This time of year is always the worst for fans across the NFL. Sure, the sun is shining, swimming pools are being opened and grills across the nation have emerged from storage, but let’s face it; we’re hungry for some football.
The events of the offseason have been a lot to process for supporters of the Buffalo Bills. A bevvy of new faces have arrived via free agency, the team addressed the quarterback position, and the annual wave of prognostication from national reporters has emerged, placing the Bills out of the playoffs just one season after busting a 17-year drought. Shocking, isn’t it?
Looking forward to training camp, the Bills brass seems pretty satisfied with the roster as it currently stands. Of course they could scour the waiver wire after veteran players start getting cut from other rosters, but for the most part, Brandon Beane and company are ready to roll with what they’ve got. So who will emerge heroic as the organization attempts to qualify for the postseason yet again in 2018?
Without further ado, let’s take a look at which players have the best chance to win our totally arbitrary, hopefully entertaining, Bills Mafia awards.
Offensive Player of the Year (and Team MVP) – LeSean McCoy
I mean, come on. Who else would it be? In a year where the quarterback situation is far from settled, and the wide receiver corps is about as deep as a puddle, McCoy is the easy choice here.
For the past three seasons, everything the Bills have accomplished on offense has started and ended with the 29-year-old running back. In what could eventually go down as the most lopsided trade in team history, Buffalo sent linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for the six-time Pro Bowler. Since then, he has not only embraced the team as a whole, he’s almost single-handedly given the Bills relevance and exposure on a national level.
Looking forward to the 2018 campaign, Brian Daboll will almost certainly revolve his offense around the undisputed top playmaker. McCoy has carried the load before, but on the verge of 30 years old, how much longer can he be relied upon to be a game in and game out catalyst? In what could very well end up being his final season as a bell-cow in the NFL, look for him to draw ever closer to his goal of 12,000 career rushing yards.
Just last week, Bovada gave McCoy 60/1 odds to win the NFL MVP award. He was the only player on the Buffalo roster to receive consideration.
Defensive Player of the Year – Tre’Davious White
After an inaugural season where many felt that he got snubbed for NFL Rookie of the Year, White is eager to show the world that he has what it takes to be the best defensive back in the league. Time after time the 23-year-old has been ignored nationally. Whether it be from Nate Burleson’s list of “Top Second-Year Players”, or from the 2017 Pro Bowl, he has become a Rodney Dangerfield of sorts in Buffalo.
To the delight of Bills fans everywhere, all of the disrespect and lack of recognition has built a sizable chip on White’s shoulder. There is nobody on the active roster who will come out as hungry and determined as he will in 2018. Book it.
Earlier this month, Pro Football Focus ranked him 31st on their list of the top 50 players in the NFL in 2018, one slot higher than last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marshon Lattimore. Not too shabby.
According to the site, White only allowed 50.6-percent of his targeted passes to be completed in 2017. With veteran corner, Vontae Davis flanking him on the opposite side of the field, look for White to improve even further on a rookie campaign that quickly made fans forget about the departure of Stephon Gilmore.
Rookie of the Year – Tremaine Edmunds
As one of the biggest (and most pleasant) surprises for Bills fans during the 2018 NFL Draft, the team traded up with the Baltimore Ravens in the first round to select the Virginia Tech product. On a linebacking corps that was in desperate need of reinforcements, Edmunds is pencilled in as the team’s starting man in the middle, a role for which there isn’t much competition.
With all of the additions that Beane made along the defensive line in free agency, the 20-year-old should have plenty of help in his rookie season. In 2017, his predecessor, Preston Brown led the NFL with 144 combined tackles. Leslie Frazier’s bend-but-don’t-break defense allows for linebackers to rack up tackles in the middle of the field. Given his elite athleticism and open-field ability, Edmunds could very well surpass Brown’s mark from a year ago.
What will be interesting to see is if he can adjust to the speed of the NFL in his ability to read an offense, an area where he struggled at the collegiate level, according to scouts. Time will tell, but one thing is for sure; his potential is through the roof.
Most Improved Player – Zay Jones
Shaq Lawson deserves some consideration here, but given the Bills’ logjam on the defensive line, it’s unclear how much playing time he’ll actually receive. Enter Jones, who as opposed to White, had a rookie season (and offseason for that matter) that he’d like to forget.
In 2017, he had one of the worst cases of the “dropsies” that Bills fans have witnessed in recent memory. As the “number two” receiver for a good chunk of the season, his stat line of 27 catches for 316 yards left a lot to be desired for the second-round draft choice. To add insult to injury, fellow rookie receiver and first-year phenom, JuJu Smith-Schuster was selected by the Steelers just 14 picks later in the same round.
As if things could have gotten any worse for the 23-year-old, an offseason incident that took place in Los Angeles punctuated an already brutal year for him.
But all of that is in the past now. Jones is focused and ready to make his well-documented follies a thing of the past. With a new quarterback at the helm (you know, one who might actually be able to read the entire field), his production should improve significantly in 2018.
The Kyle Williams “Lunch Pail” Award – Matt Milano
We sure do love our “blue collar” players (whatever the heck that means) in Buffalo, don’t we? Well in light of that, we decided to establish the Kyle Williams “Lunch Pail” Award, given fictionally and arbitrarily to the player who best exemplifies “The Process” (yes, bask in all of the cliches!).
Joking aside, Milano was a pleasant surprise last year on a defense that, on paper, lacked depth down the middle. The fifth-round rookie out of Boston College appeared in all 16 games, starting in five, en route to a 43 tackle campaign where his lone interception went for a touchdown in a blowout victory against the Oakland Raiders.
This year, he is the odds-on favorite to win the starting will-side linebacker job out of camp. With Edmunds to his right, teams will try to rush more often to Milano’s side. With outstanding open-field tackling ability and a high motor, he will be up to the task.
Editor’s babble: Thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.