drought in the NFL.
Without a first round pick, it was simply impossible for the Bills to find a solution at quarterback this off-season. Understanding that, the Bills made a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for star running back LeSean McCoy, in hopes that they could build a run based approach that would allow them to move the chains with some regularity, even without a strong passing game. Rex Ryan has long been a proponent of the running game, as his Jets teams averaged 501 carries per season in his 6 seasons there, trying to hide a weak passing game. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman comes from the same school of thought, averaging 491 carries per season in 4 seasons as the offensive coordinator in San Francisco.
A lot of people loved the trade for Buffalo, remembering McCoy’s fantastic 2013 season, in which he rushed for 1607 yards and 9 touchdowns on 314 carries (5.12 YPC), while adding 52 catches for 539 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air and grading out #1 overall among running backs on Pro Football Focus. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that McCoy averaged just 4.23 YPC in 2014, rushing for 1319 yards and 5 touchdowns on 312 carries, while adding 28 catches for 155 yards and no touchdowns. While he was #1 in 2013, McCoy ranked 55th out of 57 eligible running backs in 2014.
McCoy has bounce back potential for sure going into 2015 and will probably be closer to 2014 than 2013. However, 2013 is still the only season in his career in which he graded out higher than 10th among running backs on Pro Football Focus, in 6 years in the league since going in the 2nd round in 2009. He’s not an elite running back; he’s a good running back who had one elite season. He’ll still help this running game, after they averaged 3.69 yards per carry on the ground last season (26th in the NFL) and lost CJ Spiller as a free agent this off-season, but the Bills reworked his contract after the trade and will owe him 40 million over the next 5 seasons with 26.5 million of that fully guaranteed. If he continues to decline, at a position with a short shelf life and with 1761 career touches going into his age 27 season, the Bills will really regret that contract.
Even if he puts up two more solid years, the Bills will probably really regret that contract. If McCoy was a free agent this off-season, he probably would not have even gotten that kind of deal, but the Bills gave him that deal and traded away a cheap young linebacker for the right to give him that deal. Alonso did miss all of last season with a torn ACL, but graded out 9th among middle linebackers as a rookie, is only going into his age 25 season, and, most importantly, is only owed about 1.8 million over the next 2 seasons combined on his rookie deal.
The Bills currently have just 2.8 million in cap space for 2016, even at an estimated cap of 150 million, 10 million more than 2014. That’s before re-signing Cordy Glenn, Nigel Bradham, and Marcell Dareus, who all become unrestricted free agents next off-season. This was not a financially smart move for the Bills to make. They’re going all in on a season when a deep playoff run will be impossible because of the quarterback situation and essentially mortgaging their future for, at most, a 1st round playoff exit. It’s a move they’ll end up regretting.
Spiller may be gone, but Fred Jackson, who led the team with 141 carries last season, returns. He’ll backup McCoy and have a significantly reduced role this season, in a true backup role behind a likely 300+ carry feature back in McCoy. That’s for the best because Jackson, who has averaged 573 snaps played per season over the past 5 seasons, appears to be on his last legs, going into his age 34 season. He hasn’t been the same since a 2011 broken leg, averaging 4.01 yards per carry in 2012-2014 combined on 462 combined carries, and has missed 14 games over the past 4 seasons combined.
The only value Jackson still provides is as a passing down back, as he’s caught 113 passes in the last 2 seasons combined. The Bills used a 5th round pick on Karlos Williams, so this is likely Jackson’s final season in Buffalo, as he’ll be a free agent next off-season. With a strong defense (more on that later) supporting them, the Bills figure to run about 500 times this season with McCoy, Jackson, and the quarterback Manuel (or Taylor, who is also a mobile quarterback) in an effort to hide a horrible passing game. It’ll be their best method of moving the ball this season and they’ll be improved over last season on the ground, but this offense is still going to have a lot of problems.
McCoy wasn’t the only major financial commitment that the Bills made this off-season, as they also signed tight end Charles Clay to a 5-year, 38 million dollar deal and Percy Harvin to a 3-year, 24 million dollar deal. As I said, the Bills are weirdly going all in on this season. In addition to the overall weirdness of the strategy, they overpaid both Clay and Harvin, like they did McCoy. Clay was probably the bigger of the two overpays. Slapped with the transition tag by the Dolphins this off-season, Miami had the right of first refusal on any deal Clay signed, so the Bills essentially had to overpay Clay and structure the deal in a way that it is very hard on the cap in the first 2 seasons, to prevent the Dolphins from being able to match. Clay will be guaranteed 24.5 million over the first 2 years of the deal.
He’s a solid player, but he’s not worth ruining your immediate financial flexibility for. In his 2 years as a starter in the NFL, he graded out 34th among tight ends in 2013 and 14th in 2014, but he’s being paid like a top tight end, as only Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski have higher average annual salaries. He’ll be an upgrade over 2014 starting tight end Scott Chandler, who graded out 47th among 67 eligible tight ends last season and who was not brought back as a free agent this off-season, but he was an overpay. Also gone as a free agent this off-season is Lee Smith, a solid blocker who graded out above average as the #2 tight end last season. 2013 7th round pick Chris Gragg, who flashed on 215 snaps last season, after struggling on 52 snaps as a rookie, will step into the #2 role behind Clay.
Harvin is more of a reclamation project. He definitely has bounce back potential and he isn’t guaranteed anything beyond 6 million in the first season of his deal, but the Bills are paying him like something more than what he is by giving him that kind of money. He was good in 2012 and prior, but has had a rough past 2 seasons and has seen his star fade significantly since the Seahawks sent a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick to the Vikings for him and gave him a 6-year, 63 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, following 4 straight seasons in the top-13 among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus to start his career, after going in the 1st round in 2009. The good news for Harvin is he got a ring out of the deal (along with a bunch of money), but that’s where the good news ends.
He missed all but 1 regular season game with injury in Seattle in 2013, reportedly caused locker room problems that got him kicked out of Seattle (to the Jets for a 6th round pick), and combined for 51 catches for 483 yards and a touchdown in 2014 between the Seahawks and the Jets. The Jets, unable to work out a restructured contract with him, cut him this off-season, rather than paying him a non-guaranteed 10.5 million dollar salary for 2015. His new 6 million dollar salary is obviously less than that, but it’s still too much for him.
Even in brighter times in Minnesota, he never went over 1000 yards in a season, missed 10 games in 4 seasons with injury, and had issues at times with his coaching staff. Usually a gadget player/slot receiver/return man type, Harvin will be counted on for an every down role in Buffalo, something he never did even in Minnesota (his career high is 650 snaps). He’ll be the starter opposite Sammy Watkins, moving Robert Woods to the 3rd receiver spot. He could be solid at it and it’s important to remember how good he used to be and that he’s only going into his age 27 season, but his recent history hasn’t been good.
Watkins, meanwhile, is coming off of a great rookie year, after the Bills traded their first rounder in 2014 and in 2015 to move up to grab him 4th overall. They definitely could have used that pick this year, but they have to be thrilled with having Watkins. He caught 65 passes for 982 yards and 6 touchdowns last season, as this team’s only real offensive weapon, numbers rookie receivers really put up. Even in the golden era of passing offenses in the past 10 years, the average first round wideout has averaged just 48 catches for 703 yards and 4 touchdowns in their first season in the league. He wasn’t quite as good as his receiving yards would suggest, as he caught just 52.4% of his targets, but poor quarterback play can be blamed for that to an extent. Even with a possibly even worse quarterback situation again this season, Watkins is still a candidate to go over 1000 yards.
Woods is another young player, but not nearly as good. The 2013 2nd round pick has caught 105 passes on 179 targets (58.7%) for 1286 yards and 8 touchdowns on 1061 routes run, an average of 1.21 yards per route run, in 2 seasons in the league, grading out below average on 924 snaps as a rookie and 921 snaps in 2014. He’s not a terrible player, but he’ll be a better fit as the 3rd receiver, where he’s an upgrade on Chris Hogan, who graded out 72nd among 110 eligible wide receivers in his first significant action of his career in 2014 (188 snaps played in the first 3 seasons of his career from 2011-2013) and now will be a 4th or 5th receiver. Woods, meanwhile, will play outside, moving Harvin to the slot in 3-wide receiver sets, and will be decent depth in the likely case Harvin gets hurt again. It’s an upgraded and solid receiving corps, but still one that’s less than stellar and one will have to deal with terrible quarterback play.
While the Bills spent a lot of money on offensive playmakers this off-season, with the likes of McCoy, Harvin, and Clay coming in, they didn’t do much to fix a horrible offensive line that ranked 21st in team pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus and 31st in team run blocking grade last season. They figure to struggle in both of those aspects again as a result. LeSean McCoy is used to awesome run blocking playing all those years in Philadelphia and goes from Pro Football Focus’ 1st ranked run blocking offensive line last year to likely one of the worst in the league this year. Coming off of a down year, McCoy could really struggle to move this offense forward this season for that reason. It’s hard to have an effective run heavy offense without good run blocking and poor pass protection will only make the passing game worse.
The Bills only real addition on the offensive line this off-season was Richie Incognito, who takes over at right guard, where Erik Pears graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 76th ranked guard out of 78 eligible last season. Incognito should be an upgrade, but he’s not the type of player to turn this offensive line around by himself. He was out of the league entirely last year and hasn’t played since week 9 of the 2013 season, following the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal.
Incognito reportedly got help during his time away from the game and is ready to return. He was solid the last time he was on the field, grading out above average for 6 straight seasons from 2008 to 2013, including 23rd in 2012 and 9th through week 8 in 2013. However, it’s hard to trust someone who is going into their age 32 season off of an entire season off. I don’t think there will be problems with him and his teammates, as guys have been accepted back into locker rooms that have done a lot worse than what Incognito did, but he’s not a huge addition or anything.
Left tackle Cordy Glenn was the only Bills offensive lineman to play more than 40 snaps last season and grade out above average. The 2012 2nd round pick has made 45 starts in 3 seasons in the league, grading out above average in all 3 of those seasons, 33rd in 2012, 13th in 2013, and 26th in 2014. He’s arguably their best offensive player and I think he was last season, but he heads into the contract year of his rookie deal with no extension in sight because of the Bills’ horrible cap situation.
The rest of the offensive line is a complete mess. Eric Wood remains at center, after grading out 25th among 41 eligible centers in 2014. The 2009 1st round pick has made 79 starts in 6 seasons in the league, but has graded out above average in just 2 of those seasons. He’s a marginal starter at best and will remain that, as he goes into his age 29 season in 2015. The rest of the offensive line is just going to be youngsters as 2014 2nd round pick Cyrus Kouandjio, 2014 7th round pick Seantrel Henderson, and 2015 3rd round pick John Miller will compete for the starting jobs at left guard and right tackle.
Henderson is the incumbent right tackle, surprisingly playing all 1086 snaps there last season as a 7th round rookie, starting over 2nd round rookie Kouandjio, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie. Henderson was horrific, as you might expect, so Kouandjio could definitely take the job away from him. Kouandjio is obviously inexperienced, but Henderson graded out 82nd among 84 eligible offensive tackles last season and it’s hard to be worse than that. It’s unclear right now which of the two will be starting, but it does figure to remain a position of weakness.
At left guard, Miller seems like the heavy favorite, even as a 3rd round rookie. With veterans Kraig Urbik and Chris Williams (who sucked in 2014) gone, the Bills don’t have much of another option. They could move the loser of the right tackle battle inside to left guard, but it’s unclear if either of them would play well there and the Bills have shown no real signs of wanting to do that. Cyril Richardson, a 2014 5th round pick who played 321 snaps last season, is still here, but he was awful last season, grading out 60th among 78 eligible guards, despite the limited playing time. He’s reportedly not seen as a starting option. I expect the Bills’ offensive line to be Glenn, Miller, Wood, Incognito, and Henderson/Kouandjio, once again a weak unit that won’t help what is once again overall a weak offense.
As bad as the Bills’ offense was last season, they still won 9 games, as a result of an awesome defense. They finished #1 in the NFL in rate of moving the chains allowed in 2014, but only finished the season 20th in rate of moving the chains differential because of their 29th ranked offense. The Bills lost talented defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz this off-season, but add Rex Ryan as head coach, so that’ll make up for that. He’ll be moving them back to the 3-4 type defense they ran in 2013, under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who used to be on Ryan’s staff in New York. The Bills also return 9 of 11 starters last year’s defense and the losses were two of the more insignificant starters, Brandon Spikes and Da’Norris Searcy. They combined to play just 1185 snaps last season, despite technically being starters.
Mario Williams played the “elephant” role in 2013 in the 3-4, playing both 3-4 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker and rushing the passer both from the inside and the outside in sub packages. The 6-7 291 pounder is a good fit for the role and graded out 17th among 3-4 outside linebackers that season. The #1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Williams has graded out above average in each of the 8 seasons in Pro Football Focus’ history, including 9th among 4-3 defensive ends in 2014, playing well both in a 3-4 and a 4-3. Even going into his age 30 season, he should continue this strong play in 2015.
Williams will probably play more 3-4 defensive end than he did last time the Bills played in a 3-4, because nose tackle Alan Branch, who played well on 610 snaps in 2013 as largely two-down player, is gone, leaving the Bills without an obvious 3rd starting defensive lineman alongside Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, so Mario Williams will play there with some regularity. The Bills lack of defensive tackle depth without Branch in 2014 was obvious, as Corbin Bryant (361 snaps) and Stefan Charles (345 snaps) were the top reserves and graded out 71st and 64th respectively among 81 eligible defensive tackles in 2014, despite the limited playing time.
Aside from Williams, Bryant is their best option to be the 3rd starter in base packages, but he really sucks. The 2011 undrafted free agent has never graded out above average in 4 seasons in the league and has been especially bad over the past 2 seasons. I talked about how bad he was last season, but he was equally bad in 2013, grading out 42nd among 45 eligible 3-4 defensive ends on just 338 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out worse at the position. Depth on the defensive line remains a serious problem for the Bills.
The good news is Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are both fantastic every down interior defensive linemen who rarely have to come off the bench. Dareus has lived up to expectations since going 3rd overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, grading out above average in all 4 seasons, 15th among defensive tackles on Pro Football Focus in 2011, 14th in 2012, 6th in 2013, and a career best 4th in 2014. Only going into his age 26 season in 2015, Dareus should once again have a very dominant season. The 6-3 319 pounder is a rare type of defensive linemen who can play nose tackle in a 3-4 in base packages, but also can rush the passer from the interior in sub packages in any scheme. The only concern with him is that he’s had some off-the-field issues and he’ll miss week 1 of the season with a suspension, which will really hurt them in that game.
However, it doesn’t seem like that has affected the team’s opinion of him, as they are trying to get an extension done with him before his contract year in 2015. Even with the Bills lacking long-term financial flexibility, Dareus is expected to get a deal comparable to Gerald McCoy (7 years, 98 million), JJ Watt (6 years, 100 million), and Ndamukong Suh (6 years, 114 million). He’s their #1 priority long-term right now, even if it means they lose guys like Nigel Bradham and Cordy Glenn next off-season and have a hard time adding depth.
Kyle Williams, meanwhile, is older, going into his age 32 season, but he’s equally good and has shown no signs of declining. He has graded out above average in every season starting in 2008. His best season came in 2010, when he graded out 1st among defensive tackles and he’s bounced back well from a serious 2011 injury, grading out 3rd among defensive tackles in 2012, 3rd among 3-4 defensive ends in 2013, and 7th among defensive tackles last season. I expect basically the same thing from the scheme versatile veteran this season, back in a 3-4. Even with their depth problems, it’s still a great defensive line thanks to Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and occasionally Mario Williams.
In addition to having depth problems inside at defensive tackle last season, they had a depth problem outside at defensive end as well. #3 defensive end Manny Lawson graded out 48th among 59 eligible 4-3 defensive ends, despite playing just 349 snaps. Lawson was alright on 722 snaps in 2013 as a 3-4 outside linebacker, with Jerry Hughes playing just 621 snaps in more of a situational role. He’ll have to play that role again in 2014, even with Hughes now playing every down, because Williams will be playing more 3-4 defensive end. It’ll pretty much only be in base packages because the quartet of Williams, Hughes, Williams, and Dareus is too good upfront in sub packages, but Lawson will play 500-600 snaps in a situational role, run stuffing this season. He could be decent again and has graded out above average in 6 of 8 seasons in Pro Football Focus’ history, but he’s going into his age 31 season and coming off of an awful 2014. He is a weakness in an overall strong front 7.
As I mentioned, Hughes is now an every down player and should play similar to the 807 snaps he played in 2014, after getting a 5-year, 45 million dollar deal to return to Buffalo this off-season. The 2010 1st round pick was written off as a bust by the Colts two off-seasons ago, as he got sent to Buffalo for reserve linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, after playing just 240 snaps in 2010 and 2011 combined and grading out 25th among 34 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers in 2012 on 610 snaps. Hughes turned out just to be a late bloomer, grading out 8th among 3-4 outside linebackers in 2013 and then showed scheme versatility and proved he wasn’t a one-year wonder last season, by grading out 14th among 4-3 defensive ends. An integral part of this dominant front 7, Hughes very much deserved his new deal.
As good as Kiko Alonso was in 2013, the reason they felt comfortable moving him for McCoy this off-season is because Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown broke out as solid every down linebackers in Alonso’s absence last season. I didn’t have a problem with them moving Alonso, but I don’t feel like the Bills got appropriate value in return for a talented, cheap, young linebacker. Bradham and Brown will play as every down middle linebackers this season, after grading out 13th and 15th respectively among 4-3 outside linebackers last season.
They were both first time starters last season. Brown was a 3rd round rookie, but Bradham has some history so I’m pretty confident that he can continue solid player in his contract year in 2015. The 2012 4th round pick flashed on 402 snaps in 2012 and 288 snaps in 2013, prior to breaking out as a starter last season. I don’t mean to say that Brown will struggle, but it’s worth mentioning that he’s not nearly as proven as Bradham and will be harder to count on for that reason. They should remain a solid duo inside this season.
The Bills lost Brandon Spikes as a free agent this off-season. He was only a two-down player at middle linebacker last season, playing 519 snaps, but graded out 9th among middle linebackers in pure run stopping grade. The Bills have a strong front 7 overall, but a serious depth problem behind the likes of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Preston Brown, and Nigel Bradham. The Bills had a decent amount of injuries defensively last season, ranking 11th (fewest) in adjusted games lost. However, much of that was Alonso who is gone. The aforementioned 6 players played a combined 92 of 96 possible games last season, which is unlikely to happen again this season, especially with Dareus already suspended for the first game of the season. Any injuries to those guys would hurt their front 7 mightily, because of their lack of depth. It’s a solid linebacking corps, but there are some problems.
The Bills also lost Da’Norris Searcy this off-season, as he signed a 4-year, 23.75 million dollar deal with the Titans this season, following a 2014 season where he graded out 18th among safeties on 666 snaps. Duke Williams was originally slated to be his replacement, after flashing on 551 snaps last season, in the first significant action of his career, following a 36-snap 2013 season, as a 4th round rookie. However, he struggled this off-season, so the Bills seem to have moved away from that plan. The used their first draft pick on cornerback Ronald Darby, taking him in the 2nd round, and will be moving cornerback Corey Graham to safety to take Searcy’s spot.
Graham was the steal of the off-season for the Bills in 2014, grading out 8th among cornerbacks, after signing 4-year, 16 million dollar deal, coming over from Baltimore. That’s the best season of his career and he might not be able to repeat it, moving to safety for his age 30 season, but he’s not exactly a one-year wonder, grading out above average in 4 straight seasons, playing both outside cornerback and slot cornerback. I expect the 5-11 195 pounder to be a solid safety in his first year at the new position.
Darby will work as the 3rd cornerback behind starters Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin. Gilmore is clearly the better of the two. The 2012 1st round pick (10th overall) has made 39 starts in 3 seasons in the league and, though he just graded out above average for the first time in his career last season, he’s always been pretty solid. Rex Ryan has been talking him up as his new Darrelle Revis this off-season. He’s definitely not that good, but should have a solid season as the #1 cornerback in his age 25 season.
McKelvin has a much shakier hold on the starting job, after playing 511 snaps as the 3rd cornerback in 2014 and dealing with a serious ankle problem this off-season. He could be pushed for the starting job by Darby at some point this season and the Bills could always move Graham back to cornerback and put Duke Williams in the starting lineup. Injuries have always been the problem for the 2008 1st round pick McKelvin, as he’s missed 23 games in 7 seasons in the league, including 6 games last season. Largely as a result of those injuries, he’s graded out below average in 4 of 7 seasons in the league, including last season.
He’s tentatively expected to play week 1, but the Bills did admit that he had a setback in his recovery from his ankle problem and that he’ll be missing a significant portion of training camp, at the very least. Things aren’t going to get better for him, especially injury wise, as he goes into his age 30 season in 2015. Nickell Roby is their 4th cornerback and would see significant action if McKelvin were to get hurt again. The 2013 undrafted free agent surprised as a rookie, grading out 27th among cornerbacks on 629 snaps, but fell back to earth in 2014, grading out 89th among 108 eligible cornerbacks on 665 snaps.
Back at safety, Aaron Williams will start opposite Graham. Like Graham, Williams is a converted cornerback, after the 6-0 204 pound 2011 2nd rounder struggled mightily at cornerback to start his career, grading out 88th among 109 eligible cornerbacks on 444 snaps in 2011 and 95th among 113 eligible on 563 snaps in 2012. He’s been better since moving to safety two off-seasons ago, actually grading out 29th among safeties in 2013, landing him a 4-year, 26 million dollar extension that he signed last off-season. He wasn’t as good in the first season after signing that deal, grading out 70th among 87 eligible safeties, and has only graded out above average once in 4 seasons in the league, but he’s a decent starter. It’s not a great secondary or anything, but it’s solid and supported by a strong front 7.
The Bills appear to have gone all on this season, signing Charles Clay, Percy Harvin, and LeSean McCoy to significant multi-year contracts this off-season, moves that have left them with about 2.8 million in 2016 cap space, before re-signing Marcell Dareus, Cordy Glenn, and Nigel Bradham. It’s a bad move because the Bills are so limited at the quarterback position to make any sort of run. Their defense was the best in the league last season and still have a lot of good players, but they lost some key players who weren’t replaced, have no depth in the front 7, will probably have more injuries to major players, especially in the front 7, and their secondary is only okay, so it’s hard to predict them to be #1 once again. In some order, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, and Corey Graham are their 7 best defensive players. They missed a combined 4 games last season, great luck that is unlikely to repeat itself.
Meanwhile, offensively, they have arguably the worst quarterback situation in the game, only maybe behind Cleveland. They added talent around the quarterback spot this off-season, with the likes of McCoy, Clay, and Harvin, but they overpaid them and probably won’t get as much help out of them as they were expecting when they signed them. They also still have major problems on the offensive line, particularly in run blocking, which is going to severely inhibit their plan to run the ball a lot and rely on a strong defense. I think they’re worse than the Browns, who have an equally bad quarterback situation, but a stronger supporting cast, as a result of an outstanding offensive line. The Bills went all in this off-season expecting to make the playoffs, but they’re probably going to be much closer to the 6-8 win range and they’ll be feeling the financial hangover of this spending spree next off-season. As with all teams, I’ll have official win/loss records for the Bills after I’ve done all teams’ previews.
Final Update: Tyrod Taylor won the Bills’ quarterback competition, not like it really matters. Ultimately, they’re going to once again be a poor offense and, while their defense is good, they lack depth and they’re not good enough for this to be more than a mediocre team. A 9-win team that wasn’t quite as good as their record last season, I see them with 6 wins against a tougher schedule in 2015.
Prediction: 6-10 3rd in AFC East