The Buffalo Bills sure had a busy offseason. As one of the more active teams in free agency, they addressed some key positions of need, while curiously neglecting others. Now that the dust has settled following the 2018 NFL draft, let’s take a look at the strongest and weakest position groups heading into the summer.
Strongest – Defensive Backs
This one goes without saying. The Bills boast one of the most talented defensive backfields in the NFL. With a safety tandem who both had career years last season and a top-cornerback who received serious consideration for rookie-of-the-year, this position group is by far the most reliable on the team.
Entering the offseason, there was some concern regarding the overall depth of the cornerback group, especially after the loss of E.J. Gaines via free agency, but Brandon Bean addressed the issue in short order with the signing of veteran corner, Vontae Davis. With 22 interceptions in nine seasons as a professional, he is the perfect compliment to Tre’Davious as he enters his sophomore season.
The organization even went a step further when they signed Philip Gaines and Rafael Bush as additional depth for the 2018 campaign. As with any group, the injury bug could rear its ugly head, but the team seems to be much better prepared from a depth standpoint than they have been in years past.
Weakest – Offensive Line
Boy, did the Bills take a couple of crushing blows on the offensive line this off season. Not long after Eric Wood’s unexpected retirement due to injury, perennial pro-bowler Richie Incognito left the team following a series of strange and borderline psychotic tweets.
Sure, Beane did try and stop the bleeding by signing Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse via free agency, but those players are fringe-starters at best. Wyatt Teller is a nice addition too, however, fans should temper their expectations for now. It may not be a great idea to throw a fifth-round rookie right into a starting role, especially considering the weakness of the rest of the line.
With a little over $9 million in projected cap space after rookie signings are complete, fans should look for Buffalo to try and bolster their thinnest position group following June 1st cuts.
One positive note is the potential re-emergence of right guard, John Miller. After an impressive rookie season, Miller was benched for all of 2017 once the team switched to a zone-blocking scheme under Juan Castillo. Now that the team is switching back to a similar scheme as the one they ran in 2016, Miller should hold down a starting spot this year.
Strongest – Running Backs
Let’s face it, any time Lesean McCoy is on your team, your running back squad is immediately strong. That being said, the Bills have gone several steps further, securing several depth players who can take some of the load off of McCoy as he approaches 30.
The most impressive addition came in the form of Chris Ivory, which occurred a few days prior to the 2018 free agency period. Though his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars left a lot to be desired over the past two seasons, Ivory is still a great depth back who has a very different skill set as a bulldozer versus McCoy’s elusive running technique.
Travaris Cadet also returns to the team after a surprisingly productive 2017 season in Western New York. While he certainly isn’t an every-down back, he does offer a nice change of pace as a speed option, who can also contribute as a receiving threat.
Marcus Murphy and Taiwan Jones could also make the final roster, though there is a strong likelihood that, barring incredible pre-season performances, they will be left out of the final 53.
Weakest – Wide Receivers
Aside from the offensive line, this is the most glaring weakness on the roster. Aside from Kelvin Benjamin, most of the Bills’ receiving options are either unproven or inexperienced. To make matters worse, Benjamin has battled injuries in each of his last three seasons. Should the team lose him long-term, they could be in big trouble.
Obviously, fans are holding out hope that Zay Jones can bounce back from a pretty unimpressive rookie season, and a dramatic offseason that he would like to forget. The easiest way to make his extra-curricular mishaps a distant memory would be to come out and have an incredible year.
Surprisingly, the team did almost nothing to address the group in the offseason. Sure, they added Jeremy Kerley, who is coming off of a pretty pedestrian during his second stint with the New York Jets, but aside from that, all Beane did was take a flyer on a couple of late round picks.
This situation is particularly troubling when you consider the fact that Josh Allen could feasibly (though maybe not likely) win the starting job. This is not a group that the organization should feel comfortable sticking him with, especially when you consider all of the refinement his game will require at the NFL level.
Again, look for Buffalo to address this group when the June 1st cuts come around.
Strongest – Defensive Line
This group is by far the most impressive from a depth standpoint. Beane made the defensive line a primary focus this offseason after the group failed to generate a lot of pressure in 2017, especially after losing Marcel Dareus via trade.
The Bills’ most expensive free agent signings came in the form of Star Lotulelei at defensive tackle, and Trent Murphy at defensive end. Both players will hold down starting roles on the much-improved unit. After an injury that derailed his 2017 campaign following a 10-sack year in 2016, Murphy will look to rebound and generate pressure from the outside.
To everyone’s delight, team captain, Kyle Williams elected to sign a one-year extension after it was widely speculated that the 2017 campaign would be his last. Williams continues to be the heart and soul of the defense, and with so many young players on the roster, his presence will play a key role in their development moving forward.
In what could quite possibly become the steal of the draft, Beane selected Harrison Philips with the 96th overall pick in the third round. Leading up to the draft, many felt that Philips would be a late first-rounder. He fits the Williams blue-collar, mold perfectly, and should transition into a similar role down the road, once Williams calls it a career.
One thing to keep an eye on is the continued development of Shaq Lawson. There was widespread speculation that the Bills would look to package him in a deal to move up in the draft, but that never came to be. If he can live up to his draft pedigree this season, this could easily become the most daunting line in the league.
Weakest – Quarterback
Sorry, but it’s true. As it stands, quarterback is still a glaring weakness on the Bills roster. Obviously, there is excitement regarding Allen’s future projections as a pro, but right now, he is a project (and a big one at that). With the offensive line and receiving corps at his disposal, he isn’t exactly set up for success, should Sean McDermott name him the starter right out of the gate (sound familiar?)
Of course, A.J. McCarron could surprise everyone and show that he deserved to unseat Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, but let’s face it, he was a fifth-round pick, and expectations should be tempered. During his short stint in a starting role with the Bengals, he showed flashes of greatness, but he had some fantastic weapons at his disposal.
We all know the story of Nate Peterman, and while it’s hard to imagine him being any worse than last year, he isn’t a viable starting option.
Overall, it could be tough sledding for the Bills this year. The offense is still pretty suspect from a talent perspective, though the defense is much improved. Fans should expect a similar outcome this season in the standings. The offense will struggle to put up points while the defense tries their best to bail them out.
Editor’s babble: This Bills team is definitely a work in progress, especially on offense. Hopefully some new acquisitions will help the offense become more productive. And as always, thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.
*Views expressed by authors do not necessarily represent those of the owners of the BillsMafia.com website.