2018 NFL Offseason: Buffalo Bills

Buffalo Bills (Last Year: 9-7)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB A.J. McCarron, RB Chris Ivory, WR Jeremy Kerley, OT Marshall Newhouse, C Russell Bodine, DE Trent Murphy, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Vontae Davis, CB Phillip Gaines, S Rafael Bush.
Draft Picks:
QB Josh Allen, LB Tremaine Edmunds, DT Harrison Phillips, CB Taron Johnson, S Siran Neal, G Wyatt Teller. Bills Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Tyrod Taylor, FB Mike Tolbert, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Deonte Thompson, OT Cordy Glenn, G Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, DE Ryan Davis, ILB Preston Brown, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Shareece Wright.

2018 Buffalo Bills Offense:
It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes-level sleuth to figure out that the Bills weren’t very pleased with Tyrod Taylor. Rex Ryan spoke of possibly replacing Taylor during the draft a couple of years ago, then Buffalo opted to start Nathan Peterman over Taylor against the Chargers this past season. The results were disastrous, yet Taylor was still able to lead the Bills to their first playoff appearance since the 1999 season.

Despite Taylor finally getting the Bills over the hump, the front office cut ties with him. They signed A.J. McCarron away from the Bengals, but their intentions of trading up for a quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft were well known. They managed to do so, moving up from No. 21 to 12, and then again to No. 7 to select Josh Allen. The Wyoming product is extremely raw, but has a huge arm and excellent mobility. It would ideal for Allen to sit a year, and Buffalo’s ability to acquire McCarron could allow that to happen. McCarron guided the Bengals to a playoff appearance and a near-postseason victory a couple of seasons ago, so the Bills shouldn’t be in the same position the Bears were in last year when Chicago was forced into benching Mike Glennon for being horribly anemic.

Aside from the work Allen needs to put in to improve his accuracy, the primary reason the Bills should sit him for a year is that the offensive line is in shambles. The blocking unit lost three talented players this offseason, as oft-injured left tackle Cordy Glenn was traded to the Bengals, while center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito retired. That leaves second-year Dion Dawkins, Vlad Ducasse and Jordan Mills as the returning starters. Dawkins impressed as a rookie last year, and he should be even better in his sophomore campaign as the full-time left tackle. Ducasse is coming off his best year in the pros, but is still just a mediocre player. Mills, meanwhile, struggled as usual in 2017.

The two new starters on the offensive line are projected to be Ryan Groy at left guard and Russell Bodine at center. Both of these players are massive downgrades from Incognito and Wood, respectively. Bodine is especially atrocious, as he has been a woeful blocker for the Bengals for quite some time. Groy isn’t bad, but he could be challenged by fifth-round rookie Wyatt Teller.

If Allen is forced into early action, he’ll at least be able to lean heavily on LeSean McCoy, who is still one of the top running backs in the NFL. McCoy rushed for 1,138 yards last year, but could find things more difficult in 2018 because of the depleted offensive line. However, he’ll still be able to serve as a potent receiving threat; he had 59 receptions in 2017. Chris Ivory will take over in the event of an injury.

Speaking of receiving threats, the Bills have just one in Kelvin Benjamin. The former Panther is a big-bodied player, but has seen his stats decline each year. That figures to change in 2018, given that Benjamin will have an entire offseason to learn the offense. What isn’t clear, however, is how Zay Jones will perform. Jones disappointed as a second-round rookie this past season, and a troubling video of him surfaced this spring. It’s likely that Jones isn’t focused on football very much right now, so Jeremy Kerley and Charles Clay may have to become greater factors in the offense, which doesn’t sound very promising.

2018 Buffalo Bills Defense:
While Tyrod Taylor quarterbacked the Bills to the playoffs, the defense was primarily responsible for the team finally getting over the hump. Buffalo surrendered 17 points or fewer on 10 occasions last season, and that includes the battle against the Jaguars in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

The best aspect of the Bills’ stop unit was easily the secondary. Rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White was exceptional, while the two safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were also excellent. All three are returning, so Buffalo should have lots of success stopping the pass once again.

That said, the Bills suffered a big loss in the offseason, as cornerback E.J. Gaines signed with the Browns. Gaines missed five games last year, but was otherwise great. The Bills may not have a viable replacement for him unless one of two things happens: One, the oft-injured Vontae Davis finally snaps out of his extensive funk and becomes a solid, reliable player once again. Davis was once a terrific cornerback for the Colts, but injuries have sapped him completely. Or two, fourth-round rookie Taron Johnson develops quickly and emerges as a capable starter.

Speaking of rookie defenders, the Bills moved up in the first round for another player, and that was linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The ultra-athletic Virginia Tech product will provide a massive upgrade for a Buffalo linebacking corps that had just one decent starter last year in Matt Milano. Edmunds and Milano figure to be the two primary players at the position, with Lorenzo Alexander being an early-down player.

As for the defensive line, it’s a deep group that shouldn’t have issues generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Jerry Hughes managed to accumulate only four sacks last year, but he’s definitely a better player than that, and he should be able to rebound in 2018. Shaq Lawson, who also recorded four sacks, is the favorite to start across from him, but neither Eddie Yarbrough nor Trent Murphy should be counted out. Yarbrough had some nice moments in his second season despite being an undrafted free agent in 2016. Meanwhile, Murphy signed a 3-year, $21 million contract after missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL and MCL. This occurred last August, so the former Redskin should be able to be 100 percent or close by the 2018 opener. Murphy’s presence will help, as he notched eight sacks two seasons ago.

Another new player up front is Star Lotulelei, who signed a ridiculous 5-year, $50 million contract this offseason. Lotulelei has been a middling player throughout his career, so the contract didn’t make much sense. At the very least, he’ll help stop the run a bit next to Kyle Williams. The long-time Bill is no longer the stout defender he once was, but he’s still solid. Third-round rookie Harrison Phillips will eventually replace him.

2018 Buffalo Bills Schedule and Intangibles:
The Bills were even on special teams last year, crushing opponents in punt coverage, but losing to them on kickoffs.

Stephen Hauschka had a great first season with the Bills, hitting 29-of-33 attempts, including a sterling 7-of-9 from 50-plus. He didn’t miss a single extra point.

Punter Colton Schmidt ranked a dreadful 29th in net average in 2016, but improved to 20th last year.

Here’s another reason to keep Josh Allen benched for at least a few weeks: Buffalo’s first three opponents – Ravens, Chargers, Vikings – all have excellent defenses. Three of the next five opponents – Packers, Texans, Patriots – are expected to compete for a Super Bowl appearance this season.

2018 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.

2018 Buffalo Bills Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Buffalo Bills Analysis: The Bills finally reached the playoffs last year, but they’re taking a big step backward to eventually make a giant leap forward. Josh Allen will need some time to develop into a capable NFL starter, and in the meanwhile, Buffalo will need to add better pass protection and offensive threats. The timing of this should work well, as Allen could be ready to make a deep run into the playoffs with a strong supporting cast when Tom Brady retires.

Projection: 3-13 (4th in AFC East)

2017 Projection: 5-11. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 8-8. 2016 Actual Result: 7-9.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: The Bills are rebuilding, yet they have no franchise quarterback for the future. They’ll have to move up to obtain one, even if it costs them a first-round pick in the spectacular 2019 NFL Draft. Buffalo will then have to add tons of talent around this signal-caller, and that would involve fixing one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Buffalo acquired its franchise quarterback, and it didn’t even cost them a 2019 first-round choice. The Bills didn’t even surrender the 22nd-overall pick. They gave up two second-rounders, which was perfectly acceptable for a franchise signal-caller.

Many might argue that Josh Allen didn’t deserve to be the seventh-overall pick, but he’s a hard-working, massively strong-armed, mobile prospect with immense upside. His accuracy needs work, and he struggles to anticipate throws, but he can be coached up to eventually become a solid starting quarterback. He’ll need help, namely a strong offensive line. Unfortunately, the Bills didn’t touch their blocking unit until the fifth round. I liked the Wyatt Teller pick, but Buffalo needed to obtain other talented blockers.

That said, the Bills made some other solid picks. Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips provided quality value at the end of the third round. Trading up for Tremaine Edmunds was even better. Edmunds, a high-upside prospect like Allen, was a steal at No. 16 overall. The extremely athletic linebacker could have easily been taken in the top 10, so moving up to obtain him was well worth it.

I didn’t like some of Buffalo’s late choices – primarily Taron Johnson and Siran Neal – but I think the Bills did a good job otherwise. Again, the fact that they didn’t give up any additional first-round picks to obtain Allen is a huge win.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

7. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming A Grade
What a great job for the Bills. They wanted to trade up all along, but the problem was surrendering No. 22 or a 2019 first-round pick. They didn’t want to give up either, and they didn’t. They dealt their two second-rounders instead.

As for the actual player, it’s nice to see that Josh Allen’s actions from when he was 14 didn’t impact his draft standing. Allen is raw, but he has great arm strength and mobility, which will work well in Buffalo. He also works very hard, so I think he’ll be able to work on his accuracy woes.

16. Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech A Grade
It’s a bit shocking that Tremaine Edmunds fell this far. He could have gone as high as No. 6, though more realistically No. 8, so credit the Bills for taking advantage of the opportunity and trading up.

Edmunds’ athleticism is off the charts, and he has immense potential. He has great versatility as well. The Bills had just one viable player at the position last year (Matt Milano), and Edmunds will certainly change that.

96. Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford B Grade
I like Harrison Phillips, especially in this range. However, I thought the Bills would select more of a pass-rushing interior presence with this pick. Phillips is a lot like Kyle Williams (now; not earlier in his career) and Star Lotulelei, as he’s a powerful run-stuffer who doesn’t have great pass-rushing ability. Still, Phillips is a bit of a bargain here, and Buffalo fans will love his motor.

121. Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State C- Grade
The Bills needed some cornerback depth, but this is a reach. I had Taron Johnson slotted in the sixth round. There were better cornerbacks available.

154. Siran Neal, S/CB, Jacksonville State C Grade
Siran Neal is someone believed to be a sixth-round prospect at best. He’s versatile in that he can play both cornerback and safety, but his instincts and tackling ability are below average. The Bills could’ve done better.

166. Wyatt Teller, G, Virginia Tech A Grade
Any offensive line pick is a good one right now for the Bills, whose blocking could really struggle next year. The Bills have such holes up front that Wyatt Teller could start as a rookie. This is great value for Teller, who could’ve gone a round-and-a-half earlier.

187. Ray-Ray McCloud, WR/CB, Clemson C Grade
Ray-Ray McCloud has some potential, but he has no real position. He could be a receiver or a cornerback, but definitely a special-teamer. I didn’t think McCloud would be drafted, so I’m not crazy about this pick.

255. Austin Proehl, WR, North Carolina B+ Grade
Austin Proehl, a blue-collar receiver, and son of former NFL wideout Ricky Proehl, can give the Bills some special-teams returning ability. He might also be able to develop into a slot receiver. I wouldn’t count out Proehl making an NFL roster and contributing for a team somehow.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Bills made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. That was the good news. The bad news was that they scored just three points in that game. Tyrod Taylor certainly won’t be back, so Buffalo has to find a new quarterback.

Offseason Moves:
  • Bills sign CB Phillip Gaines
  • Bills cut DE Ryan Davis
  • Bills sign C Russell Bodine
  • Bills sign OT Marshall Newhouse
  • Bills sign QB A.J. McCarron
  • Bills sign DE Trent Murphy
  • Bills sign S Rafael Bush
  • Bills sign DT Star Lotulelei
  • Bengals acquire OT Cordy Glenn from Bills
  • Browns acquire QB Tyrod Taylor from Bills
  • Bills sign RB Chris Ivory
  • Bills sign CB Vontae Davis

    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: What are the Bills going to do at quarterback? They seem unsatisfied with Tyrod Taylor, and Nathan J. Peterman certainly is not the answer. Signed A.J. McCarron

    2. Right Tackle: Buffalo has needed a right tackle for what seems like years now. It’s important for them to fill the position if the front office obtains a young quarterback early in the 2018 NFL Draft. Signed Marshall Newhouse

    3. Two Linebackers: The top need on defense is in the front seven. The linebackers are especially atrocious. Matt Milano is fine, but two new linebackers are needed to play alongside him to help the team perform better versus rushing attacks and pass-catching running backs.

    4. Defensive Tackle: More help is needed in the front seven, as the Bills will have to replace Marcell Dareus after trading him during the year. Buffalo was very weak against the run after dealing him. Re-signed Kyle Williams; signed Star Lotulelei

    5. Center: A neck injury has forced Eric Wood into retirement. A replacement is needed. Signed Russell Bodine

    6. Wide Receiver: Kelvin Benjamin was a nice acquisition, but the Bills need another receiver to help their new quarterback.

    7. Tight End: Charles Clay is an inconsistent threat, and even if he remains a big factor in the offense, Buffalo could use another tight end to pair with Clay.

    8. Cornerback: The Bills had a tremendous pair of cornerbacks this past season in Tre’Davious White and E.J. Gaines. The latter, however, is an impending free agent. Signed Vontae Davis and Phillip Gaines

    9. Interior Offensive Line Depth: Richie Incognito turns 35 this summer, and he regressed a bit this past season. The Bills will have to groom a replacement soon.

    10. Running Back Depth: Buffalo once had strong depth behind LeSean McCoy in Karlos Williams and Jonathan Williams. Both are gone, and now they need a better backup behind McCoy. Signed Chris Ivory

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Redskins. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bills

      The Redskins really missed Trent Murphy this past season. He recorded nine sacks in 2016, but missed all of 2017 because of a torn ACL and MCL. He suffered the injury in August, so he should be ready for 2018 training camp.

    2. A.J. McCarron, QB, Bengals. Age: 27.
      Signed with Bills (2 years)

      A.J. McCarron was nearly traded to the Browns before the front office screwed up the paperwork. Perhaps Cleveland will make another attempt to acquire him this offseason. If so, the Browns are getting a quarterback who can probably be an average starter in the NFL. In extensive action in 2015, McCarron threw six touchdowns to two interceptions, with a 66.4 completion percentage and a 7.2 YPA.

    3. Vontae Davis, CB, Colts. Age: 30.
      Signed with Bills (1 year)

      Vontae Davis has performed like a 1.5-star player the past couple of years, but only because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy; Davis played in just five games in 2017. However, Davis used to be a terrific cornerback, and he could bounce back if he’s over his injuries.

    4. Star Lotulelei, DT, Panthers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Bills (5 years)

      Star Lotulelei was a first-round pick in 2013, but never lived up to that billing. He has just been a below-average player for most of his career, but has played well enough at times to warrant a two-star rating.

    5. Chris Ivory, RB, Jaguars. Age: 30.
      Signed with Bills

      Chris Ivory should probably be a 1.5-star free agent, but he’s a big name, so I’ll give him a write-up. General manager David Caldwell made an incredibly stupid move two offseasons ago when he signed Ivory to a 5-year, $32.5 million deal. Ivory, in two seasons with Jacksonville, rushed for a combined 821 yards, scoring five total touchdowns. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry in 2017, and he turns 30 in March.

    6. Rafael Bush, S, Saints. Age: 31. — Signed with Bills (2 years)
    7. Russell Bodine, C, Bengals. Age: 26. — Signed with Bills
    8. Marshall Newhouse, OT/G, Raiders. Age: 29. — Signed with Bills
    9. Phillip Gaines, CB, Chiefs. Age: 27. — Signed with Bills
    10. Kaelin Clay (RFA), WR, Panthers. Age: 27. — Signed with Bills

    Buffalo Bills Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. E.J. Gaines, CB, Bills. Age: 26.
      Signed with Browns

      E.J. Gaines was terrific for the Bills as a Pro Bowl-caliber cover corner this past season. He’d be rated much higher than this if it weren’t for his poor durability; he’s missed 26 games in the past three seasons, including five in 2017.

    2. Kyle Williams, DT, Bills. Age: 35.
      Re-signed with Bills (1 year, $6 million)

      Because of his age, Kyle Williams is no longer the interior pass-rushing presence he once was – he logged 10.5 sacks in 2013 – however, he’s still tremendous in run support. He can also still get to the quarterback on occasion. He turns 35 in June, so there could be more regression on the way for the long-time Bill.

    3. Jordan Matthews, WR, Bills. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots

      Jordan Matthews did not fare well in his first season in Buffalo. He caught 25 passes before getting knocked out for the year with injuries. Perhaps Matthews can bounce back in a better offense next year.

    4. Deonte Thompson, WR, Bills. Age: 29. — Signed with Cowboys
    5. Preston Brown, ILB, Bills. Age: 25. — Signed with Bengals
    6. Ryan Davis, DE, Bills. Age: 29.
    7. Shareece Wright, CB, Bills. Age: 31. — Signed with Raiders
    8. Leonard Johnson, CB, Bills. Age: 28.
    9. Mike Tolbert, FB, Bills. Age: 32.
    10. Cedric Thornton, DT, Bills. Age: 30.
    11. Colt Anderson, S, Bills. Age: 32.
    12. Brandon Tate, WR/KR, Bills. Age: 30.
    13. Travaris Cadet, RB, Bills. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Bills
    14. Shamarko Thomas, S, Bills. Age: 27.
    15. Ramon Humber, OLB, Bills. Age: 31. — Re-signed with Bills
    16. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Bills. Age: 26. — Signed with Texans
    17. Joe Webb, QB, Bills. Age: 31. — Signed with Texans
    18. Taiwan Jones, RB, Bills. Age: 30. — Re-signed with Bills (1 year)

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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