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2016 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Quarterbacks

Starter: Tyrod Taylor
Backup(s): EJ Manuel, Cardale Jones [R]

Starting QB: Tyrod Taylor may not have an extension but we'd be shocked if he wasn't under center this fall. While far from perfect, Taylor made great strides as a starter under offensive coordinator Greg Roman, despite injuries in the backfield and at wide receiver and with a defense that allowed an average of 22 points a game and was ranked as the No. 24 defense by Football Outsiders DVOA Metric. Considering all that and that he was learning on the job while playing from behind, Taylor's work was solid. He also managed nearly a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio, with 20 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions and completed 63.7 percent of his passes. The one thing that really gives us pause here is the fact that the Bills clearly don't believe in him enough to extend his contract. Are they not committed to him long term because they see flaws that will catch up to him or are they just waiting to see if he can be effective in back to back years? His athleticism, speed and ability to gain yards off broken plays as well as his continuing improvement with accuracy, we think Taylor could be in for another solid year.

Backup QB: The team didn't pick up Manuel's fifth year option, so if Cardale Jones has a good camp, Manuel could be expendable. It all depends on Jones though, who is a very raw prospect. So unless another quarterback is signed between now and camp, we expect Manuel to be the backup to Taylor, who gets banged up. Of course, so does Manuel who also has yet to look like the NFL game is going to come easy for him any time soon. As we stated above, Jones is awfully raw but he has a huge arm and great overall size, but his accuracy and general game management aren't on point yet. Jones needs to improve his mechanics, ability to read defenses and decision-making and Roman has his work cut out for him, but Jones' upside is exciting.

Running Backs

Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backup(s): Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams [R], James Wilder Jr., Reggie Bush
Fullback(s): Jerome Felton, Glen Gronkowski

Starting RB: Last season McCoy had 203 carries in 12 games while the next closest back was Karlos Williams with just 93. McCoy has missed just 10 games in his seven year career so we're not worried about injury and as long as he's healthy he should top 1,000 yards as he has done in four of his seasons.

Backup RBs: Now that the team has cut Karlos Williams due to weight issues (and if we're honest, probably the suspension), the situation if LeSean McCoy were to get hurt is a bit cloudy. Jonathan Williams could steal Karlos Williams' spot, if he can stay out of trouble himself and show an improvement in pass protection. The former Arkansas back has more talent than his fifth round status would indicate but his injury history gave teams pause. If he can stay healthy, Williams could be a three-down back and his elusiveness in the wash at the line, as well as his timed speed make him an intriguing player. Last season, Mike Gillislee had a run of three games where he scored a touchdown, two of which saw him run for more than 80 yards, but overall he has not been able to carve out much of a role. He might be able to steal the backup role, but nothing we've seen before indicates that to be a likely outcome of training camp. James Wilder Jr is a bit of a journeyman, having spent time on Cincinnati's practice squad before coming to Buffalo. Wilder can push the pile, and he'll fight for yardage but he's limited overall and it's hard to see him surviving final cuts. Reggie Bush was signed during training camp and should make the roster, but the team has said he is viewed more as a returner.

Fullback: Jerome Felton was signed to a four-year, $9.2 million contract a year ago, so in some ways it's crazy to think he might get pushed by rookie free agent Glen Gronkowski, but clearly the Bills like something they see in Gronkowski. A marginal back overall, Gronkowski is a solid blocker and his much cheaper price could cost Felton his job.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods
Backups: Greg Salas, Marcus Easley, Marquise Goodwin, Kolby Listenbee [R], Greg Little, Jarrett Boykin, Dezmin Lewis, Walter Powell

Starting WRs: Without a doubt, the wide receiver talent on this roster skews heavily towards Sammy Watkins. While he missed three games in 2015, he still cracked 1,000 yards and caught 62 percent of his 90 targets. After a frustrating start to the season, Watkins demanded more targets and when he got them, had a tremendous rest of the season, capping it off by dominating Darrelle Revis in a Week 17 upset of the New York Jets. He'll get the bulk of the targets again this year and if he stays healthy, he will produce huge numbers. Robert Woods is the second receiver in name only, as he has yet to do enough to secure the job long-term. The Bills have been on the hunt for a "viable No. 2" which means Woods is on the hot seat.

Backup WRs: Everyone not named Sammy Watkins - or to a lesser extent, Robert Woods - finds themselves facing a shaky roster spot. Greg Salas has experience in the slot but has never shown enough to warrant a consistent role. The most upside here is likely rookie Kolby Listenbee, who has deep speed and could be a vertical threat for the offense. He needs to improve his route running (and learn to run more of them) but the Bills will find ways to use him. Marcus Easley and Marquise Goodwin are both primarily special teams players, Greg Little was hurt and irrelevant in Cincinnati last season and has an uphill climb to make an impact here while Jarrett Boykin didn't play at all in 2015. Dezmin Lewis continues to be a project who needs to improve some more in route running and overall technique. He has the physical measurable and tools, he just needs to use them consistently. Walter Powell is a return specialist and that's all.

Tight Ends

Starters: Charles Clay
Backups: Jim Dray, Nick O′Leary, Chris Gragg (INJ), Blake Annen, Jacob Maxwell

Charles Clay leads the group here, and had the third most targets on the team with 77. Clay was on the field for 95 percent of Buffalo's offensive snaps and we expect him to maintain about the same frequency. After restructuring his contract, Clay should remain the clear starter, but we don't expect him to see a large increase in production. Jim Dray is a blocking tight end and that's it. Chris Gragg was coming on this summer, but he tore an ACL in the third preseason game. One of these two is unlikely to make the roster, as there is only so much room for blocking tight ends when you also have a pair of blocking fullbacks. Nick O′Leary is a decent depth tight end who took over when Clay was hurt in 2015, but has a low ceiling. Since he's a pass-catcher though, it's more likely that the staff keeps him around just in case Clay is hurt again. Blake Annen came over from the Bears, but hadn't been able to crack the lineup in when he was in Chicago and we don't expect a change now.

Place Kicker

Dan Carpenter: Carpenter's field goal opportunities plummeted on the Rex Ryan Bills in 2015, going from 36 and 38 in 2013 and 2014 to 27 last year. His accuracy dropped its lowest level at 85.2% (23-for-27), although the team did give him eight more extra point attempts. The problem was that Carpenter was also only 85% (34-for-40) on those attempts. The team had brought in an undrafted rookie, Marshall Morgan, to push Carpenter, but Morgan was released to make room for Reggie Bush.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Javier Arenas, Walt Powell, Marquise Goodwin

The Buffalo Bills had five different players return at least four kickoffs in 2015. None of them are still on the roster. Into this chaos, Javier Arenas has emerged as the favorite to handle kickoff returns given his NFL experience. Walt Powell and speedster Marquise Goodwin have also handled kickoff returns for the club, and could see their number called once again.

Punt Returners: Reggie Bush, Javier Arenas, Walt Powell

Buffalo's top three punt returners from 2015 are no longer with the club, leaving Walt Powell-- who had one return in week 16 last year-- as the player with the most experience last year. This is a big reason why the team signed Reggie Bush, an experienced returner and the favorite to handle the job in 2016.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills
Key Backups: Cyrus Kouandijo, Cyril Richardson, Seantrel Henderson

The Bills invested heavily in their left side this offseason. First they worked out a big money deal with franchise tagged left tackle Cordy Glenn. Only 26, the team expects Glenn to be a cornerstone for years to come. Left guard Richie Incognito enjoyed Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2015 and the team rewarded him with an extension that should keep him on the roster for a couple more seasons at least. Center Eric Wood is in his prime, and was named to the Pro Bowl last season. However the team needs right guard John Miller to keep getting better in his second year. Miller started hot as a rookie but ran into the wall big time. Right tackle should be a free for all between Jordan Mills, Cyrus Kouandijo and Seantrel Henderson. It's not clear that any of these options are above average. The Bills have more strengths than weaknesses along their offensive line and they grade out well to start the season. They can be better if their right side matches the performance of the other three players. Tier Ranking: Mid Tier.

Team Defense

There was some excitement about the Bills defense with the introduction of Rex Ryan as head coach and a defensive line that few teams could match. Instead of a bang, the Bills defense only produced a whimper, notching a paltry 21 sacks and only five forced fumbles on the year. The Bills have one of the better secondaries in the division, but there's no reason to expect a turnaround this year. They were closer to middle of the pack in leagues that weight points allowed, and might benefit from a season opener against Joe Flacco coming off of a serious knee injury, but otherwise Buffalo will be a D/ST to avoid except in the very best of matchups.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Marcell Dareus (susp), DT Kyle Williams, DE Corbin Bryant
Backups: DE Adolphus Washington [R], DE Lavar Edwards

Starting DL: The Bills struggled more than expected last year on defense as the team tried to find a defensive identity. They should improve in year 2 under Rex Ryan with a shift to more of a full-time 3-4 defense. While the edge rushers here will likely play with their hand in the dirt most of the time, they are likely to be classified as linebackers, which hurts their fantasy value. That leaves Marcell Dareus as the star of the DL group. He only managed 2 sacks last year and was often misused by the coaches, but he is at his best in an attacking role where he can disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately for the Bills, he will suspended for the first four games of the season on his second violation of the league's drug policy. Kyle Williams has had injury issues of late, but took a pay cut to stick around and can be a very productive fantasy option when healthy. Corbin Bryant figures to see action on early downs, but doesn't offer much in terms of fantasy potential.

Backup DL: Adolphus Washington is a promising rookie who the Bills grabbed in the 3rd round, who is athletic and quick enough to become a valuable interior pass rusher. The Dareus suspension likely opens up an opportunity for him to play a big role right away. Lavar Edwards bounced around the league as a backup the past few years, but could also have a shot at regular playing time here.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Jerry Hughes, ILB Preston Brown, ILB Zach Brown, OLB Manny Lawson
Backups: OLB Shaq Lawson [R], ILB Brandon Spikes, OLB Kroy Biermann, ILB David Hawthorne, OLB Randell Johnson, ILB Reggie Ragland [R] (IR)

Starting LBs: As mentioned, the Bills are expected to use a 3-4 as their base defense this year, but Jerry Hughes and rookie Shaq Lawson should see plenty of time at defensive end in passing situations. Hughes has emerged as the team's best pass rusher, which made it easier to release Mario Williams after a dreadful year. Although he tends to take too many personal fouls and plays out of control at times, Hughes is a versatile player who also holds up well against the run and is comfortable dropping into coverage. Preston Brown struggled as a sophomore last year after an impressive rookie season, but he still played over 98% of the snaps. At his best, he's an above average 3-down linebacker but he looked lost at times last year and even had his play calling duties stripped late. 2nd round pick Reggie Ragland was expected to upgrade the middle of the defense, but he suffered an ACL injury in camp and was placed on IR. That figures to open up more opportunity for free agent Zach Brown. Although he's undersized and could be replaced on early downs, his speed and cover skills are an asset that will allow him to see plenty of snaps. The other OLB spot will eventually be filled by 1st round pick Shaq Lawson, but he's expected to miss the first 6 weeks or so while recovering from shoulder surgery. That should bump Manny Lawson back up to a starting role, but he's recovering from an injury and may miss all of the preseason.

Backup LBs: Shaq Lawson won't be ready until the 2nd month of the season at the earliest, but he's expected to take on a big role once healthy. Randell Johnson is an athletic player who has flashed some potential, but has mostly played on special teams thus far. To offset some injury losses, the Bills brought in several experienced vets early in training camp. Brandon Spikes was brought back and could fill an early down ILB role. ILB David Hawthorne has plenty of starting experience from his time with the Saints and could compete for a reserve role here. OLB Kroy Biermann is a solid 2-way OLB who the Bills brought in to address their lack of depth on the edge.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Ronald Darby, SS Corey Graham, FS Aaron Williams
Backups: CB Nickell Robey, CB Mario Butler, S Duke Williams, S Robert Blanton

Starting DBs: Stephon Gilmore is quietly developing into a shutdown corner, but he's headed for free agency after this year and may be too expensive for the Bills to keep long-term. Ronald Darby was one of the best cover corners as a rookie last year, and an improved pass rush should only help both starters make more plays. Corey Graham was the team's leading tackler, and was great against the run but surprisingly struggled in coverage. The former corner figures to improve in that area and remain a very productive IDP option. Aaron Williams had his year cut short by an injury, but is another former corner who should provide an upgrade in the deep secondary if he can stay healthy.

Backup DBs: Nickell Robey is small and can be picked on at times, but he's a capable nickel corner who plays close to starter minutes. Mario Butler filled in well at times last year and provides some quality depth behind the starters. Robert Blanton has starting experience from his time with the Vikings, and figures to see a lot of playing time, particularly if Aaron Williams suffers any health setbacks. Duke Williams didn't take advantage of the opportunity he was given last year, but is still young.

Last modified: 2016-08-29 10:10:59