Buffalo Bills 2020 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

With Tom Brady no longer in New England after two decades of dominating the division (16 consecutive division titles in healthy seasons), the Bills are expected by many to finally dethrone the Patriots in the division this season. The Bills gave the Patriots a run for the division last year and made the post-season as a wild card in their first double digit win season since 1999, so it’s understandable that many would expect this team to make the next step, but I wouldn’t be so sure. I already got into why I don’t think the Patriots are just going to disappear in 2019 during their season preview, but on top of that the Bills weren’t quite as good as their record suggested in 2019.

The Bills finished the season 13th in first down rate differential with a solid +1.53% mark, but they faced one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. For all the talk about how easy the Patriots’ schedule was, the Bills faced the same schedule, only instead of the Chiefs and Texans they faced the Brandon Allen led Broncos and the Marcus Mariota led Titans, who missed 4 makeable field goals in a 7-point loss. That win over the Titans was their only win over a team that finished with a winning record, as they lost their other 5 such matchups, including their first round playoff exit in Houston.

Quarterback Josh Allen’s splits against teams with a winning record standout, as, even with a solid game against the Titans included, he completed just 51.7% of his passes for an average of 5.65 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions against winning teams, as opposed to 62.6% completion, 7.26 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions against .500 or worse teams. Even with the struggles against tougher competition, Allen still took a big step forward from his rookie year, improving his QB rating from 67.9 to 85.3, but he still finished as just Pro Football Focus’ 28th ranked quarterback and his struggles against tougher competition are concerning. 

Allen entered the league very raw, so it’s not a surprise he’s had some growing pains and has had troubles with tougher defenses. Still only 24, Allen will need to take another big step forward in his third year in the league for the Bills to be a true contender. The Bills will also need Allen to avoid injuries, with career backup Matt Barkley (65.7 career QB rating) and 5th round rookie Jake Fromm set to compete for the backup job. Allen played all 16 games last season, but missed 4 games as a rookie and his playing style and propensity to take off and run with the ball (1,141 yards and 17 touchdowns on 198 carries in 2 seasons in the league) make him more susceptible to injuries than most quarterbacks. 

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

Probably the best thing about Josh Allen is he’s on a cheap rookie deal for another two seasons, which allows the Bills to commit more resources to the rest of their roster. As many teams have been in this situation, the Bills have been aggressive using free agency to build around the quarterback, but they haven’t really made the splash signings other teams have, instead opting for quantity over quality. On offense, the Bills had just 2 players, quarterback Josh Allen and left tackle Dion Dawkins, that started in the same position in 2019 as 2018.

On the offensive line, the Bills started 7 different players last season and only Dion Dawkins, who made all 16 starts at left tackle, was on the roster in 2018. Dawkins was the best of the bunch and finished as Pro Football Focus’ 23rd ranked offensive tackle overall, his third straight season with an above average grade since being taken in the 2nd round in 2017. This off-season was very different for this offensive line, as all 7 players who made a start in 2019 will return. If nothing else, they should benefit from continuity.

Mitch Morse was the big free agent prize on this offensive line last off-season, coming over from the Chiefs on a 4-year, 44.5 million dollar deal that makes him the 2nd highest paid center in the league in average annual salary. Morse wasn’t as good as his salary would suggest, as he was PFF’s 17th ranked center on the season, but he was still a welcome addition. Now going into his age 28 season, Morse is unlikely to ever develop into a top level center and has never finished any higher than 14th at his position on PFF, but he should remain a solid starter for at least another couple seasons.

At guard, veterans Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, and Quinton Spain will compete for the starting roles. Long and Feliciano were signed last off-season to contracts worth 12.6 million over 3 years and 7.25 million over 2 years respectively, while Spain was signed to a 1-year, 2.05 million dollar deal and then re-signed for 15 million over 3 years this off-season. Long saw the least action last season, limited to 173 snaps, and that will likely remain the case in 2020 unless he has a big off-season. He was a solid starter earlier in his career, but hasn’t been the same since missing significant time in 2017 with knee injuries, finishing 38th out of 39 qualifying centers in 2018 and then barely making an impact last season. Now going into his age 30 season, he’s best as a versatile reserve, but he’s very experienced and you can do a whole lot worse than him if you have to turn to someone off your bench to fill a hole on the interior.

Feliciano and Spain, meanwhile, played 947 snaps and 1,063 snaps respectively last season and will likely remain locked in as starters in 2020. Spain was the more proven player going into last season, as he was a solid starter in Tennessee for the first 4 years of his career, while Feliciano had just 8 career starts and struggled mightily in his first extended action as an injury fill in with the Raiders in 2018. However, Feliciano actually had a significantly better 2019, having a mini breakout year with a 35th ranked finish on PFF, while Spain fell to a career worst 66th out of 89 qualifiers. Feliciano is a one-year wonder who could easily regress in 2020, but Spain has bounce back potential, still only in his age 29 season, so those kind of cancel out. With Long waiting in the wings if either player struggles, the Bills have a solid situation at the guard position.

The Bills also have great depth at right tackle, adding free agent Daryl Williams to the mix this off-season, after bringing in Cody Ford with the 38th overall pick and Ty Nsekhe on a 2-year, 10 million dollar contract last off-season. Nsekhe technically only made one start, but he averaged 35.8 snaps per game in the 10 games he played, as the Bills went with the unorthodox approach of rotating him and Ford at right tackle in the games they were both healthy. 

The Bills may continue that approach in 2020, though it’s unclear how Williams would figure into it. Ford also could take a step forward in his 2nd year in the league, after finishing 78th out of 89 qualifying offensive tackles on PFF last season, while Nsekhe is going into his age 35 season and, though he’s flashed in limited action as an injury replacement in his career, he’s never been a full-time starter (17 career starts). Given that, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Ford became a traditional every down starting right tackle in 2020.

Ford will have to compete with that role though, not just with Nsekhe, but with Williams, who wasn’t a needed addition, but joins the growing contingency of former Panthers players on the Bills rosters. Williams might not end up playing much, but he could prove to be a steal on a 1-year, 2.25 million dollar deal if he needs to see action. A 4th round pick in 2015, Williams seemingly had a breakout 2017 season, finishing as PFF’s 14th ranked offensive tackle in 16 starts on the right side, but he missed all but 1 game with injury in 2018 and saw his replacement Taylor Moton keep the job long-term, which forced Williams to play out of position when he returned from the injury in 2019. 

Possibly still hampered by the injury, Williams received a below average grade from PFF last season, while making 3 starts at left tackle, 6 starts at left guard, and 3 starts at right guard. Williams is still an injury concern and he’s a one-year wonder in terms of being the caliber player he was in 2017, but still only going into his age 28 season, so he was a worthwhile flyer on a cheap one-year deal. He might not see much action though on a solid offensive line that is one of the deepest in the league, with up to 8 guys who could legitimately start elsewhere.

Grade: B

Receiving Corps

The Bills also overhauled their receiving corps last off-season, most notably adding wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley on deals worth 27 million over 3 years and 29 million over 4 years respectively. Both players had impressive slash lines in their first season in Buffalo, 72/1060/2 and 67/778/6 respectively and finished in the top-37 among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus, but this passing game was a little too dependent on them, as they accounted for 43.1% of the Bills targets and 53.7% of their receiving yards on the season. They needed to find a reliable third target this off-season.

Needing a third target, the Bills instead shot for the moon and acquired a legitimate #1 receiver in Stefon Diggs, who comes over from the Vikings. Diggs wasn’t cheap, as the Bills gave Minnesota the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (among lesser picks) and are picking up the remaining 47.5 million over 4 years left on his contract, but the Bills can afford to be aggressive with Josh Allen on a cheap rookie deal and, without many pressing needs this off-season, it made sense for the Bills to package together a few draft picks to bring in one of the better wide receivers in the league. Even with this being a deep wide receiver draft class, Diggs is better immediately than anyone the Bills could have gotten with #22 overall and the Bills are in win now mode. 

Diggs might not have come cheap, but he’s the kind of player it makes sense to give up a premium pick for in the right situation, as a player of his caliber in the prime of his career rarely would come available in free agency and, if they did, they would command a much bigger contract than what the Bills are picking up. Still only going into his age 27 season, Diggs is actually coming off the best year of his career. The only reason he was traded is because the Vikings are a run heavy team with cap problems that couldn’t justify paying top dollar for quarterback Kirk Cousins and both of his top targets Adam Thielen and Diggs.

Diggs’ 63/1130/6 slash line in 2019 was a career high, but he played even better than that suggests, given that he played on a team with other passing targets and that had more run attempts than pass attempts. Diggs had that yardage (17th in the NFL) on just 94 targets (45th in the NFL) and he finished the season only behind Michael Thomas in yards per route run with 2.69. Last year might have been his career best, but he’s hardly a one-year wonder, averaging 1.83 yards per route run for his career and finishing in the top-30 among wide receivers on PFF in all 5 seasons he’s been in the league. He’s joining another run heavy offense in Buffalo so I wouldn’t expect huge numbers from him, especially with Beasley and Brown still around to take targets away, but he should be the clear #1 receiver.

Brown’s addition will obviously take targets away from Beasley and Brown, who ranked 33rd and 26th in the NFL in targets last season, both ahead of Diggs. Brown probably stands the lose the most as Diggs now becomes their primary outside receiver. Brown is also coming off of a career best year, but it wasn’t his first thousand yard year, as he topped the mark with a 65/1003/7 slash line way back in 2015. In between, Brown dealt with illness and injury and hardly made an impact in 2016 and 2017, but he got healthy for 2018 and was on pace for a 60/1048/7 slash line through 9 games before the Ravens benched Joe Flacco for a raw Lamar Jackson, who barely looked his way. That allowed the Bills to snatch him up on a good value contract. He’s going into his age 30 season already, but he’s now the clear #2 receiver, a role he should still be well qualified for, even if he has a significant statistical drop off when fewer balls go his way.

Beasley should see fewer balls as well, but he remains locked in as this team’s primary slot receiver. He may see his snaps decrease slightly from the 729 he played last season, but he ran 74.2% of his routes from the slot last season and doesn’t have any real competition for slot snaps. Like Brown, his age is becoming a concern, going into his age 31 season, but he’s averaged a solid 1.43 yards per route run from the slot over the past 4 seasons and could easily remain an reliable slot option for at least another couple years. With Brown and Diggs on the outside around Beasley, this is one of the better top wide receiver trios in the NFL and they have adequate depth to boot, with 4th round rookie Gabriel Davis and gadget speedster Isaiah McKenzie (7.81 yards per catch after the catch on 27 catches last season) being the most intriguing of the bunch.

The Bills are also expecting more from tight end Duke Dawson, a 2019 3rd round pick who had an underwhelming 28/388/2 slash line as a rookie. He could easily take a step forward in his 2nd season in the league, but there won’t be a lot of balls for him as the 4th receiving option at best on a run heavy team. Fortunately, he’s an adequate blocker, which should allow him to see significant playing time. Veteran blocking tight ends Lee Smith and Tyler Kroft remain as depth, though they caught just 10 passes combined last season. This is a talented receiving corps overall, with the addition of Diggs.

Grade: A-

Running Backs

As mentioned, the Bills are a run heavy team, with 465 run attempts (6th in the NFL) to 513 pass attempts (24th in the NFL) last season. Part of that is Josh Allen’s propensity to take off and run, something he did on 109 occasions last season, and the addition of Diggs may cause the Bills to open up their passing game more, but the selection of Utah’s Zack Moss in the 3rd round to replace Frank Gore as the backup running back suggests there are still plenty of carries for running backs on this offense. Running back is one of the easiest positions for rookies to have an immediate impact at and Moss will team up with last year’s third round pick Devin Singletary to potentially form a two headed monster at the running back position.

How the carries will be divided between the two is yet to be determined. Singletary was limited to 20 carries in the first 8 games of the season by a combination of injury and veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, but he rushed for 603 yards and a score on 131 carries (4.60 YPC) in the final 8 games of the season as essentially a feature back, significantly out-carrying veteran Frank Gore (60 carries). Moss’ draft status suggests he could take more carries away than that, but he could be primarily used as a passing down back, as he has much more ability in those situations than Singletary (4.73 yards per target as a rookie), and if Singletary continues running like he did last season it will be hard to take carries away from him. 

Not only did Singletary have long carries (10th in the NFL with 36.4% of his rushing yards coming on carries of 15+), but he also ranked above average with a 50% carry success rate, keeping this offense on schedule. Having Allen as a threat to take off and run makes finding running room much easier and that is something that should benefit both Singletary and Moss this season, even if Allen’s propensity to run limits the amount of carries running backs get. They should remain an effective running team this season, with Singletary going into his second year in the league and a talented running back replacing the aged Frank Gore (3.61 YPC in 2019).

Grade: B+

Edge Defenders

While the Bills’ offense was underwhelming last season, finishing 23rd in first down rate at 34.18%, their defense was much better, finishing 3rd in first down rate allowed, although that’s kind of misleading. Not only did they face one of the easiest schedules in the league, but they also were closer to the 17th ranked Cowboys than the 1st ranked Patriots with a 32.66% first down rate allowed. Still, this is a deep defense without obvious flaws and, while they had some off-season losses, they did a good job adding replacements. Much like on offense, the Bills have gone with a quantity over quality approach on defense, with few standouts but great depth.

On the edge, the Bills are replacing free agent departure Shaq Lawson and retired hybrid linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Alexander. They combined for just 8.5 sacks last season, but Lawson’s 6.5 were second on the team and combined they had a 13.8% pressure rate, so those aren’t small losses. The Bills replaced them by signing ex-Panther Mario Addison to a 3-year, 30.45 million dollar deal in free agency and then using a 2nd round pick on Iowa’s AJ Epenesa. Epenesa might not make a big impact as a rookie, but Addison and incumbent starters Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy are all heading into their age 30 season or later, so Epenesa was an important pick for the long-term, and the Bills like to rotate their defensive linemen, so he’ll have at least a small role in the short-term as well.

Addison is the oldest of the bunch, going into his age 33 season. Originally undrafted in 2011, Addison was a very late bloomer, not becoming a productive rotational player until 2015 and not becoming a starter until 2017, but he has somewhat remarkably seen his snap total increase in each of the past 4 seasons, from 392 to a career high 729 last season. Unfortunately, he seems to be on the decline, as his Pro Football Focus grade has fallen in each of the past 3 seasons, from an 11th ranked finish among edge defenders in 2016 all the way to a 71st ranked finish out of 118 qualifiers in 2019. Given his age, that’s not all that surprising. He still wasn’t bad last season though and had a 11.4% pressure rate, down from the 13.1% pressure rate he has since 2015, but still solid. He could have another couple seasons left in the tank as a solid player, especially if the Bills scale his snaps back in a rotational role, but he was a slight overpay, given that the Bills could have re-signed the much younger Shaq Lawson for around the same price.

Hughes is probably the best of the bunch, assuming his abilities don’t totally fall off in his age 32 season. He’s finished in the top-37 among edge defenders on PFF in 6 of 7 seasons with the Bills (12.7% pressure rate over that stretch), including a 11th ranked finish as recently as 2018, so even if he does decline, he should remain a high level rotational edge defender at the very least. He might see his snaps scaled back from the 663 snaps he played last season, but he’ll still have a significant role.

Murphy is the youngest of the three, by default, as he doesn’t turn 30 until December. Murphy had a 13.9% pressure rate in 2016, but hasn’t been the same since missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL. In two seasons since, he’s only missed 3 games, but he’s had a 8.6% pressure rate and has earned middling grades overall from PFF. Given his age, it’s likely his best days are behind him, but he’s not a bad rotational player and could have another couple decent seasons left in the tank. Even 2019 7th round pick Darryl Johnson, who played 224 underwhelming snaps as a rookie, could see a small rotational role on the edge. This is a deep position, even if it lacks a standout player.

Grade: B+

Interior Defenders

The Bills also lost defensive tackle Jordan Phillips in free agency, but they signed Quinton Jefferson from the Seahawks and yet another ex-Panther Vernon Butler in free agency and they’ll get Harrison Phillips back from a torn ACL that ended his 2019 season after 3 games, so they have plenty of depth at the position. Phillips did lead this team with 9.5 sacks, but he didn’t play nearly as well as that suggests, as he added just 5 hits and a 7.7% pressure rate and didn’t make much of an impact against the run. The Bills were wise not to get into a bidding war for his services with the Arizona Cardinals, who signed him to a 3-year, 30 million dollar contract.

The 2-year, 15 million dollar deal they gave Butler isn’t better though. Butler was a first round pick in 2016, but averaged just underwhelming 322 snaps per season in 4 seasons in Carolina and made 9 starts total, all of which came down the stretch last season as an injury replacement on an awful Carolina defense. It’s not a surprise the Panthers didn’t pick up his 5th year option for 2020 (which would have guaranteed him 7.69 million for injury only) and made little effort to bring him back as a free agent. Still only going into his age 26 season, he still has theoretical upside, but the Bills fully guaranteeing him 7.8 million just seems like the brain trust, led by former Panther assistants Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, overvaluing one of their former guys.

Jefferson’s 2-year, 13.5 million dollar deal is a much better value. Originally a 7th round pick in 2016, Jefferson broke out in 2019 with a 32nd ranked finish among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus. In addition to his 3.5 sacks, he also had a 9.7% pressure rate and played above average run defense. Jefferson is primarily a defensive tackle, but has the versatility to play some defensive end in certain situations. He’s a one-year wonder, as he was underwhelming in the first significant action of his career in 2018 and played just 151 snaps total in his first 2 seasons in the league prior to that, but he was still a worthwhile addition given the contract he received. It’s possible he’s turned a corner as a player and will continue playing well going forward. Only going into his age 27 season, he could prove to be well worth this contract. 

Harrison Phillips is like a free agent addition, given that the Bills got just 77 snaps out of him before he got hurt. Phillips’ season was off to a good start before the injury and he earned an above average grade from PFF on 389 snaps as a 3rd round rookie in 2018, so he has the potential to be a big re-addition, still only going into his age 24 season. He won’t have a huge role at a very deep position, but he’s a good run stuffer who showed improvement as a pass rusher in limited action last season.

Incumbents Ed Oliver and Star Lotulelei also remain as the likely starters at a position that legitimately goes five deep when healthy. Lotulelei is arguably the worst of the five, despite his status as a starter. Also a former first round pick by the Panthers, Lotulelei is a solid run stuffer, but little else, with 13.5 career sacks in 108 career games and a 5.0% career pressure rate. The Bills gave him a 5-year, 50 million dollar contract in free agency as one of their first former Panther additions but, like Butler, that was a case of overpaying for a familiar player. The Bills restructured his contract this off-season and he may see fewer snaps than the 482 he saw last season at a position that looks even deeper, but they still guaranteed him 7 million for 2020, so he’ll still have a role. Going into his age 31 season, his best days are likely behind him.

Oliver, meanwhile, should be the best of the bunch and should lead the position in snaps, assuming he doesn’t miss time with a suspension after an off-season incident. The 9th overall pick in 2019, Oliver earned an average grade from PFF on 557 rookie year snaps, but he is just scratching the surface on his potential. He could easily take a step forward in his second year in the league and in a few years he could be one of the best players in the league at his position. He leads a solid, if unspectacular group.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

Not much has changed at linebacker for the Bills this off-season. They did lose hybrid player Lorenzo Alexander, who played some linebacker in base packages, but they bring back their top-2 linebackers, Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds, both of whom play close to every down and stay on the field in nickel packages. Milano is actually one of the better coverage linebackers in the league, finishing 14th and 4th on Pro Football Focus in 2018 and 2019 respectively in coverage grade among off ball linebackers. 

The 6-0 223 pounder is unsurprisingly not as good against the run, missing 35 tackles over the past 2 seasons, but he has still finished 11th and 32nd among off ball linebackers overall on PFF in the past 2 seasons respectively. Still only going into his age 25 season, Milano may still have untapped potential and could take another step forward in 2020. Now going into the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, the former 5th round pick will be expensive to keep, whenever the Bills try to re-sign him.

Edmunds was a higher pick, going 16th overall in 2018, but he has yet to break out in the way that Milano has. Edmunds has filled up the stat sheet with tackles, but more than half of his tackles have been assists, and he’s also missed 35 tackles over the past 2 seasons, despite being much bigger than Milano at 6-5 250. Unlike Milano, who has made up for his missed tackles with his coverage ability, Edmunds has been unremarkable in coverage and has earned below average grades overall in both seasons in the league, though his 51st ranked finish out of 100 qualifiers in 2019 was a noticeable improvement from his rookie year. He’s also still somehow only going into his age 22 season, meaning he’s younger than many rookies, so he still has plenty of upside long-term.

With Alexander retiring, the Bills brought in yet another former Panther to play the 3rd linebacker role, signing AJ Klein, a 7-year veteran of the Panthers and Saints, to a 3-year, 18 million dollar deal in free agency. It’s a lot of money for a player of Klein’s caliber, especially since he isn’t likely to play more than half of the snaps in a purely base package role. Klein has been close to an every down player in 43 starts for the Saints over the past 3 seasons, averaging 48.6 snaps per game, but he’s earned mediocre grades from PFF. He may be better in a pure base package role, but to be worth his salary, he’ll have to excel in that role. Even if he was an overpay though, he’s still a capable third linebacker in a solid overall position group.

Grade: B+

Secondary

The Bills also added help to their secondary this off-season, signing, you guessed it, yet another ex-Panther, Josh Norman, most recently of the Redskins. Adding a veteran cornerback to the mix made sense because the Bills lost Kevin Johnson (335 snaps) in free agency and needed competition for young cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson, who finished 2nd and 3rd among Bills cornerbacks with 785 snaps and 495 snaps respectively. Norman’s contract, 6 million over one year, suggests he’s more than just competition though, which could prove to be a mistake.

During his time in Carolina, Norman developed into one of the better cornerbacks in the league, earning above average grades in his final 2 seasons with the team, including a career best 3rd ranked finish among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus in 2015. That season landed him a 5-year, 75 million dollar deal with the Redskins that made him the highest paid cornerback in the league for years, but Norman never finished higher than 26th among cornerbacks in any of his 4 seasons in Washington and he bottomed out in his final season, ranking 128th out of 135 qualifying cornerbacks and getting benched down the stretch. 

It was an easy decision for the Redskins to move on from Norman this off-season rather than pay him his non-guaranteed 12.5 million dollar salary in 2020 and it’s surprising he even got the kind of contract the Bills gave him. He comes with some bounce back potential, but he’s already going into his age 33 season, so he may be coming to the end of the line and his best days are definitely behind him. Unless he has a strong off-season, he shouldn’t have a significant role in this secondary ahead of the younger cornerbacks.

Norman’s biggest competition for a starting job is likely incumbent Levi Wallace, who started all 16 games last season. Wallace wasn’t bad, earning a middling grade from PFF, but obviously the Bills feel they may be able to upgrade him with Norman. Wallace was undrafted two years ago, but flashed a lot of potential in 7 rookie year starts, earning PFF’s 3rd highest cornerback grade from week 10 on. He wasn’t as good over his first full season as a starter, but he’s proven himself now over 23 starts and has earned the right to keep his starting role.

Taron Johnson is likely locked in as the primary slot cornerback again, as Norman’s lack of slot experience (he’s never exceeded 100 slot snaps in a season) means he’s not a real threat to his job. He’s been a middling slot cornerback since entering the league as a 4th round pick in 2018, but he was slightly better when healthier on 405 rookie year snaps and could have his best year yet in his third year in the league 2020 if he can avoid injuries. Still, if the Bills were going to try to upgrade one cornerback spot this off-season, finding competition on the slot would have made more sense than adding competition for Wallace outside.

Tre’Davious White is locked in as the other outside cornerback, as he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the league and has the upside to get even better. A first round selection in 2017, White finished 5th among cornerbacks on PFF as a rookie and 17th among cornerbacks last season. While he did have a down 2018 season in between, he’s still only allowed 54.2% completion, 7.06 YPA, and 5 touchdowns, as opposed to 12 picks and 24 passes broken up. Cornerback is arguably the toughest position in the NFL to be consistently dominant at, but White has the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for a long time, still only going into his age 25 season. He has two years left on his rookie deal, but he won’t become cheaper with time, so the Bills should be trying to lock him up long-term as soon as possible.

In addition to having one of the better #1 cornerbacks in the league, the Bills also have one of the better safety duos in the league and will bring back Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer for their fourth season together in 2020. Both were under the radar signings, Hyde coming in on a 5-year, 30.5 million dollar deal and Poyer coming in on a 4-year, 13 million dollar deal, but both have been much better on their second contract than they were with their previous teams on rookie contracts. 

Hyde went from playing 651 nondescript snaps per game as versatile defensive back depth in 4 seasons with the Packers to starting all 47 games he’s played in 3 seasons in Buffalo and finishing 7th, 9th, and 12th among on PFF safeties over the past 3 seasons respectively. Poyer, meanwhile, made only 10 starts in 4 seasons prior to joining the Bills, with 6 of them coming in his injury plagued final season in Cleveland, but he has finished 9th, 49th, and 22nd respectively among safeties on PFF in 3 seasons with the Bills. Hyde still has two years left on his bargain deal, while Poyer was given a deservedly massive pay raise with a 2-year, 19.5 million dollar extension this off-season. Still relatively young, with Hyde going into his age 30 season and Poyer going into his age 29 season, they should have another strong season together in 2020. Along with top cornerback Tre’Davious White, they lead this talented secondary.

Grade: A-

Conclusion

The Bills made the playoffs as a wild card last season against an easy schedule, but they really struggled against tougher competition, especially young quarterback Josh Allen, which is a big concern as they’re set to face one of the tougher projected schedules in the league this season. The same is true of the rest of their division, which became a lot more winnable when Tom Brady left New England, but the Patriots don’t seem likely to just disappear and, even if the Bills are able to win arguably the weakest division in football, it’s hard to see them going on a big run in the playoffs, unless they get a third year breakout year from quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills have given him a big help by adding a #1 wide receiver to what now looks like one of the better receiving corps in the league, but Allen has a big jump to make against tougher competition, so I think this team is probably at least a year away. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.

Final Update: The Bills lose Star Lotulelei to an opt out, but they’re deep enough at defensive tackle that they arguably might be better off without the aging Lotulelei. I still have them slightly behind the Patriots in the worst division in football, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bills were able to win the division.

Projection: 8-8 (2nd in AFC East)

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