2017 NFL Offseason: Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills (Last Year: 7-9)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
FB Patrick DiMarco, FB Mike Tolbert, WR Andre Holmes, WR Philly Brown, WR Rod Streater, G Vlad Ducasse, ILB Gerald Hodges, CB Shareece Wright, S Micah Hyde, S Jordan Poyer, K Steven Hauschka.
Draft Picks:
CB Tre’Davious White, WR Zay Jones, G/OT Dion Dawkins, LB Matt Milano, QB Nathan Peterman. Bills Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Mike Gillislee, WR Marquise Goodwin, WR Justin Hunter, WR Marcus Easley, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, ILB Zach Brown, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Corey Graham, S Phillip Thomas, K Dan Carpenter.

2017 Buffalo Bills Offense:
When the Bills sat Tyrod Taylor in Week 17 to prevent a financial trigger, it seemed as though the relationship was completely fractured. It was unfathomable that Taylor would return. However, time heals all wounds, and the two parties have made up, for the time being. Taylor will return for another season, though it remains to be seen how long he’ll remain on the team. Cardale Jones and Nathan Peterman are two young quarterbacks on the roster, and the new coaching staff will give the two every opportunity to unseat Taylor in the near future.

Taylor is expected to win the job. Assuming that happens, the next question will be whom he’s going to throw the ball to. Sammy Watkins has missed 11 games in the past two seasons and is currently recovering from foot surgery. He’s proven to be completely fragile, and Buffalo can’t count on him staying healthy. Zay Jones was selected in the second round, but he’s hurt as well. Jones is dealing with a knee sprain, so he’s missing valuable reps this offseason. The Bills don’t really have anything else at wideout, and Charles Clay is just mediocre, so they’ll need Watkins and Jones to remain on the field.

Buffalo’s best offensive weapon is LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 1,267 yards and caught 50 passes in 2016. McCoy just turned 29, so a decline could come soon. He might be fine for this year, but the problem is that Mike Gillislee is gone, thanks to incompetence by the front office. Gillislee was a great backup, so the Bills won’t have very much if McCoy gets hurt. Jonathan Williams, who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry this past season, is the best backup option.

There’s an issue with Buffalo’s offensive line as well. Right tackle has been a huge problem area for the team the past few seasons, and the Bills will be hoping that second-round rookie Dion Dawkins will be able to fill a huge void. The problem is that Dawkins was viewed as a guard coming out of Temple, so it remains to be seen how he’ll perform at tackle.

The rest of the Bills’ blocking unit is exceptional. Cordy Glenn has evolved into one of the better left tackles in the NFL, while guard Richie Incognito has been terrific as well. Incognito just turned 34, so he could regress a bit. If so, 2015 third-rounder John Miller will have to pick up the slack; he was above average in his sophomore campaign, and there’s definitely room for improvement. Meanwhile, center Eric Wood is returning from a broken fibula, which put him on injured reserve in the middle of the season.

2017 Buffalo Bills Defense:
While the Bills didn’t lose their quarterback, they managed to watch one of their top defensive players defect to their arch rivals. Thus, even though Tyrod Taylor remained with the team, it still wasn’t a positive offseason for Buffalo.

Stephon Gilmore signed with the Patriots this spring, which opened up a massive hole for the Bills at cornerback. They had Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore fall into their laps at No. 10 overall, but opted to trade down, which was the correct move because of the value they acquired. However, Tre’Davious White is not Lattimore, so it’s unknown if he’ll be able to play up to Gilmore’s standards. Granted, Gilmore wasn’t at his best in 2016, but he was expected to rebound with a strong 2017 campaign. White is projected to start across from Ronald Darby, who was also disappointing last year.

The Bills also acquired another defensive back, obtaining Micah Hyde in free agency. Hyde is a versatile player who can be stationed at safety or in the slot. Given the Bills’ massive problems at the former position, thanks to Aaron Williams’ career-ending injury, Hyde will have to start there next to Jordan Poyer. Hyde is a decent talent, but Poyer most definitely is not. Given all of these issues, Buffalo will likely have major problems defending aerial attacks this upcoming season.

Generating great pressure on opposing quarterbacks would obviously help, but it remains to be seen how effective the Bills will be in this regard. Lorenzo Alexander notched 12.5 sacks in 2016, but did so in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. The Bills are moving to a 4-3, which is a questionable decision, considering that some of the players may have trouble transitioning to that system. Alexander has never been better than mediocre in a 4-3, and given that he’s now 34, he’s a candidate for regression. If so, Jerry Hughes, who struggled in 2016, and Shaq Lawson, who managed just two sacks as a first-round rookie, will have to step up.

Speaking of stepping up, Marcell Dareus must do that as well. The former No. 3 overall pick has been incredible at times, but he has also dealt with bouts of lethargy, injuries and suspensions. The 2016 campaign was littered with them, so the Bills will need better effort out of him this upcoming season. Kyle Williams, meanwhile, was once considered a great player, but he’s now 34. Williams is still great at stuffing the run, but his pass-rushing talents aren’t what they used to be. The Bills will need more out of 2016 third-rounder Adolphus Washington, who struggled in limited playing time as a rookie.

While Washington didn’t perform well in his first year, second-rounder Reggie Ragland didn’t even take the field as a rookie because of a knee injury. Unfortunately for the Bills, it doesn’t appear as though Ragland has completely recovered, as he has been limited in OTAs. If Ragland isn’t effective, the only viable player the Bills will have in their linebacking corps besides Alexander, who, again, may not be a good fit in the 4-3, will be Gerald Hodges. The former 49er had a solid season after NaVorro Bowman went down. The pedestrian Preston Brown and the unproven Matt Milano, a fifth-round rookie, round out the dismal linebacking corps.

2017 Buffalo Bills Schedule and Intangibles:
The Bills outgained their opponents by a wide margin on punt returns and were even on kickoffs. Micah Hyde’s presence can only help the former.

Dan Carpenter is gone, and he has been replaced by Stephen Hauschka. The former Seahawk has gone 29-of-31 in 2015 and 33-of-37 in 2016, drilling all seven of his tries from 50-plus. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he has whiffed on 10 extra points in the past two seasons!

Punter Colton Schmidt ranked a dreadful 29th in net average this past year.

The Bills have an even schedule, but what’s interesting is that four of their final five games are against either the Patriots or Dolphins. If they’re in the playoff hunt, their success will depend on the injury situations of those two teams.

2017 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.

2017 Buffalo Bills Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Buffalo Bills Analysis: The Bills had a golden opportunity to unseat the Patriots last year. They had an easy early schedule, while New England wouldn’t have Tom Brady for the first four games. Ultimately, however, Buffalo did what it usually does, which was put together a mediocre season. The Bills could be even worse in 2017, as they’re dealing with lots of turmoil, stemming from incompetent owner Terry Pegula, who has proven to be extremely meddlesome.

Projection: 5-11 (3rd in AFC East)

2017 Projection: 8-8. 2016 Actual Result: 7-9.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Bills could make a playoff run with Tyrod Taylor, as he certainly hasn’t been the problem the past couple of years. They need to fix Taylor’s receiving corps and blocking unit, all while finding a replacement for the New England-bound Stephon Gilmore.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Buffalo’s draft class seemed like it was off to a great start until the ramifications were considered. Ever since the Bills selected Sammy Watkins in the first round, they’ve needed a No. 2 receiver to play across from him. It appeared as though that need was finally filled when the team moved up for Zay Jones in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. However, news broke shortly afterward that the Bills planned on declining Watkins’ fifth-year option. If Watkins walks as a free agent, Buffalo will be back to square one.

Speaking of square one, the Bills selected Tre’Davious White rather than Marshon Lattimore, who fell into their laps at No. 10 overall. Moving down was perfectly fine, and White was a nice fallback option with the 27th-overall pick. However, White is just a replacement for Stephon Gilmore, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to match Gilmore’s play (excluding 2016).

The Bills continued to use some the resources they acquired in the White deal by trading up in the third round as well, acquiring Dion Dawkins. It’s unclear how Dawkins will perform at right tackle, but Buffalo at least has some hope at the position. It was a huge hole prior to the Dawkins pick.

Overall, the Bills made some nice selections, but I think their fans had to come out of this weekend feeling somewhat underwhelmed. They didn’t add a blue-chip prospect despite owning the 10th-overall pick, and when comparing the team to the 2016 roster, no real improvements were made outside of Dawkins (potentially) if Watkins ends up leaving. That’s why I’m giving the Bills a B-. They didn’t do a bad job, but it feels like they’re just spinning their wheels and not really going anywhere.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

27. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU: B+ Grade
As with the Cleveland pick at No. 25, I’m factoring the trade in a little bit, and I’m going to grade each draft trade. As for this actual selection, it’s a solid one. Tre’Davious White was slotted to go in this range even though I had him dropping in my mock draft. White is a solid cornerback who will fill a big need for the Bills, as they needed to replace Stephon Gilmore, who defected for New England.

37. Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina: B Grade
I think this mirrors the Cardinals’ pick of Budda Baker. I have Baker and Zay Jones rated about the same, and like Arizona, Buffalo moved up for him. I like Jones, but there are some solid receivers available in the second round, so I’m not sure he was worth swapping third- and fifth-round picks for, even though he may not have fallen to their spot. Still, it’s a decent choice, as Jones finally gives the Bills a solid second receiver.

75. Dion Dawkins, G/OT, Temple: B+ Grade
The Bills dealt two fifth-round picks (149, 156) to move up into the back end of the second round. Dion Dawkins is a solid blocker who can play both guard and tackle, but is probably best at the former position. The Bills have such a huge need at right tackle, so I wonder he’ll be used there. Regardless, Buffalo is getting a quality offensive lineman who could’ve been taken earlier in the second round.

163. Matt Milano, LB, Boston College: C Grade
Matt Milano is a reach here, but not as an egregious one, as I thought his ceiling was the sixth round. Matt Milano is too undersized to be on the field very often, and he wasn’t even that great in college. He projects to be a quality special-teams player, but the fifth round is too early for him.

171. Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh: A Grade
The Bills aren’t big fans of Tyrod Taylor, so even though they already had Cardale Jones, it’s not a surprise that they selected Nathan Peterman. They have no direct successor for Taylor, but Peterman and Jones can battle it out. It’s not an ideal situation, but perhaps one of them will step up. I like this pick, as Peterman was slotted in the third round.

195. Tanner Vallejo, LB, Boise State: B+ Grade
I projected Tanner Vallejo to be chosen near the end of the fifth round, so there’s a bit of value here for him. The Bills wanted to add another linebacker, and they found one who is a speedy player. This is a solid pick.

Season Summary:
The Bills’ season was over before it started, as the team suffered numerous injuries prior to the preseason. Despite this, Rex Ryan was fired, so perhaps the new coaching staff will have better luck, which could perhaps finally help Buffalo reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Offseason Moves:
  • Bills sign ILB Gerald Hodges
  • Bills cut OT Cyrus Kouandjio
  • Bills sign WR Rod Streater
  • Bills sign QB T.J. Yates
  • Bills re-sign WR/KR Brandon Tate
  • Bills sign WR Andre Holmes
  • Bills re-sign C Ryan Groy
  • Bills sign WR Philly Brown
  • Bills re-sign DE/OLB Lorenzo Alexander
  • Bills re-sign OT Jordan Mills
  • Bills cut S Corey Graham
  • Bills sign S Jordan Poyer
  • Bills sign S Micah Hyde
  • Bills sign K Steven Hauschka
  • Bills sign G Vlad Ducasse
  • Bills sign FB Mike Tolbert
  • Bills cut WR Marcus Easley
  • Bills re-sign P Colton Schmidt
  • Bills sign FB Patrick DiMarco
  • Bills cut K Dan Carpenter
  • Bills cut S Phillip Thomas
  • Bills cut TE Gerald Christian
  • Bills cut CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
  • Bills re-sign S Colt Anderson

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: I’m not sure why the Bills have such an issue with Tyrod Taylor, who is a solid starting quarterback. They’ve decided that they don’t want him around, opting to bench him in favor of the anemic E.J. Manuel in the season finale. Perhaps Cardale Jones will earn the job next year; otherwise, Buffalo will have to find a new quarterback somehow, somewhere. Signed T.J. Yates

    2. Wide Receiver: Sammy Watkins is a dynamic weapon, but the Bills don’t have anything else at receiver. Robert Woods doubly doesn’t count because he’s both a pedestrian talent and an impending free agent. Signed Andre Holmes

    3. Right Tackle: The right tackle spot was a huge problem for Buffalo in 2016. The front office almost has to use a top-three pick to address the position unless a solution is found in free agency.

    4. Safety: Buffalo’s top defensive needs are in the secondary. At safety, the Bills lost Aaron Williams perhaps forever because of a dirty hit by Jarvis Landry. Williams was a talented safety, but may never play again, so Buffalo could be targeting someone like Jamal Adams in the opening round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Signed Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer

    5. Cornerback: Cornerback is another problem area. Stephon Gilmore’s play inexplicably dropped off this past season, and he’s an impending free agent anyway. Two early draft choices could be used to address the secondary.

    6. Inside Linebacker: Reggie Ragland will be due back next year, but the Bills will need another linebacker to join him if Zach Brown leaves free agency. Brown was exceptional in 2016, but will he be the same outside of the Rex Ryan scheme?

    7. Edge Rusher Depth: If Lorenzo Alexander isn’t re-signed, the Bills’ edge-rushing duo of Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson should be adequate. Depth, however, would be lacking. Re-signed Lorenzo Alexander

    8. Defensive Tackle Depth: Kyle Williams is 34, while a number of other defensive tackles on the roster have expiring contracts. Depending on what happens, Buffalo will need some depth here.

    9. Kicker: Dan Carpenter has missed a staggering 11 extra points in the past two years. He wasn’t very good on normal kicks this past year either. Signed Steven Hauschka

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Gerald Hodges, ILB, 49ers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills

      A former fourth-round pick of the Vikings, Minnesota somehow let Gerald Hodges get away, as Hodges carved out a role for himself in San Francisco’s defense. Hodges has played the run well and hasn’t been a liability in coverage. He’ll be only 26 in January.

    2. Patrick DiMarco, FB, Falcons. Age: 28.
      Signed with Bills

      Patrick DiMarco is a one-dimensional fullback, as he does nothing but block. However, he’s very good at what he does. He’s routinely blasted open big holes for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

    3. Micah Hyde, S/CB/KR, Packers. Age: 26.
      Signed with Bills

      Micah Hyde, a solid return specialist, is very good in run support, but could stand to improve as a coverage safety/nickel corner. He won’t be 27 until New Year’s Eve, so he’ll have plenty of time to improve that facet of his game.

    4. Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks. Age: 32.
      Signed with Bills

      Steven Hauschka has drilled all seven of his attempts from 50-plus the past couple of years. However, he’s had issues with extra points, missing six of 35 tries during the 2016 campaign.

    5. Shareece Wright, CB, Ravens. Age: 30.
      Signed with Bills

      Shareece Wright has missed nine games in the past two seasons and was just average (or maybe slightly worse) when on the field. Wright turns 30 in April, so his best days are behind him.

    6. Mike Tolbert, FB, Panthers. Age: 31.
      Signed with Bills

      Mike Tolbert made three Pro Bowls in five years with the Panthers, but his play declined in 2016. He didn’t block very well, and he was no longer needed as a short-yardage back. He turns 32 in November, and it appears as though his best days are behind him.

    7. Jordan Poyer, S, Browns. Age: 26. — Signed with Bills
    8. Vladimir Ducasse, G, Ravens. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills
    9. Rod Streater, WR, 49ers. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills
    10. Philly Brown (RFA), WR, Panthers. Age: 25. — Signed with Bills
    11. Andre Holmes, WR, Raiders. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills
    12. T.J. Yates, QB, Dolphins. Age: 30. — Signed with Bills

    Buffalo Bills Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $29.5M.
    1. Stephon Gilmore, CB, Bills. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots

      Stephon Gilmore had been an excellent cornerback heading into 2016, but he struggled last year. It’s unclear why he regressed, but it’s likely that he’ll rebound. He’s only 26, so it’s not like he has a declining skill set, or anything.

    2. Zach Brown, ILB, Bills. Age: 27.
      Signed with Redskins

      Zach Brown was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but had done nothing in his career prior to 2016. Teams thought so little of him that the Bills managed to get him for a 1-year, $1.25 million contract. Brown responded with a terrific 2016 campaign, even winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week once.

    3. Lorenzo Alexander, DE/OLB, Bills. Age: 34.
      Re-signed with Bills

      What should we make of Lorenzo Alexander? The edge rusher had always been a marginal player throughout his career, never recording more than 2.5 sacks in any season. Lo and behold, Alexander notched double-digit sacks in 2016. He’s a late bloomer, but turns 34 in May. He’ll need to be signed to a 1-, or 2-year prove-it contract.

    4. Corey Graham, S, Bills. Age: 32.
      A former cornerback, Corey Graham has played well at safety in recent years, but he was expendable once Buffalo signed Micah Hyde to a big contract. Graham, 32 in July, is on the decline, but can still be a capable starter.

    5. Mike Gillislee (RFA), RB, Bills. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots

      The Bills thought they were going to miss Karlos Williams, but Mike Gillislee performed well as a backup, averaging about six yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns in 2016.

    6. Ryan Groy (RFA), C, Bills. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Bills (2 years, $5 million)

      The Bills lost Eric Wood for the year, but Ryan Groy did a solid job as a replacement.

    7. Robert Woods, WR, Bills. Age: 25.
      Signed with Rams (5 years, $39 million)

      Robert Woods has yet to live up to his second-round billing. He caught 10 passes for 162 yards in a game versus Seattle this past season, but has done nothing otherwise. He’s still only 25 in April, so perhaps he’ll be able to improve in the near future.

    8. Colton Schmidt (RFA), P, Bills. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Bills

      Colton Schmidt was in the top 10 in net average in 2015, but was one of the worst in that regard this past season.

    9. Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB, Bills. Age: 25.
      Signed with Rams

      Nickel Robey-Coleman was great as a rookie in 2013, but regressed every year afterward and was ultimately benched in 2016. Perhaps he can return back to form, but he hasn’t played well in a while.

    10. Dan Carpenter, K, Bills. Age: 31.
      Dan Carpenter hit at least 85 percent of his kicks heading into 2016, but was just 19-of-25 (76.0%) this past year. He has also missed 11 combined extra points in 2015 and 2016.

    11. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with 49ers
    12. Justin Hunter, WR, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with Steelers
    13. Leger Douzable, DT, Bills. Age: 31.
    14. Jordan Mills, OT, Bills. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Bills
    15. Corey White, CB/S, Bills. Age: 27.
    16. Chris Gragg, TE, Bills. Age: 27.
    17. Jerel Worthy, DT, Bills. Age: 27.
    18. Robert Blanton, S, Bills. Age: 27.
    19. Corbin Bryant, DT, Bills. Age: 28.
    20. Colt Anderson, S/ST, Bills. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Bills
    21. Marcus Easley, WR, Bills. Age: 29.
    22. Brandon Tate, WR, Bills. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Bills
    23. Lerentee McCray, OLB, Bills. Age: 27. — Signed with Jaguars
    24. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Bills. Age: 24. — Signed with Lions
    25. Jonathan Meeks, S, Bills. Age: 31.
    26. Patrick Lewis, C, Bills. Age: 26.
    27. Deandre Coleman (RFA), NT, Bills. Age: 26.
    28. Percy Harvin, WR, Bills. Age: 29. — Announced retirement
    29. Reggie Bush, RB, Bills. Age: 32.
    30. Phillip Thomas, S, Bills. Age: 28.
    31. Gerald Christian, TE, Bills. Age: 26.


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