TE Courtney Anderson, DT Marcus Stroud, DT Spencer Johnson, OLB Kawika Mitchell, OLB Donnie Spragan, CB William James-Peterson.
RB Xavier Omon, WR James Hardy, WR Steve Johnson, TE Derek Fine, OT Demetrius Bell, DE Chris Ellis, OLB Alvin Bowen, CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Reggie Corner, CB Kennard Cox.
RB Anthony Thomas, RB Shaud Williams, FB Ryan Neufeld, WR Peerless Price, WR Sam Aiken, TE Michael Gaines, TE Teyo Johnson, TE Kevin Everett, G Aaron Merz, DE Al Wallace, DT Larry Tripplett, OLB Mario Haggan, OLB Josh Stamer, ILB Leon Joe, ILB Kevin Harrison, CB Jason Webster, CB Kiwaukee Thomas, CB Jerametrius Butler, CB E.J. Underwood, S Jim Leonhard, S Coy Wire.
2008 Buffalo Bills Offense:
Unlike New York's other AFC team, there is no quarterback controversy in Buffalo. Trent Edwards is the man. While Edwards has some flaws, including deep accuracy and durability, he's much better than J.P. Losman. The Bills actually tried shopping Losman but couldn't find any takers. Losman has a rocket arm and looks like Adam Sandler, which is a plus, but his inconsistency, poor decision-making and inability to make reads scared teams away. Or maybe it was girly voice. Who knows?
Though Edwards was just a rookie last season, Buffalo's offense was much more efficient with him at the helm. Take away an 8-0 loss at Cleveland in a blinding blizzard with winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour, and the Bills averaged 19.8 points per game with Edwards at the helm. In contests Losman started? Just 13.4.
Despite that fact, Edwards still put up marginal numbers; he threw more picks (8) than touchdowns (7), and his completion percentage (56.1) was very pedestrian. Edwards has added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, so perhaps a stronger arm, combined with a year under his belt, is what he needs to thrive in his sophomore campaign.
If Edwards struggles, he definitely can't blame his supporting cast. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, despite missing three starts because of an ankle injury. With the conservative Dick Jauron on the sidelines, Lynch will receive 20-25 rushes per game. If he gets hurt again, reserve runner Fred Jackson proved that he can be an effective substitute. As a 26-year-old rookie, Jackson gained 300 yards on a 5.2 yards-per-carry average, including a 115-yard effort against the Dolphins. Jackson is solid at receiving the ball out of the backfield, though there is speculation that Lynch's role as a pass-catcher will increase in 2008.
Lynch and Jackson were able to run well because of the solid line blocking in front of them. At 6-4, 340 pounds, Jason Peters has emerged as one of the top left tackles in the NFL. Unfortunately, Peters is holding out because he wants to renegotiate his contract. I say pay the man. Peters is in the middle of a 5-year deal worth $15 million. He's one of the best players at his position, and he certainly deserves a lot more than he's currently making. Hopefully Bills management does the right thing and resolves this issue by the preseason.
Peters isn't the only talented player on the line; there's a reason Buffalo ran the ball and extremely well and kept defenders out of the backfield (26 sacks on the year). Left guard Derrick Dockery inked a 7-year, $49 million contract last spring, and was well worth the money. At right guard, Brad Butler has developed into a very powerful run-blocker. Center Melvin Fowler and right tackle Langston Walker are the weak links of the front, but I don't consider either a liability.
Two offensive areas I felt the Bills needed to address this offseason were possession receiver and tight end. They really needed a complement for Lee Evans, a lightning-quick wide out who is one year removed from compiling 82 receptions, 1,290 yards and eight touchdowns. Management made the right move in drafting James Hardy in the second round. While rookie receivers often have trouble transitioning to the NFL, Hardy can at least become a potent end-zone threat. At 6-5, 212, it'll be hard for Edwards to miss Hardy. I also think Steve Johnson, Buffalo's seventh-round selection, will contribute in the future. I liked him coming out of Kentucky, and apparently he has been impressing the coaching staff at minicamps.
As for the tight end position, Buffalo gets Robert Royal back from knee surgery. Royal is an effective blocker, but has never caught more than 25 receptions in a season. The pass-catching tight end in the offense figures to be Derek Schouman, who has three career receptions. The Bills attempted to upgrade this area by drafting 24-year-old Derek Fine in the fourth round. I wasn't a big fan of the selection, but maybe Fine will surprise me.
Buffalo averaged 15.8 points per game in 2007, good for 30th in the NFL. But as I explained earlier, the scoring unit was much more efficient with Trent Edwards under center. As long as Edwards stays healthy and the Peters contract issue gets resolved, the Bills' offense should be able to make a respectable jump up to somewhere around 15th or 20th.
2008 Buffalo Bills Defense:
It's amazing the Bills were 7-9 last year when you consider all the injuries they incurred on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, they had at least one major long-term injury on every level of their defense.
Starting up front, the two guys rotating at left end, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney were both hobbled last season. Kelsay was hampered with an ankle injury the second half of the season, but still managed to play most of the year. Denney, meanwhile, missed nine contests, needing foot surgery. Kelsay and Denney combined for 11 sacks in 2006, but managed just four last season. With both guys set to come back, Buffalo figures to register more than 26 sacks (last year's total), assuming that right end Aaron Schobel returns to form. Schobel is one of the top defensive ends in the NFL. He accumulated 27 sacks in 2005 and 2006, but had just six last season. The good news is that Schobel recorded four of those six sacks in the final five weeks of the year.
With more pressure on the quarterback, Buffalo's secondary, ranked 29th in 2007, figures to be better this time around. Terrence McGee, who led the squad with four picks, is an elite corner. The competition to start across from him figures to be a very intriguing battle. Buffalo drafted Leodis McKelvin with the 11th overall selection, but the Troy State product has yet to surpass fifth-year veteran Jabari Greer, who has looked excellent in minicamps. Whoever loses the fight will be the nickel, meaning the Bills will have three solid cornerbacks on their defense.
At free safety, Ko Simpson will be back after missing 15 games with a fractured ankle. Simpson has yet to prove himself as a potent defensive back in this league, making him the weakest link in this secondary, although you could say that by default. Strong safety Donte Whitner, entering his third season at only 23 years old, is on the verge of becoming one of the premier players at his position.
We've established that the Bills will be better against the pass, but what about the run? In an effort to fix their 25th ranking against it, they traded third- and fifth-round selections to the Jaguars for Marcus Stroud. Stroud is a space-eater when healthy, but the problem is he's been hurt so much. That could change though; Stroud is now two years removed from ankle surgery. He struggled on it last season, but he could be as close to 100 percent as he's been since 2005. John McCargo and Kyle Williams figure to battle for the right to play next to Stroud. McCargo has never started an NFL game, but he's now two years removed from a broken foot, and completely healthy for the first time in his professional career.
The injury Buffalo had to deal with at linebacker was a broken arm suffered by Paul Posluszny, who played just three contests in his rookie campaign. Posluszny is sandwiched between the extremely underrated Angelo Crowell, who led the squad with 126 tackles at strongside linebacker, and the newly acquired Kawika Mitchell, who played very well for the Giants in their Super Bowl run. Weakside linebacker was a major problem area for the Bills' stop unit, but that's no longer the case with Mitchell in the mix.
Teams and fans like to blame injuries for miserable seasons, but the Bills actually had beef. If their stop unit remains healthy for a change, they'll be able to surprise a lot of people. A top-10 defensive ranking wouldn't be out of the question.
2008 Buffalo Bills Schedule and Intangibles:
If ESPN didn't kill its best show, the original NFL Primetime, Chris Berman would say, "Bills... special... teams. No, wait! Bills special teams!" Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish have returned a combined seven kickoffs or punt returns for touchdowns the previous four seasons. Unfortunately, Buffalo allowed a kickoff score itself last year.
Rian Lindell nailed 24-of-27 field goals in 2007 a year after going 23-of-25. In the past three years, he's 19-of-26 from 40-49 and an amazing 7-of-8 from 50-plus. Is there any doubt that Lindell is one of the top kickers in the league?
Brian Moorman maintained a meager punting average of 40.8. He hit 30-of-81 inside the opposing 20 though.
The Bills have two tough games atop their schedule against the Seahawks and Jaguars, but things get easier after that. Winnable contests include: Jets (twice), Dolphins (twice), Raiders, Rams, Cardinals, Chiefs, 49ers and Broncos.
2008 Buffalo Bills Analysis: Buffalo had seven victories last year despite a barrage of injuries on defense and a rookie quarterback under center. Four of their nine losses were by single digits. Would a healthy Bills squad have won three of those four contests? I'd like to think so.
Buffalo looks like an upstart team that could shock the national media. Trent Edwards has a season under his belt. He'll have a new end-zone target in James Hardy. The defense will get everyone back from the IR. The schedule looks very manageable. Don't be surprised if the Bills make it to the playoffs in 2008.
Projection: 11-5 (2nd in AFC East)
2008 Fantasy Football Rankings:
Trent Edwards: Trent Edwards should be able to improve this year, but because he plays for the ultra-conservative Dick Jauron, don't expect anything great fantasy-wise. Not worth drafting.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 2,900 passing yards. 15 passing TDs. 100 rushing yards. 0 rushing TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 245.
Marshawn Lynch: Marshawn Lynch ran for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns despite missing three games with an ankle injury. As long as Dick Jauron is on the sidelines, you know Lynch is going to get the ball early and often. As a plus, the Bills play the 49ers, Dolphins, Jets and Broncos in Weeks 13-16. It's also been reported that Lynch will be a greater factor in the passing attack, making him somewhat of a sleeper.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 1,325 rushing yards. 250 receiving yards. 10 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 217.
Derek Schouman: Figures to be Buffalo's pass-catching tight end/H-back, unless fourth-round rookie Derek Fine can win the job. Don't expect much out of either guy.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 200 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 26.
Lee Evans: Feast or famine. Lee Evans had four games with five or more receptions, but also had seven contests with two or less catches. Evans is a speed receiver, but Trent Edwards' deep accuracy isn't as good as J.P. Losman's. On the bright side, James Hardy's presence will keep opposing defenses from double-teaming Evans. Personally, I wouldn't draft Evans as anything higher than a WR3 because I prefer consistency. But that's just me.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 925 receiving yards. 4 total TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 116.
James Hardy: At the very least, James Hardy will be an effective end-zone target, making him good enough to be a late-round flier in touchdown leagues.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 550 receiving yards. 5 TDs.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 85.
Steve Johnson: No other receiver on the Bills is worth listing, so I thought I'd mention Steve Johnson. A Kentucky product, Johnson was chosen in the seventh round despite being a fourth-round prospect. He has looked good in minicamps, so consider him in a keeper league.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 220 receiving yards. 1 TD.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 28.
Rian Lindell: An excellent kicker in fantasy football, Rian Lindell is 7-of-8 from 50-plus the past three years. Buffalo's offense figures to be better in 2008, so that means more field goal and extra point opportunities.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Stats: 25-28 FG (2-2 50+). 33 XP.
Projected 2008 Fantasy Points: 118.
Buffalo Defense: The Bills had just 26 sacks last year because of multiple injuries to their defense. They'll be much better in 2008, though I wouldn't recommend starting them. They're a nice bye-filler against Oakland (Week 3), St. Louis (Week 4), Miami (Week 8) and the Jets (Week 10).
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.
2008 NFL Draft Grade:
Buffalo had an excellent first day. How in the world did the top cornerback in the draft fall to No. 11? The Bills are now loaded at the position with Leodis McKelvin, Terrence McGee and Jabari Greer. ... Buffalo addressed another huge need in the second round, picking up James Hardy. Hardy has had his share of off-the-field issues, but there's no doubt that he's one of the most physically gifted receivers in this class. If he stays out of trouble, he'll be a lethal weapon for Trent Edwards. I also liked Steve Johnson in Round 7. Johnson was a Round 4-5 prospect who could emerge as a great tertiary option for the Bills. ... Chris Ellis, a good bargain in the third round, will be solid depth on the defensive line.
Who is Reggie Corner? Sounds like a made-up person the Madden franchise mode comes up with. I doubt Corner would have been drafted at all, so taking him at pick No. 114 was a major reach. ... Another reach was Derek Fine at 132. Tight end's a need, but Derek Fine? ... I'm also puzzled by the Xavier Omon selection. Omon, who wasn't projected to be drafted, doesn't exactly fill a need for Buffalo. I'm not sure if he makes the team as anything more than a special-teamer.
Grade give on 4/29/08: B-
2008 NFL Draft Picks:
11. Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy State
How do you get the top corner and a top-seven prospect at No. 11? Highway robbery. The Bills won't steal the AFC East like Steve Young likes to suggest, but they took a major step closer to the playoffs. (Pick Grade: A)
41. James Hardy, WR, Indiana
The Bills also managed to grab what could be the best wide receiver in this class at No. 41. You have to love it when your team takes advantage of the ineptitude of other GMs. Buffalo fans have to be smiling tonight. (Pick Grade: A)
72. Chris Ellis, DE, Virginia Tech
Not bad - the Bills need depth at the defensive end position. (Pick Grade: B)
114. Reggie Corner, CB, Akron
If the Bills really wanted Reggie Corner, they could have waited until the seventh round. I doubt he would have been drafted. I'm shocked to see Buffalo make such a horrible pick. (Pick Grade: F)
132. Derek Fine, TE, Kansas
If you listen closely, you may hear Bills fans scowling from western New York. Derek Fine? In the fourth round? Yeeesh. Tight end was a need, but Fine is anything but a fine pick (pun very much intended.) (Pick Grade: D)
147. Alvin Bowen, OLB, Iowa State
Well... the Bills needed linebacker depth... But I didn't have Alvin Bowen drafted. I hope Buffalo realized that Erin Henderson was still on the board. (Pick Grade: C)
179. Xavier Omon, RB, Northwest Missouri State
The scowling is getting louder... Another player I didn't have drafted. This doesn't seem to fill a need either. (Pick Grade: F)
219. Demetrius Bell, OT, Northwestern State
A solid pick in the seventh round; depth is needed at tackle and the range is right. (Pick Grade: A)
224. Steve Johnson, WR, Kentucky
Five years from now, we might look back at this pick and say, "How did Steve Johnson slip all the way to No. 224?" (Pick Grade: A)
251. Kennard Cox, CB, Pittsburgh
Not on my board, but it's the seventh round. (Pick Grade: C)
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It's safe to say the Bills were a lot better than their mediocre record indicates. Picked last in the division by many prognosticators, Buffalo could have easily been 10-6 or so, as four of the team's contests were decided by eight points or less. However, Bills fans will always remember the 2007 season as the year Kevin Everett suffered a near-fatal injury and later miraculously retained his ability to walk.
Bills sign OLB Donnie Spragan
Bills cut TE Teyo Johnson
Bills cut TE Kevin Everett
Bills re-sign DT Jason Jefferson
Bills re-sign CB Dustin Fox
Bills re-sign WR Scott Mayle
Bills sign CB William James-Peterson
Bills re-sign S Bryan Scott
Bills sign TE Courtney Anderson
Bills re-sign C Jason Whittle
Bills re-sign TE Matt Murphy
Bills receive DT Marcus Stroud from the Jaguars for third- and fifth-round picks
Bills sign DT Spencer Johnson
Bills sign OLB Kawika Mitchell
Bills cut DT Larry Tripplett
Bills cut CB Kiwaukee Thomas
Bills cut S Jim Leonhard
Bills cut RB Anthony Thomas
Bills cut CB Jerametrius Butler
Bills cut S Coy Wire
Bills cut G Aaron Merz
Bills cut WR Peerless Price
Bills cut MLB Kevin Harrison
Bills cut CB E.J. Underwood
Possession Receiver: Lee Evans is an electrifying wide out with blazing speed, but the Bills must acquire a big receiver capable of going over the middle. Malcolm Kelly is an option at No. 11, as are James Hardy and Devin Thomas in the second round. Drafted James Hardy and Steve Johnson
Defensive End: The Bills could be in trouble at the defensive end position in 2008, as the guys who play across from Aaron Schobel - Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney - both suffered serious injuries toward the end of the 2007 campaign and will consequently not be able to work out during the offseason. Buffalo needs to upgrade its pass rush anyway, as the team managed only 26 sacks. Greg White wouldn't be a bad free-agent signing. Drafted Chris Ellis
Defensive Tackle: More help on the defensive line is a must, as nose tackle is a problem for the Bills' Cover-2 scheme. I doubt Sedrick Ellis will fall to No. 11, so I'd like to see the team throw tons of money at Corey Williams. Traded for Marcus Stroud; signed Spencer Johnson
Weakside Linebacker: Keith Ellison was overwhelmed at times during the 2007 season, exposing the weakside linebacker position as a gaping hole in Buffalo's stop unit. Keith Rivers makes sense at No. 11. If he's gone, the team will probably go with Ali Highsmith or Erin Henderson in the second round. Signed Kawika Mitchell
Center: Melvin Fowler simply isn't cutting it as Buffalo's starting center. A guy like Steve Justice could be the answer in Round 3.
Tight End: In the wake of Kevin Everett's devastating injury, the Bills need a possession tight end like Martin Rucker or Martellus Bennett, both of whom could be obtained with one of their two third-round selections. Drafted Derek Fine; signed Courtney Anderson
Fullback: I'd like to see the Bills find an upgrade at fullback. Current starter Ryan Neufeld is a free agent, and I doubt he'll be back now that former offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild is gone. Owen Schmitt is an option in Round 4.
Cornerback: When you're playing a team with weapons like Randy Moss, Wes Worker, Donte' Stallworth and Ben Watson, you need all the cornerback help you can get. This can be addressed in the later rounds of April's draft. Drafted Leodis McKelvin, Reggie Corner and Kennard Cox; signed William James-Peterson
Backup Quarterback: With J.P. Losman on his way out of Buffalo, all the team will have is Trent Edwards and Gibran Hamdan at the signal-caller position. Getting a veteran like Billy Volek, Cleo Lemon or Chris Redman could pay dividends if Edwards gets hurt.
Buffalo Bills Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 13): $32.05 million
Michael Gaines, TE. Age: 28. Signed with Lions (4 years, $10 million)
Teams could be intrigued with Michael Gaines' size (6-3, 280), even though he's nothing more than a backup.
Bryan Scott, S. Age: 27. Bills re-sign Bryan Scott
A former starter with the Falcons, Bryan Scott is nothing more than a backup now, albeit a solid one.
Larry Tripplett, DT. Age: 29. - Signed with Seahawks
Anthony Thomas, RB. Age: 30.
Jason Webster, CB. Age: 31. - Signed with Patriots
Jason Whittle, C. Age: 33. - Re-signed with Bills
Jason Jefferson (RFA), Bills. Age: 26. - Re-signed with Bills (1 year)
Jim Leonhard (RFA), S. Age: 25. - Signed with Ravens
Mario Haggan, OLB. Age: 28.
Al Wallace, DE. Age: 34.
Shaud Williams, RB. Age: 27.
Coy Wire, S. Age: 29. - Signed with Falcons
Ryan Neufeld, FB. Age: 32.
Peerless Price, WR. Age: 31.
Leon Joe, MLB. Age: 26. - Signed with Buccaneers
Kiwaukee Thomas, CB. Age: 31. - Signed with Lions
Sam Aiken, WR. Age: 27. - Signed with Patriots (2 years, $2 million)
Josh Stamer, OLB. Age: 30. - Signed with Titans (2 years)
Jerametrius Butler, CB. Age: 29. - Signed with Saints
Aaron Merz, G. Age: 25.
Matt Murphy, TE. Age: 28. - Re-signed with Bills
Kevin Harrison, MLB. Age: 26.
E.J. Underwood, CB. Age: 25.
Teyo Johnson, TE. Age: 26.
Kevin Everett, TE. Age: 26.
Divisional Rival History: Miami Dolphins: One of the rare rivalries where the better team almost always wins. Sounds weird, doesn't it? Buffalo has claimed seven of the past eight battles. New England Patriots: Poor Bills. The Patriots have beaten them in 14 of the last 15 meetings. New York Jets: Traditionally a home-dominated series, but the Bills have bucked that trend. They've won the past three matchups.