2014 NFL Offseason: Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills (Last Year: 6-10)

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2014 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
RB Anthony Dixon, WR Mike Williams, G Chris Williams, OLB Keith Rivers, ILB Brandon Spikes, CB/S Corey Graham.
Draft Picks:
WR Sammy Watkins, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, ILB Preston Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, G/OT Cyril Richardson. Bills Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Kevin Kolb, WR Stevie Johnson, DE/DT Alex Carrington, S Jairus Byrd.

2014 Buffalo Bills Offense:
The Bills must really believe in E.J. Manuel. They dealt away their 2015 first-round pick in order to move up from No. 9 to No. 4 in order to obtain Sammy Watkins. Doing so guarantees they won’t have a shot at Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston next spring. Thus, if Manuel struggles in 2014, Buffalo will have to live with him in 2015 as well.

Watkins will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen. The consensus No. 1 receiver in the class, Watkins is arguably in the same caliber as Julio Jones and A.J. Green, a pair of elite receivers who were chosen in the top six a few years ago. Watkins will start next to 2013 second-rounder Robert Woods, who is likely to improve off his 40-catch, 587-yard campaign. Mike Williams, acquired from Tampa Bay for a sixth-round selection, will enter the field in three-receiver sets. Williams is a lethargic player who probably won’t contribute much. There’s also Scott Chandler, but he’s a mediocre tight end coming off knee surgery. It’s puzzling as to why the Bills didn’t obtain an upgrade over him.

Manuel will need Watkins to live up to expectations and Woods to progress, as he maintained some pedestrian figures as a rookie, including a 58.8 completion percentage and a 6.4 YPA. The worst number of all, however, was three, as in the three knee operations Manuel endured last season. If Manuel gets hurt, it may not matter how dominant of a duo Watkins and Woods are. There’s always backup quarterback Thad Lewis, who was just as good as Manuel was in 2013, but he doesn’t have franchise-caliber talent.

The front line will have to make sure Manuel doesn’t get too banged up again. The Bills know this, which is why they spent a second-round choice on tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. The plan is for Kouandjio to compete for the right tackle job, but the Alabama product struggled mightily against speed rushers in the bowl game against Oklahoma. He also has durability issues, which is why he dropped into Round 2. If he can stay healthy, however, he could be an upgrade across from left tackle Cordy Glenn, who permitted only two sacks in 2013.

Buffalo is solid with two of its interior line positions. Center Eric Wood needs to cut down on his penalties – 10 infractions this past season – but he’s a good blocker overall. Right guard Kraig Urbik is also a quality blocker. The problem is at left guard, which was occupied by Andy Levitre prior to the 2013 campaign. The Bills have never properly replaced Levitre, so they may end up starting Doug Legursky there again. Legursky was awful, but there aren’t any better options on the roster unless fifth-round rookie Cyril Richardson steps up. Considering that Richardson barely looked like a draftable prospect at the Senior Bowl, that probably won’t happen.

If Kouandjio and Richardson are inserted into the lineup, the team’s run blocking should improve. That would obviously be good news for C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The plan last year was to use Spiller until his legs fell off, but that didn’t pan out because he couldn’t stay healthy. Spiller isn’t durable enough to be a bellcow back anyway, so he and Jackson figure to rotate again. Bryce Brown, acquired from the Eagles, will also be in the mix.

2014 Buffalo Bills Defense:
The Bills brought in Jim Schwartz to be their defensive coordinator, which means they’ll be switching to a 4-3 look this season. Scheme switches are usually bad ideas, but this move will benefit one of the top players on Buffalo’s stop unit, Mario Williams.

Williams actually didn’t have any issues operating in the 3-4 last year, registering 13 sacks. However, he’s a more natural fit for the 4-3, so moving back to defensive end should help him. The one concern with him, however, is a hip injury he sustained in the second half of the 2013 campaign. He underwent hip surgery in the offseason, but he has participated in OTAs, so he should be fine. Williams will start across from the rotation of Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes, a former first-round bust who mustered 9.5 sacks in 2013. There’s some concern, however, that Hughes may not transition well to the 4-3, given that he struggled in that scheme with the Colts.

If Hughes performs up to his talent in the 4-3, Buffalo will have a pretty formidable four-man front with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus starting in the interior. Both are perennial Pro Bowl-caliber talents, as they combined for 17.5 sacks in 2013. However, Dareus has endured a horrific offseason; he was arrested for marijuana possession a month after incurring three misdemeanors for drag racing. He has worked out with the team during minicamp, but his lack of focus on football is alarming, and he could be a candidate for regression.

Regardless of the positional switch, the Bills were bound to have an inferior defense this year because they lost Jairus Byrd to the Saints in free agency. Buffalo got a taste of life without Byrd this past season when he was either out or very limited in the first seven weeks of the season. The team surrendered 25.4 points per game without him and just 21.9 with him in the starting lineup. Byrd’s absence will force Buffalo to start Da’Norris Searcy next to the above-average Aaron Williams, who has transitioned well from corner to safety. Searcy isn’t a bad player, but he’s a big downgrade from Byrd.

Byrd actually wasn’t the only defensive back missing at the beginning of the 2013 campaign. Stephon Gilmore was out for the first five contests with a wrist injury and was never the same after that. The Bills will want him back healthy, but that may not be the case because he’s still recovering from offseason hip surgery, missing OTAs as a result. If Gilmore returns to the lineup, he’ll start across from the solid Leodis McKelvin. The aptly named Nickell Roby, meanwhile, will man the nickel spot again. He did a good job there in 2013.

The linebacking corps is looking like the worst unit on the defense, especially in the wake of Kiko Alonso’s season-ending ACL injury. Alonso had a fantastic rookie season, so he’ll be missed. Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers are now the top linebackers remaining on the roster. Spikes is just a two-down run specialist, while injuries have sapped Rivers of his talent.

2014 Buffalo Bills Schedule and Intangibles:
Buffalo’s special teams were brutal in 2013, as the team was outgained by a wide margin on both punts and kickoffs.

Dan Carpenter beat out sixth-round rookie Dustin Hopkins for the place-kicker job. He didn’t disappoint the coaching staff, nailing 33-of-36 tries, including 4-of-6 from 50-plus.

Brian Moorman was one of the league’s worst punters this past season in all regards.

The Bills have to deal with some tough opponents – Patriots twice, Bears, Broncos, Packers – but they also get the Jets twice, Dolphins twice, Raiders, Vikings and Browns.

2014 Buffalo Bills Rookies:
Go here for the Bills Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2014 Buffalo Bills Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2014 Buffalo Bills Analysis: The Bills mortgaged their future in order to get a top-level weapon for E.J. Manuel. They better hope Manuel pans out, or everyone will be out of a job before long. In the meantime, Buffalo should be competitive, but the team just isn’t good enough to contend for the AFC East title.

Projection: 6-10 (Tied 2nd in AFC East)

2014 Fantasy Football Rankings

More 2014 NFL Season Previews

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C- Grade

Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: It appears as though the Bills have three prospects in mind at No. 9: Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Eric Ebron. They’ll almost certainly nab one of them, and they’ll focus on the other two positions in later rounds. Buffalo has also met with a ton of cornerbacks and running backs, so the front office will probably address those two areas.

2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: If the Bills were the Broncos, Patriots, Seahawks, 49ers, Saints, etc., moving up for Sammy Watkins would have been a great move. Those teams are in win-now mode (especially Denver and New England), so giving up a valuable future resource to obtain a great play-maker like Watkins would have made a ton of sense.

The Bills are not those teams. They are not one or two pieces away from a Super Bowl. They’re still in a rebuilding process, so sacrificing a 2015 first-round pick will have disastrous ramifications going forward. Buffalo will likely be drafting in the top 12 next year, so it’ll miss out on a second potential blue-chip player.

Buffalo didn’t make up for this blunder with its other selections. Cyrus Kouandjio looked completely helpless against the Oklahoma pass-rushers in his bowl performance, and on top of that, he has medical concerns that knocked him out of the first round. Preston Brown was a reach in the third, while Ross Cockrell doesn’t really fill any sort of immediate need (and it’s not like he was the best player available). Also, essentially trading Stevie Johnson for Bryce Brown is kind of stupid.

The Bills had one of the worst drafts this year – and they won’t have a strong class next year either because of their missing picks.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: C+ Grade
The Bills get an A for Sammy Watkins. He’s a stud, and he’s going to be a great receiver in the NFL. Having said that, they get a D for moving up. They surrendered a first-round pick in 2015, and given that the quarterback is still E.J. Manuel, it’s likely that Cleveland will have an additional top-12 selection in 2015 NFL Draft.

I really hate it when teams trade up like this. It’s only a good idea if they’re one player away. The Bills are most definitely not one player away.

44. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama: C- Grade
Ugh, Bills, what are you doing? Cyrus Kouandjio didn’t look like a draftable prospect against Oklahoma in the bowl matchup. He had some other poor performances in 2013. He was seen as a borderline first-round prospect, but then some medical concerns came into question. Kouandjio should have been taken in third round, so this is a reach. He fills a big need for a right tackle, but Buffalo once again made a poor decision in this draft.

73. Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville: B- Grade
I had the Bills taking Preston Brown in the fourth round, 36 picks later. I feel as though it’s a slight reach, but it obviously makes sense. Buffalo signed a couple of short-term fixes at linebacker in free agency, but it needed an answer for the future at the position.

109. Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke: B- Grade
I didn’t quite understand the need, but the Bills brought in a bunch of cornerbacks throughout the pre-draft process, so it’s no surprise to see them select one at this juncture. Ross Cockrell, a tall corner, was seen as a fourth-round prospect.

153. Cyril Richardson, G/OT, Baylor: B- Grade
Cyril Richardson did not look like a draftable prospect in the Senior Bowl, but he has decent talent and could emerge as a quality backup for the Bills. Buffalo could be in trouble if he starts though.

221. Randell Johnson, OLB, Florida Atlantic: C Grade
I didn’t have Randell Johnson as a draftable prospect, and I heard zero buzz about him being on anyone’s board. But it’s the seventh round, and there is no such thing as a reach at this point.

237. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami: A- Grade
Seantrel Henderson is the definition of boom or bust. He has all the talent in the world, but is lethargic and has never put it together. If the Bills coach him up, they’ll have a stud tackle. If not, well, they wasted a seventh-round pick, so who cares?

Season Summary:
The Bills had some nice victories at home in 2013, defeating the Panthers, Ravens and Dolphins. They’ll have to learn how to win on the road, however. Five of their away losses were by double digits. They should be more competitive next season with E.J. Manuel having some experience under his belt.

Offseason Moves:
  • Bills acquire WR Mike Williams from Buccaneers for sixth-round pick
  • Rams sign DE/DT Alex Carrington
  • Steelers sign ILB Arthur Moats
  • Bills sign RB Anthony Dixon
  • Bills sign ILB Brandon Spikes
  • Bills re-sign TE Scott Chandler
  • Bills sign LB Keith Rivers
  • Bills sign CB Corey Graham
  • Bills sign G Chris Williams
  • Saints sign S Jairus Byrd
  • Bills cut QB Kevin Kolb

    Team Needs:
    1. Left Guard: The Bills lost Andy Levitre and never properly replaced him. Colin Brown and Doug Legursky struggled at left guard, so this is an area Buffalo will have to address. There will be some talented guards available in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Signed Chris Williams

    2. Wide Receiver: Stevie Johnson and Robert Woods are both ideal secondary options. Buffalo needs a No. 1 receiver to really help E.J. Manuel. Even if Sammy Watkins isn’t available at No. 9, a wideout could be chosen there. Traded for Mike Williams

    3. Inside Linebacker: Kiko Alonso had an outstanding rookie campaign, but the Bills will need to find someone to play next to him. Arthur Moats, who was the second inside linebacker last year, happens to be a free agent. Signed Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers

    4. Tight End: Scott Chandler is a free agent, but Buffalo had to find a better intermediate option anyway. A second-day choice could be used to upgrade this position. Re-signed Scott Chandler

    5. Safety: Jairus Byrd is a free agent. He could be difficult to retain. If he leaves, Buffalo will have to find a replacement.

    6. Defensive End Depth: Another pass-rusher should probably be added just in case Jerry Hughes’ inexplicable 2013 performance happened to be a fluke.

    7. Cornerback Depth: As with many teams, the Bills could stand to add another corner. Signed Corey Graham

    8. Right Tackle: This isn’t a pressing need, but Buffalo can do better than Erik Pears at right tackle. Chris Hairston is coming back next year, so he could start.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2014 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Corey Graham, CB, Ravens. Age: 29.
      Signed with Bills (4 years, $16 million)

      Corey Graham has been solid for the Ravens the past year and a half. He should be viewed as an average starter going forward.

    2. Brandon Spikes, ILB, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills (1 year)

      Brandon Spikes saw a drop in snaps this year because of his deficiencies in coverage. He’s still very stout in run support, however.

    3. Chris Williams, G, Rams. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills (4 years, $13.5 million)
    4. Keith Rivers, OLB, Giants. Age: 28. — Signed with Bills (2 years, $5 million)
    5. Anthony Dixon, RB, 49ers. Age: 26. — Signed with Bills

    Buffalo Bills Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Jairus Byrd, S, Bills. Age: 27.
      Signed with Saints (6 years)

      Jairus Byrd is arguably the top safety in the NFL. He’s awesome in coverage and is good for collecting a handful of turnovers each season. He won’t be 28 until October.

    2. Scott Chandler, TE, Bills. Age: 29.
      Re-signed with Bills (2 years)

      Scott Chandler is just an average tight end. His size (6-7, 263) makes him a solid end-zone target.

    3. Alex Carrington, DE/DT, Bills. Age: 27. — Signed with Rams
    4. Arthur Moats, ILB, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with Steelers (1 year)
    5. Jim Leonhard, S, Bills. Age: 31.
    6. Frank Summers, FB, Bills. Age: 28.
    7. Kevin Kolb, QB, Bills. Age: 30.
    8. Mike Caussin (RFA), TE, Bills. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Bills
    9. Thomas Welch, OT, Bills. Age: 27.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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