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2011 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backup(s): Tyler Thigpen, Brad Smith, Levi Brown

Starting QB: After beginning last season as a backup, Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Trent Edwards in game 3 and never looked back. He was a great fit for Chain Gailey's new offense and put up some very impressive numbers. Fitzpatrick threw 13 touchdowns (against only 4 interceptions) in his first four games and also threw at least one touchdown in every game but a week 16 loss to the Patriots. The Bills showed confidence in his abilities by passing on all of the rookie QBs in this year's draft. Fitzpatrick is a smart, accurate, and mobile QB who should continue to put up solid fantasy numbers in a QB-friendly offense. The Bills offensive line is improving but not quite a strength of the team, but the emergence of young WRs like Steve Johnson and David Nelson and a solid running game should help him finish among the best fantasy backup QBs in the league.

Backup QB: Most observers expected the Bills to address the QB position in the draft as they have very little behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick right now. They passed on the rookies, however, and added depth once free agency began. Their first signing was Tyler Thigpen, who enjoyed success while playing in the same offense under Chan Gailey a few years ago. He's an experienced veteran backup who will provide insurance in case Fitzpatrick suffers any type of injury. The Bills also signed Brad Smith from the Jets. He's expected to see most of his time as a WR but will also contribute as a #3QB and see time in the Bills wildcat formation. Levi Brown was a late round developmental pick last year who could compete for the #3 role, but seems likely to wind up on the practice squad.

Running Backs

Starter: Fred Jackson
Backup(s): C.J. Spiller, Johnny White (R), Quinton Ganther
Fullback(s): Corey McIntyre, Jehuu Caulcrick

Starting RB: Fred Jackson has been one of the most underrated players in the league over the past couple years. He already beat out former 1st round pick Marshawn Lynch for the starting job and appears capable of holding off last year's 1st round pick C.J. Spiller for the time being as well. Jackson does not have the type of game that will stand out much when you watch him but he does pretty much everything well. He is very good at running in space and catching the ball out of the backfield, but he also runs well between the tackles and has the vision and instincts to get the most out of the limited space available. Jackson is also a reliable blocker, which figures to keep him on the field for almost all key downs and situations. Although he is 31 years old, he does not have the same mileage on his legs that other feature RBs would normally have so age is less of a concern. There are two areas of concern with regard to Jackson and his fantasy value for 2011. First, the Bills will most likely use some form of committee approach at RB, with 2nd year pro C.J. Spiller likely to take on a bigger role in the offense. Second, the Bills under Chan Gailey appear to be more pass-oriented on offense, and their struggles on defense put a lot of pressure on the team to put up points. This limits his upside as a fantasy back, but he should remain a reliable RB2 in most leagues.

Backup RBs: C.J. Spiller entered the league with very high expectations after the Bills took him with the #9 overall pick. Unfortunately, he didn't really show much on offense to justify those expectations. He had a great opportunity after the trade of Marshawn Lynch to Seattle, but never did enough with his limited touches to force the coaches to give him more. Spiller made the mistake many inexperienced backs make in the league by always looking to bounce a play outside instead of taking the tough yards that were available to him. He needs to improve his inside running and toughness, and the coaches also need to try and find ways to take advantage of his speed and elusiveness out in space. As the first pick of the Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey era, you almost have to assume that they will do whatever they can to try and make him successful. The Bills may have filled their need for a power back when they selected Johnny White in the fifth round of the draft. White is a versatile athlete who breaks tackles and finishes runs which could make him an ideal option around the goalline. Quinton Ganther has been in the league for awhile but is little more than experienced depth and a special teams contributor.

Fullback: Corey McIntyre bounced around the league for awhile before finally finding a home with the Bills in 2008. He's a prototypical fullback who contributes mainly as a blocker so his fantasy value is nonexistent. Jehuu Caulcrick played tailback and scored 39 rushing touchdowns at Michigan State so he could be a goalline runner if he beats out McIntyre for the starting spot.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Steve Johnson, Donald Jones
Backups: Roscoe Parrish, Brad Smith, David Nelson, Marcus Easley, Naaman Roosevelt, Craig Davis

Starting WRs: There was a starting spot open last year following the loss of Terrell Owens and Steve Johnson took full advantage of it. He was a prototypical 3rd year breakout WR who had just 12 receptions in his first two years but then exploded for 82 catches, 1000+ yards, and 10 touchdowns in 2010. Johnson has good size, soft hands, and enough speed to become a legitimate #1 WR in the NFL. He has great chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick and could establish himself as one of the league's best young WRs if he can handle the increased defensive attention he's likely to receive and put up another huge season. Donald Jones is first in line to take Lee Evans spot now that he has been traded to Baltimore, but the second WR spot is in flux for the Bills.

Backup WRs: After years of being the forgotten man in the Bills offense, Roscoe Parrish found new life under Chan Gailey in 2010. Although his season was cut short after only 8 games, Parrish averaged 4 catches per game and made some big contributions to the offense. His quickness and elusiveness in the open field make him an ideal fit as the slot receiver and he should once again be a favorite target for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills added some size to their receiving group in free agency with the addition of Brad Smith. He's a versatile player who can contribute to the offense in many different ways and the contract he signed suggests he will play a significant role on this team. Craig "Buster" Davis was a former 1st round pick of the Chargers so GM Buddy Nix is familiar with him and signed him to provide extra competition. David Nelson was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Florida and brings some much needed size to the WR group. He showed impressive flashes last year and will likely begin the year as the #4 or #5 WR, but could see time in red zone packages and potentially become a starter down the road. Marcus Easley was a promising 4th round pick last year who missed the entire season with an injury. The last of the three undrafted free agent WRs to make a contribution last year was Naaman Roosevelt, a local kid who had a very strong college career at the University at Buffalo.

Tight Ends

Starters: David Martin
Backups: Jonathan Stupar, Shawn Nelson, Scott Chandler

The biggest problem with this position from a fantasy perspective is the fact that the Bills probably use their TEs less in the passing game than just about any other team in the league. In 2010, the first year under Chan Gailey, all Bills TEs combined for just 187 yards. The Bills are almost certain to go into training camp with an open competition for the starting TE job, but this is a competition fantasy owners probably won't need to worry about. The player on the team with the most experience is David Martin, who put some solid numbers with the Packers and Dolphins. He only managed 7 catches last year with the Bills, however, and may be slowing down at 32 years of age. Jonathan Stupar was the most impressive all-around TE for the Bills last year, but that certainly isn't saying much as he only finished with 12 catches for 111 yards. Shawn Nelson is the only player here with significant upside after the Bills drafted him in the fourth round a couple years ago, but he missed most of last year due to injuries and suspension. Scott Chandler was picked up off waivers late last year, but is known as more of a blocker than receiver.

Place Kicker

Rian Lindell : Once again, all three starting specialists are back for the Bills: long snapper Garrison Sanborn, punter/holder Brian Moorman, and kicker Rian Lindell. Last year Lindell missed his first ever NFL extra point and had his worst FG percentage since his first year in Buffalo. Two years removed from a top five finish, the Bills were next to last in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: C.J. Spiller, Brad Smith, Leodis McKelvin, Donald Jones, Fred Jackson

Punt Returners: Roscoe Parrish, C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin, Fred Jackson

The Bills have had a strong return game for many years, and that should continue this year. The starters are WR Roscoe Parrish on punts and RB C.J. Spiller on kickoffs. Spiller is also the primary backup on punt returns. CB Leodis McKelvin is a very capable backup for both roles. If that weren't enough, the team signed QB Brad Smith, who led the Jets in kickoff returns last year en route to being the tenth ranked fantasy returner in 2010. WR Donald Jones and RB Fred Jackson are other potential experienced backups.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Demetrius Bell, LG Andy Levitre, C Geoff Hangartner, RG Eric Wood, RT Mansfield Wrotto
Key Backups: Kraig Urbek, Erik Pears, Ed Wang, Cordaro Howard, Chris Hairston [R]

Team Defense

The Bills made a huge upgrade to their three man defensive front when they added DE Marcell Dareus with the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. Dareus will be a solid anchor as a 5-technique in the Bills scheme. The team is making the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and the addition of former Packer Nick Barnett will be a coup for the defense in this regard. Barnett has experience in both fronts and brings veteran leadership to a linebacker corps lacking a true stud. Rangy playmaking free safety Jairus Byrd will reel in a few interceptions with his ability to drive on the football in flight. Underrated nose tackle Kyle Williams may be the best defensive player the league never talks about.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Marcell Dareus, DE Dwan Edwards, NT Kyle Williams
Backups: DE Spencer Johnson, DE Alex Carrington [R], DE Lionel Dotson, NT Torrell Troup [R]

Starting DL: After finishing with the league's worst run defense in 2010, the Bills released veteran lineman Marcus Stroud this offseason and plan to replace him with highly touted rookie Marcell Dareus. Dareus, selected with the #3 overall pick and considered by many experts to be the best player in the draft, brings an ideal combination of size, strength, and quickness and should provide an immediate impact. Despite the struggles of nearly everyone around him last year, Kyle Williams still managed to dominate at times. He flies under the radar and does not have the ideal size to play NT in a 3-4 defense, but plays with great leverage and intensity and is one of the best fantasy options at his position. Dwan Edwards is a solid veteran DE with limited fantasy potential. He was signed from the Ravens a year ago but has just 2 sacks in the last two seasons combined.

Backup DL: Spencer Johnson is a steady vet who can play either DE or DT. Despite playing primarily as a backup, he puts up solid numbers every year and figures to be the top backup at both DE spots this year. The Bills added a couple of promising rookies to their defensive line in the 2010 draft that should provide quality depth this year. 3rd round pick Alex Carrington showed promise late last year and figures to see more time in 2011. Torrell Troup was taken in the 2nd round and is more of a prototypical nose tackle who should help spell Williams at times. Lionel Dotson was claimed off waivers from the Dolphins but has not contributed much since being drafted in 2008.

Linebackers

Starters: ILB Nick Barnett, ILB Andra Davis, OLB Shawne Merriman, OLB Chris Kelsay
Backups: ILB Kelvin Sheppard (R), ILB Reggie Torbor, ILB Chris White (R), OLB Arthur Moats, Antonio Coleman

Starting LBs: The Bills tried to keep Paul Posluszny, but he signed a 6-year deal with Jacksonville for a chance to play MLB in a 4-3 defense. Nick Barnett was signed to replace him for a much lower cost after the Packers released him. He is coming off a broken wrist but is an experienced veteran familiar with a 3-4 defense who should see time in all downs and situations. Andra Davis is a 10-year veteran who missed most of last year with an injury but has been durable through most of his career. He figures to start at SILB for the time being, but will probably be replaced by rookie Kelvin Sheppard at some point. Shawne Merriman was claimed off waivers last year and looks like he might actually be healthy enough to make a contribution. It's been over 3 years since he was a true impact player, but he certainly has the potential to provide the Bills with an outside pass rush that they have been lacking. Chris Kelsay made a successful transition from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB last year. A good run defender who is somewhat limited as a pass rusher should benefit from playing opposite Merriman.

Backup LBs: Kelvin Sheppard was drafted in the 3rd round this year out of LSU and figures to develop into a starter, perhaps as soon as this season. Reggie Torbor provides veteran depth and could be moved outside if needed. Chris White was taken in the 6th round out of Mississippi State and will get a chance to earn a backup spot. Arthur Moats was moved inside at the start of training camp, but he appears to be a better fit outside given the promise he showed as a pass rusher late last year. Antonio Coleman is a converted college lineman who should compete for a backup job and see time on special teams.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS George Wilson, FS Jairus Byrd, CB Drayton Florence, CB Terrence McGee
Backups: CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Reggie Corner, CB Aaron Williams (R), CB Justin Rogers (R), SS Bryan Scott, SS Da'Norris Searcy (R), FS Jon Corto

Starting DBs: Donte Whitner was allowed to leave in free agency, creating an opening at the strong safety spot that will be filled by George Wilson. A converted WR, Wilson has played well when given an opportunity to start in the past and should be a very productive fantasy safety. Jairus Byrd could not replicate his amazing rookie season last year, but he improved as a tackler and remains a big-time playmaking threat in the deep secondary. Drayton Florence had a chance to leave as a free agent but decided to stick around after putting together two very solid seasons in Buffalo. The other starting spot could be up for grabs but the veteran Terrence McGee figures to be the favorite. McGee may be the longest tenured player on the team, but he's struggled to stay healthy the past couple seasons.

Backup DBs: Leodis McKelvin is another former high draft pick who has had some difficulty establishing himself on this team, but he got a chance to start last year and will likely push McGee for that spot this year. Reggie Corner has contributed mainly as a slot corner in the past, but could be a victim of the added depth in the secondary this year. Aaron Williams is a big corner who the Bills added in the 2nd round of the draft. Justin Rogers was a late round pick from a small school who has a chance to become a contributor down the road. The veteran Bryan Scott is great against the run and figures to see regular playing time in subpackages. Da'Norris Searcy looks like a typical in-the-box SS who the Bills added in the 4th round. Jon Corto is a local kid who continues to make the team thanks primarily to his contributions on on special teams.

Last modified: 2011-08-18 14:04:05

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