2015 NFL Offseason: Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills (Last Year: 9-7)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Matt Cassel, QB Tyrod Taylor, RB LeSean McCoy, FB Jerome Fulton, FB John Conner, WR Percy Harvin, TE Charles Clay, G Richie Incognito.
Draft Picks:
CB Ronald Darby, G John Miller, RB Karlos Williams. Bills Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB C.J. Spiller, TE Scott Chandler, TE Lee Smith, OT Chris Hairston, G Erik Pears, ILB Kiko Alonso, ILB Brandon Spikes, S Da’Norris Searcy.

2015 Buffalo Bills Offense:
NFL season previews have been posted on this site for a decade and a half, yet the Bills have never had a solution to the quarterback position all this time. They’ve trotted out the likes of J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kelly Holcomb, Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel. The team can now add a new player to that depressing list: Matt Cassel.

The Bills acquired Cassel for a swap of mid-round selections this offseason. While he formerly had some success in New England and Kansas City, Cassel is nothing more than a reliable backup. He struggled in brief action for the Vikings this past season before breaking his foot and losing his job to Teddy Bridgewater. It’s a sad state of affairs that Cassel has to start, but it’s not like Buffalo has a quality alternative. E.J. Manuel is the other option, but he’s not really one because of his inaccuracy and inconsistency. Tyrod Taylor also has a chance, but only because the two signal-callers in front of him are so inept.

Being stuck with another awful quarterbacking situation, Rex Ryan asked the front office to make a bold move and acquire LeSean McCoy from the Eagles. The race-baiting running back saw a dropoff in production this past season, as his offensive line dealt with injuries. Not having DeSean Jackson around to take attention away from the defense also hurt. McCoy consequently saw his yardage plummet from 1,607 to 1,319 even though he had the same amount of carries.

McCoy will definitely have the luxury of his foes being focused on Sammy Watkins, but will he have adequate blocking? It doesn’t seem so. The only proven, talented offensive lineman on the roster is left tackle Cordy Glenn, who had a solid 2014 campaign in all regards. Center Eric Wood is also decent, while the newly signed Richie Incognito, who is expected to play right guard, is a question mark; he used to be a skilled lineman, but he’s a 32-year-old who missed an entire season of football. There could be rust.

The other blockers struggled, however. Seantrel Henderson and Erik Pears were especially awful. The Bills won’t have to worry about Pears anymore because Incognito is taking his spot. Unfortunately for the team, Henderson will continue to start at right tackle. The former seventh-rounder is entering just his second season, so perhaps he’ll improve. It’s hard to imagine that happening because Henderson was so woeful as a rookie, but there’s a chance he could upgrade his game. Meanwhile, another rookie will start for the Bills; third-rounder John Miller is slated to take over at left guard.

The Bills haven’t had success with rookie blockers, but they’ve seen first-year receivers thrive. Watkins was exceptional this past season, catching 65 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns despite being paired with pedestrian quarterbacks. The concern with Watkins is that he underwent hip surgery in the offseason. The team expects him to be fine, but the fans are undoubtedly holding their collective breaths.

Watkins was Buffalo’s sole play-maker last year, but that’s no longer the case. The Bills added two players who could provide a spark: Percy Harvin and Charles Clay. Harvin can go the distance every time he touches the ball, but he has proven to be a major headache in the locker room. It’s no coincidence that the Vikings, Seahawks and Jets were all thrilled to get rid of him. The more-promising addition is Clay, who will provide Buffalo with the upgrade at tight end it has needed for years.

2015 Buffalo Bills Defense:
If this were still the era in which defenses won championships, the Bills surely would’ve at least qualified for the playoffs last year, despite the quarterbacking situation. After all, the Buccaneers and Ravens won championships with Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer, respectively, and Kyle Orton wasn’t much worse than those two. Times have changed, however, so even though Buffalo has one of the top defenses in the NFL, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to in terms of Super Bowl aspirations.

The Bills allowed just 18.1 points per game last year, a figure that should improve in 2015 because of Rex Ryan. The new head coach will move the team back to a 3-4 scheme, so the duo of Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes will be stationed at outside linebacker rather than defensive end. This won’t affect either negatively. In fact, Hughes is a better fit in the 3-4, so the tandem could combine for more sacks than they racked up in 2014 (24.5). The only concern at the position is that the Bills don’t have any sort of depth behind Williams and Hughes, so they could be in trouble if either goes down.

Buffalo will also once again be strong on the defensive line. The unit will be comprised of Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and some sort of rotation between Jarius Wynn, Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant. Dareus thrived at nose tackle when he played the position in 2013, so it would make sense for him to succeed in the same role this upcoming season. Dareus will be suspended for Week 1 because he violated the league’s substance-abuse policy, but he’ll only be out that one game. Williams, meanwhile, is a terrific player in all regards. He’s such a great pass-rusher for a player at his position; he tallied 10.5 sacks from the five-technique spot back in 2013. However, much like the outside linebacker position, depth here is severely lacking.

With the front seven generating so much pressure, it’s no surprise that the secondary played so well last season. The top performer in the defensive backfield this past year was cornerback Corey Graham. However, Ryan said that Graham will be moving to safety in order to get the top athletes onto the field at the same time. Graham will be taking the spot of Da’Norris Searcy, who signed with the Titans this offseason. Graham will lineup across from Aaron Williams, who was solid last year until a nagging neck injury derailed the second half of his season.

As far as the cornerback position is concerned, only one of the jobs is cemented. That would be former first-rounder Stephon Gilmore, whose fifth-year option was picked up. Gilmore is a talented defensive back who thrived in 2014. The other spot could belong to Leodis McKelvin, who missed six games this past season with a broken ankle. However, the Bills spent their second-round selection on Florida State corner Ronald Darby, who will challenge for the job. As for the nickel gig, Nickell Robey maintained that role in 2014, but struggled. He won’t hold it for long if his poor performances continue.

Meanwhile, at inside linebacker, the Bills lost a couple of players at the position there this offseason; Kiko Alonso was dealt to Philadelphia for LeSean McCoy, while Brandon Spikes signed with New England. This did not force Buffalo into signing or drafting someone at the position because it liked having the duo of Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham as starters. Brown showed well last year as a third-round rookie, especially in coverage, while Bradham was better in run support.

2015 Buffalo Bills Schedule and Intangibles:
Buffalo’s special teams were brutal in 2013, but the team made great strides to improve this past season. As a consequence, it outgained its opponents on both punts and kickoff returns. The Bills scored twice and allowed no touchdowns.

Dan Carpenter was excellent this past season, drilling 34-of-38 attempts, including 6-of-8 from 50-plus.

Punter Colton Schmidt ranked 23rd in net yardage, but he at least knocked the opposition inside its own 20 on more than a third of his attempts.

The Bills have a brutal schedule early on. They open with the Colts and Patriots, and if that’s not enough, they have to travel to Miami in Week 3. Things get easier after that, but if Buffalo gets off to a slow start, it could be in too deep of a hole to crawl out of.

2015 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.

2015 Buffalo Bills Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Buffalo Bills Analysis: The Bills have one of the NFL’s top defenses, a great running game, and a coach who has always gotten the most out of every team he’s been a part of. If they even had a second-tier quarterback, they would be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the NFL is such a pass-happy league that the Bills’ awful signal-caller situation could be the reason they miss the playoffs yet again.

Projection: 9-7 (3rd in AFC East)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: With no first-round pick, it’ll be difficult for the Bills to make a big splash in the draft. They’ll have to think about adding a young quarterback, but otherwise spending their other picks on the best players available.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Many expected the Bills to draft Bryce Petty, especially after they met with him the week of the draft. Fortunately for them, they weren’t duped into the media hype surrounding the Baylor quarterback; some teams had an undrafted grade on him, so taking him at No. 50 would have been disastrous.

Buffalo’s 50th-overall pick was much better, as they took a cornerback in Ronald Darby, who figures to enter the lineup in 2016. Darby was one of the three Florida State products the Bills selected. I wasn’t a fan of the Karlos Williams choice, but Nick O’Leary was a steal in the sixth round.

The rest of the Bills’ class ended up being a mixed bag. John Miller figures to help at guard, but he was taken a bit prematurely. Tony Steward was just a “meh” pick, as he’ll be just a special-teamer. On the other hand, Dezmin Lewis, viewed by some as the next Cecil Shorts, could be an even greater steal in the seventh than O’Leary was one round earlier.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

50. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State: A Grade
Not a quarterback! It’s a victory for the Bills, who sounded like they were getting duped by Bryce Petty. There was discussion that Ronald Darby could go at the end of the first or top of the second round, so Buffalo is getting a steal at No. 50. The Bills have some expiring contracts at the position in the near future, so Darby should be able to step in as the starter as early as 2016.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

81. John Miller, G, Louisville: C+ Grade
I had John Miller going to the Bills – but in the fifth round. Having said that, I don’t think this is a bad pick, or anything. I had Miller going a bit later than I wanted to, so Buffalo is reaching by about a round. Still, the Bills are filling a big need on the interior of their offensive line, so I don’t have a problem with this selection.

155. Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State: C Grade
A very “meh” selection by the Bills at this spot. Karlos Williams can catch passes out of the backfield, but he’s just not an effective runner. The question needs to be asked, though: How many running backs does this team need?

188. Tony Steward, LB, Clemson: C Grade
Another player I didn’t have drafted, Tony Steward is just going to play on special teams. If he sees the field as a linebacker, it’ll be because there are numerous injuries ahead of him. Steward will help the special-teams unit, but Buffalo could have obtained him or a similar prospect in Round 7 or the UDFA signing spree.

194. Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State: A Grade
The Bills sure love their Florida State products. I wasn’t a fan of Karlos Williams, but Nick O’Leary makes a lot more sense. The Bills signed Charles Clay this offseason, but he’s an H-back rather than a real tight end, so Buffalo was looking to address the position. O’Leary could have gone in the third round, so Buffalo is getting a steal.

234. Dezmin Lewis, WR, Central Arkansas: A Grade
This is one of my favorite picks in the seventh round. I had Dezmin Lewis going early in the fourth frame, so this is incredible value for Buffalo. Lewis was discussed by some as the next Cecil Shorts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he contributes for the Bills at some point.

Season Summary:
The Bills performed much better than anyone expected last year. Their defense was dominant, and was the primary reason why the team nearly reached the playoffs. Unfortunately, they still don’t have a quarterback, and they don’t have a first-round pick to bolster their roster.

Offseason Moves:
  • Patriots sign ILB Brandon Spikes
  • Bills sign FB John Conner
  • Chargers sign OT Chris Hairston
  • Buccaneers sign OLB Larry Dean
  • Bills sign TE Charles Clay
  • 49ers sign G/OT Erik Pears
  • Bills sign WR Percy Harvin
  • Patriots sign TE Scott Chandler
  • Saints sign RB C.J. Spiller
  • Bills sign QB Tyrod Taylor
  • Bills re-sign WR Marcus Easley
  • Titans sign S Da’Norris Searcy
  • Bills cut TE Scott Chandler
  • Raiders sign TE Lee Smith
  • Bills sign FB Jerome Felton
  • Bills re-sign DE/OLB Jerry Hughes
  • Bills sign OLB Keith Rivers
  • Bills acquire QB Matt Cassel from Vikings for draft picks
  • Bills acquire RB LeSean McCoy from Eagles for LB Kiko Alonso
  • Bills cut OLB Keith Rivers
  • Bills sign G Richie Incognito

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: The Bills lack an opening-round selection, but it’s not like there would be a franchise-caliber quarterback available at No. 19 anyway. They may have to use a second-day pick on a signal-caller because E.J. Manuel is not the answer. Traded for Matt Cassel; signed Tyrod Taylor

    2. Inside Linebacker: The Bills traded Kiko Alonso to the Eagles – click on the link for my grades – so they now have a big hole at inside linebacker that needs to be addressed.

    3. Right Tackle: Buffalo has to make some upgrades on the offensive line. Seantrel Henderson, a seventh-round rookie, started last year, but struggled mightily.

    4. Guard: The right guard position needs to be fixed as well; Erik Pears was woeful next to Henderson. Both of these positions can be looked at on the second day of the draft if Buffalo passes on all of the free-agent blockers. Signed Richie Incognito

    5. Running Back: C.J. Spiller is a free agent, Fred Jackson won’t be on the team much longer (34 in February), and Bryce Brown didn’t live up to expectations. Buffalo will have to use an early draft choice on a running back. Traded for LeSean McCoy

    6. Defensive End: Jerry Hughes happens to be Buffalo’s top free agent, so he’ll have to be retained. Even if he is, the Bills could stand to add some pass-rushing depth. Re-signed Jerry Hughes

    7. Tight End: It seems like the Bills have needed an upgrade over Scott Chandler for a century, yet they continue to ignore that area. A more reliable intermediate target would help Manuel or whomever the Bills play at quarterback. Signed Charles Clay

    8. Safety: Da’Norris Searcy played well in place of Jairus Byrd this past season, but now he, like Byrd last spring, happens to be a free agent.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Jerome Felton, FB, Vikings. Age: 29.
      Signed with Bills

      Jerome Felton is one of the better run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL. He helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson’s 2,000-yard campaign in 2012.

    2. Charles Clay, TE, Dolphins. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills (5 years, $38 million)

      Charles Clay saw a drop in production this past season because of a lingering knee injury. Clay, just 26 in February, is an athletic H-back who provides mismatches for most teams. He should be able to rebound in 2015, as long as he’s healthy.

    3. Percy Harvin, WR, Jets. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bills (1 year)

      Percy Harvin has loads of talent, but it’s no coincidence that when he signs with someone, he’ll be on four teams since 2012. Harvin is not a team player, as he often causes major problems in the locker room. On the bright side, he’s just 27 (in May), so perhaps he’ll be able to mature and become a better teammate soon.

    4. Richie Incognito, G, Dolphins. Age: 32.
      Signed with Bills

      Lost in all of Bullygate was that Richie Incognito was a pretty solid guard. Skilled at both pass protection and run blocking, Incognito was actually having a quality season before getting kicked off the team. He’ll be 32 in the summer, but as long as he stops pretending like he’s a member of Cobra Kai, he can be a quality starter for some team.

    5. John Conner, FB, Jets. Age: 28. — Signed with Bills
    6. Tyrod Taylor, QB, Ravens. Age: 26. — Signed with Bills

    Buffalo Bills Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB, Bills. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Bills (5 years, $45 million; $22 million guaranteed)

      There was some question about whether Jerry Hughes would work in the 4-3 defense Buffalo was installing this season. Hughes silenced the critics, matching his sack total (9.5) from 2013 and also playing well against the run. Hughes is far from the draft bust he looked like when he was with the Colts.

    2. Da’Norris Searcy, S, Bills. Age: 27.
      Signed with Titans (4 years, $24 million)

      Da’Norris Searcy did a good job in his first full season as a starter, replacing the New Orleans-bound Jairus Byrd. Searcy played well in all regards.

    3. C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills. Age: 28.
      Signed with Saints

      Some fantasy sites have accused the Bills of misusing C.J. Spiller, but the former first-rounder just can’t handle a big workload because of his build. Spiller is an explosive play-maker, but he’s also unreliable because he’s constantly banged up.

    4. Brandon Spikes, ILB, Bills. Age: 27.
      Signed with Patriots

      Brandon Spikes played well on a 1-year “prove it” deal, serving as a stout, two-down run-defender.

    5. Erik Pears, G/OT, Bills. Age: 33. — Signed with 49ers
    6. Chris Hairston, OT, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with Chargers
    7. Scott Chandler, TE, Bills. Age: 30. — Signed with Patriots
    8. Marcus Thigpen (RFA), WR/KR, Bills. Age: 29.
    9. Lee Smith, TE, Bills. Age: 27. — Signed with Raiders (3 years, $9 million)
    10. Jarius Wynn, DE, Bills. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Bills (2 years, $2.2 million)
    11. Keith Rivers, OLB, Bills. Age: 29. — Signed with Cowboys
    12. Deonte Thompson (RFA), WR, Bills. Age: 26.
    13. Stevenson Sylvester, ILB, Bills. Age: 27.
    14. Marcus Easley, WR, Bills. Age: 27. Re-signed with Bills (4 years, $7 million)
    15. Larry Dean, OLB, Bills. Age: 27. — Signed with Buccaneers


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