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2012 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Quarterbacks

Starter: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Backup(s): Tarvaris Jackson, Vince Young, Tyler Thigpen

Starting QB: After signing a large contract, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a roller coaster 2011 season, sometimes looking like the surprise player he was in 2010 and sometimes looking lost and skittish. Surprisingly, his deservedly much-maligned offensive line gave up the fewest amount of sacks in the league -- just 23, less than half of what the Vikings, Bears, and Seahawks allowed. They were also one of the best at keeping Fitzpatrick clean, allowing just 69 quarterback hits according to NFL.com. This was in part to the short passing attack the Bills utilized, averaging just 6.7 yards per attempt. That's lower than the 7.0 most analysts look for and which 19 other starter quarterbacks achieved. The short game contributed to the second highest pass attempt total in Bills history, and only five other quarterbacks had more attempts than Fitzpatrick in 2011. At a quick glance, Fitzpatrick's interception total is a concern (23, up from 15 the year prior) but that's a misleading stat. Many of Fitzpatrick's interceptions came in the second half of blowout losses, including four against the Patriots to end the season, two each against the Jets and Dolphins (both blowouts), and three against Dallas. While it doesn't excuse the total completely, these were not all bad decisions, they were efforts to gain some momentum to come back or at least carry into the next game. Fitzpatrick is in no danger of losing his job -- just look at the guys behind him. He should bounce back in 2012, especially with the gains in defense this offseason. If the defense keeps the games respectable, Fitzpatrick isn't forcing throws downfield when all is almost lost. His interceptions should go down and level out to where it was in 2010. With Steve Johnson, Fred Jackson, and C.J. Spiller all back, as well as a healthy group of receivers behind Johnson, Fitzpatrick should bounce back this coming season. So far the preseason has made him look good, so the expectations don't appear to be too high.

Backup QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick's struggles in the preseason heightened the need for more certainty at the backup position, so the Bills acquired Tarvaris Jackson from the Seattle Seahawks. Jackson, just 27 years old, was in need of a change of scenery after becoming the odd man out thanks to the offseason acquisitions of Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson. Jackson may not be an elite passer, but he's been better than his critics care to acknowledge, and seems a perfect fit for Chan Gailey's system which emphasizes the short and intermediate passing game, as well as mobility. Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young are vying for the last roster spot.

Running Backs

Starter: Fred Jackson
Backup(s): C.J. Spiller, Johnny White, Tashard Choice, Zach Brown
Fullback(s): Corey McIntyre, Dorin Dickerson

Starting RB: Fred Jackson has his new contract and is back in the lead spot in the Bills backfield. Jackson has a great combination of speed, physicality and ability to receive the ball in the passing game that makes him invaluable to any offense. Aside from a few dings here and there, he has been the only steady option in an offense which, until Steve Johnson showed up, lacked any real centerpiece. Jackson is still on the wrong side of 30 and Spiller should be more involved this year, but the fact that the Bills run a short-passing offense plays in Jackson's favor because he catches the ball so well. If the defense can keep things close, he will get more chances to run. If he can stay healthy, he should hold off Spiller for at least another year of very solid RB2 production.

Backup RBs: Spiller is the one to watch here as the pressure is on for him to live up to being selected ninth overall in 2010. Once h stopped trying to bounce every run outside, Spiller began to look like a quality running back. When he had to take over the lead back spot after Week 11 (due to Jackson's injury), Spiller did well, though was a bit inconsistent. Like Jackson, better play by the defense will work in Spiller's favor as will not be required to pass their way back into the game. Johnny White hasn't had much time to play yet, though he was active for 11 games yet carried the ball just 12 times. He should get a little more involved this season. Tashard Choice was a surprise player to see re-signed since he wasn't very impressive last year in the few carries he had. Zach Brown is an undrafted free agent out of Pitt who was signed this month when Chris Douglas was waived due to injury. He's a heavy back and might be used in short yardage duty, but is buried on the depth chart and more likely merely a bench warmer.

Fullback: Corey McIntyre is a reliable blocker who does not offer much else beyond that, nor is he often asked to.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Steve Johnson, Donald Jones
Backups: David Nelson, Marcus Easley, T.J. Graham [R], Brad Smith (QB/KR), Ruvell Martin, Naaman Roosevelt, Marcus Easley, David Clowney , Kamar Aiken

Starting WRs: Steve Johnson has as much talent as he has propensity for getting himself penalty flags. His 1,000-yard, seven-touchdown season would be more impressive if fewer of his touchdowns weren't followed by flags for excessive celebration, especially involving airplanes crashing. Johnson overall, however, did a great job building on his 2010 success and continued to show the generally reliable hands, good speed, and the my-ball mentality you like to see in a young, elite wide receiver. He needs to mature a bit and shake off the bad beats, but Johnson should continue to progress well, especially given his chemistry with Fitzpatrick. Donald Jones will start camp as the No. 2 WR, but hasn't been so impressive that either David Nelson or Marcus Easley can't overtake him. Jones needs to stay healthy and more focused to hang onto his spot. Doing so will cement the Bills as having the most commonly named starting wide receivers in the NFL.

Backup WRs: Nelson really stepped up last season, starting when Marcus Easley had a hamstring issue, followed by heart problems. The first half of the season, Nelson was very productive, but it tailed off as the year went on. Nelson is a big target and fits the slot role perfectly though so if Jones falters, Nelson will have a shot. Easley is just fighting for a roster spot at this point after two seasons on Injured Reserve. He has the size and ability but can't seem to stay on the field. He has to prove he's healthy to get a shot. Rookie T.J. Graham is a good player with a tremendous burst off the line and good speed, but his hands are a work in progress. He's a track star, so whether he can transition competent wide receiver is up for debate. Brad Smith was brought in last season to give the Bills a Wildcat option. That never really came together, however, so Smith's role is a bit unknown at this point. He's talented but hasn't been able to show himself as a productive receiver in six years as a pro. Derek Hagan and Naaman Roosevelt are role players who couldn't stay healthy in 2011, Ruvell Martin is reliable and has good hands, but he hasn't seen the field consistently.

Tight Ends

Starters: Scott Chandler
Backups: Lee Smith, Mike Caussin, Kevin Brock, Fendi Onobun

Last year saw what amounted to a quantum leap in targets to the tight end position, and Scott Chandler was the main beneficiary. The yards weren't impressive, but the touchdowns were -- six in total. Chandler was third in overall red zone targets with 13 (behind Steve Johnson and David Nelson), but most of those were in the first half of the season, before the wheels came off the Buffalo offense. Chandler's yards and targets make him unreliable as a fantasy starter but his touchdowns will be intriguing for a spot starter. The rest of the group is largely made up of blockers, when they get on the field at all.

Place Kicker

Rian Lindell, John Potter [R] : The Bills selected Western Michigan kicker John Potter at the end of the draft; however that was a flyer on a potential kickoff specialist. Returning starter Rian Lindell has recovered from the shoulder injury that sidelined him for the second half of 2011 and remains the Buffalo placekicker. The team signed him to a four-year contract extension in February, so his job is quite secure. Also back are co-specialists long snapper Garrison Sanborn, re-signed in January, and punter/holder Brian Moorman. After a disappointing 31st place finish in kicker scoring opportunities in 2010, the Bills rebounded to 14th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Brad Smith, Justin Rogers, C.J. Spiller, TJ Graham [R]

The Bills options in the return game are nearly an embarrassment of riches, with well over a half dozen capable return men. QB/WR Brad Smith is likely to take the lead at kick returns, but don't be surprised to see CB Justin Rogers or rookie WR TJ Graham get opportunities as well. Graham has 4.3 speed and could be one to watch.

Punt Returners: C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin , TJ Graham [R]

With the departure of Roscoe Parrish to San Diego, the inside track on punt returns probably belongs to RB C.J. Spiller, but like with kick returns several players may see returns over the course of the year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Cordy Glenn [R], LG Andy Levitre, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears
Key Backups: T Chris Hairston, G Chad Rinehart, C Colin Brown, T Zebrie Sanders [R] (inj)

UPDATE: Cordy Glenn beat out Chris Hairston for the starting left tackle position. Hairston should be the swing tackle behind Glenn and Erik Pears. Overall the Bills line is improving to 27th in most recent rankings, but can improve if the rest of the line plays as well as Andy Levitre. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Cordy Glenn was selected in the second round out of Georgia, and he appears to be on track to beat out Chris Hairston for the blind side duties. Both players will be attempting to fill the hole created when Demetress Bell was signed by the Eagles in free agency. Some pre-draft sources saw Glenn as only a guard; that view is selling him short. Glenn is a mauler in the run game and will likely do a decent job overall. The coaching staff compares Glenn with former Chargers tackle Marcus McNeil. It's not a bad comparison; both players are long armed and tough to run around. As with most rookies, Glenn will have some adjustments to make to the speed of the pro game. Hopefully getting preseason reps against Mario Williams can get him used to high-caliber pass rushers. Left guard Andy Levitre is a quietly efficient player and is versatile. Levitre has been used at left tackle and center at various points in his career. Keith Williams should back up Levitre at left guard. Center Eric Wood is another good quality player, but his 2011 season ended early with an ACL tear. Wood looks to bounce back and recapture his solid form for the Bills offense. Right guard Kraig Urbik is known as a good protector (and filled in well for Wood at center after his injury), but he needs to make strides in run blocking. This is the reverse of other Wisconsin players, who are usually known as rugged run blockers. Chad Rinehart will likely be competing with Urbik for that right guard position. Right tackle Erik Pears took strides last season and is a decent enough player. Pears has earned the trust of the coaching staff. Fifth-round pick Zebrie Sanders is a possible swing tackle and might challenge for Pears' starting right tackle spot in future seasons. Line coach Joe D'Alessandris is a good mentor and comes from Kansas City and Georgia Tech, both rugged running programs. The cohesion score is fairly good, with penalties for a new left tackle and getting Wood back from injury. Overall this Buffalo Bills line lacks top end talent, and their success depends upon Cordy Glenn to make a seamless transition from the SEC to the NFL.

Team Defense

The Bills needed to add some more pass rushing ability. Kirk Morrison and Nick Barnett were solid additions in 2011, but their presence didn't solve the pass rush problems, nor did drafting Marcell Darius. Enter Mario Williams who has to be pleased to be moving back to his natural defensive end position after a stint at linebacker for the Houston Texans. Williams' stats fell off in 2011, but they should pop back up this season as Buffalo expects him to wreck havoc in 2012. Adding former Patriots end Mark Anderson helps the defense as well. Getting the pass rush going is only part of the plan -- the secondary also needs to increase their production. The Bills were a middle of the road defense against the pass but did a great job generating turnovers, tying for 6th in the league with 20. The AFC East is pretty weak right now in terms of quarterbacks. Yes, you have Tom Brady, but Mark Sanchez and whomever throws the ball for Miami won't be huge threats. The opportunistic safeties accounted for most of the turnovers last year, and you can expect more of the same from Jarius Byrd and Bryan Scott. Drayton Florence is rock solid at cornerback as is Leodis McKelvin. On the whole this is a decent defense. With the editions they've made this offseason, it has the potential to be a very good fantasy starter, especially if the turnovers stay stable and the sacks go up as it looks like they will.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Mario Williams, DE Chris Kelsay, DT Marcell Dareus, NT Kyle Williams
Backups: DE Mark Anderson, DE Alex Carrington, DE Kyle Moore, DT Dwan Edwards, DT Spencer Johnson, NT Torell Troup, DT Jarron Gilbert

Starting DL: The Bills have the potential to field one of the best defensive lines in the league next year. The main reason for that is the surprising addition of Mario Williams in free agency, an elite pass rusher in the prime of his career. The former No. 1 overall pick is coming off an injury-shortened season, but he should provide a huge boost to one of the league's worst pass rushes. The other defensive end spot will be up for grabs in the preseason but figures to end up as a platoon situation. Chris Kelsay is the much better run defender, so he'll likely hold onto the starting role and play primarily on early downs. Mark Anderson should see plenty of time in passing situations, however, and thus hold more fantasy upside. Marcell Dareus will look to improve on a strong rookie season in which he collected 5.5 sacks despite facing plenty of double teams. He'll be joined inside by nose tackle Kyle Williams, who had a disappointing and injury-shortened season in 2011. Williams was one of the best linemen in the league the year before. The two tackles should combine to form a very stout run defense up the middle, but both players have the ability to shoot gaps and create havoc in the backfield if offenses start focusing too much attention on Williams.

Backup DL: In addition to the strong group of starters, the Bills have some excellent depth up front now too. Soon after signing Williams to the team, the Bills upgraded their pass rush even further with the addition of Mark Anderson. While he's struggled playing a three-down role in the past, he put up 10 sacks in New England last year and should be an ideal fit as a pass rush specialist. With the Bills shifting to a 4-3 front, some players will need to change positions. Shawne Merriman was not a great fit at DE and was released after several injury-plagued seasons. Dwan Edwards has been a starter for much of his career and will likely see regular time at DT in the rotation. Spencer Johnson is an experienced and versatile backup who can play either inside or outside. Alex Carrington has shown flashes at DE/OLB in the past but will likely be moved inside to DT and could have trouble making the team. Torell Troup is a big body and former high pick who has been sidelined by injuries and might be running out of time. Jarron Gilbert is an athletic player who was signed off the Jets practice squad late last year, but he'll have a tough time making the team. Kyle Moore has impressed the coaches in camp and the release of Merriman appears to have created a roster spot for him as the team's 4th DE.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Nick Barnett, MLB Kelvin Sheppard, SLB Arthur Moats
Backups: OLB/SS Bryan Scott, OLB Kirk Morrison, OLB Nigel Bradham [R], OLB Dan Batten, ILB Scott McKillop, ILB Tank Carder [R], ILB Chris White

Starting LBs: The switch to a 4-3 front should not have a huge impact on the Bills linebackers. Nick Barnett moves outside but should remain a three-down player and productive fantasy option. Some initial reports from the team have indicated they may not differentiate much between the strongside and weakside linebackers though, which could mean that Barnett winds up lining up across from the tight end more than fantasy owners would like. Kelvin Sheppard was drafted in the third round last year and showed promise against the run, but he'll need to improve his cover skills to earn snaps in the team's nickel packages. Arthur Moats may be too small to hold onto an every-down role, but he's a good pass rusher who can also fill a role in some subpackages. He appears to have beaten out Kirk Morrison for the starting strongside job but probably has limited fantasy value as a 2-down linebacker.

Backup LBs: Bryan Scott plays linebacker in the team's nickel packages and gets nearly as many snaps as a starter. Kirk Morrison was a late signing last year and didn't play much as a result. He has been a starter on the inside for much of his career, but he will make a move outside and compete for the strongside role in the new Bills defense. The Bills added some depth in the draft with the selections of Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder. Both are experienced players with good speed who will likely contribute on special teams while working towards a bigger role in the future. If they don't make the team, look for them to be signed to the practice squad. Scott McKillop played for Dave Wannstedt in college and showed some promise earlier in his career with the 49ers. He looks like the favorite to take over the backup MLB job. Chris White was a late-round pick last year who will also be in the mix for a backup job inside.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS George Wilson, FS Jairus Byrd, CB Aaron Williams, CB Stephon Gilmore [R]
Backups: SS Da'Norris Searcy, CB Terrence McGee, CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Ron Brooks [R], CB Justin Rogers

Starting DBs: While the cornerback play was largely a disappointment in 2011, the safety play was often very good. George Wilson took over for the departed Donte Whitner at strong safety and had a breakout year with nearly 80 solo tackles and quite a few big plays. The former wide receiver is a vocal leader on the team and a proven playmaker who should remain one of the most productive fantasy safeties in the league. Jairus Byrd hasn't quite lived up to the high expectations he created for himself when he picked off nine passes as a rookie in 2009. He has made huge strides in his overall game, however, and worked hard to become a much more reliable tackler. The cornerback position has a youth movement on the way. Veteran Drayton Florence was released and Terrence McGee is likely nearing the end of his career. That should create an opportunity for last year's second-round pick Aaron Williams and this year's first-round pick Stephon Gilmore to emerge as starters. Both players have ideal size for the position, which should allow them to match up with some taller receivers and also come up to support against the run.

Backup DBs: Da'Norris Searcy is a promising second-year player who may be ready to compete for more playing time. Terrence McGee provides some much needed experience to the group and could begin the year as a starter, but he is having difficulty recovering from knee surgery. As a former first-round pick, this might be Leodis McKelvin's last chance to make his mark in Buffalo after getting benched last season. Strong play during the preseason earned him a job as the team's nickel corner. Justin Rogers is a second-year corner who came from a small school and will likely provide solid depth. Ron Brooks has blazing speed and backed up some superstar corners during his time at LSU, but he will most likely start out contributing on special teams.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 20:37:21

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