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2017 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Offensive Philosophy

After a decent first year in Buffalo, LeSean McCoy was resurgent in 2016, anchoring a Bills squad that was one of just two teams to call more rushes than passes. Buffalo was the only team to rush for more TDs than it passed for, and it did so by a massive margin, 29 vs. 17. Given Buffalo's tepid offseason commitment to returning starter Tyrod Taylor, the team seems poised to retain its identity as a run-first offense with a liberal sprinkling of deep passes to Sammy Watkins to keep defenses honest.


Starter: Tyrod Taylor
Backup(s): Cardale Jones, Nathan Peterman [R], TJ Yates, Josh Woodrum

Starting QB: Tyrod Taylor is probably starter here but it's a whole new offense and his new contract is really a one-year contract called a two-year contract, and new head coach Sean McDermott has said the position will be subject to an open competition. We aren't sure exactly what it will look like when he steps under center in September, so there is some uncertainty in terms of how the landscape of the offense will look. One thing the Bills have promised is to utilize his mobility. That makes sense since his new offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison, likes bootlegs and quarterbacks on the move. That plays to Taylor's strengths. While this offense is supposed to remain heavily run-centric, Taylor did enough last season (3,023 yards, 17 touchdowns and 6 interceptions) to think that with healthier receivers, he could build his production up.

Backup QB: Cardale Jones continues to be a project. We didn't see much of him last season, as he only threw 11 passes, so we don't know how much he has improved from a poor showing last preseason. Last season saw GM Doug Whaley essentially say it would take "something terrible" to put Jones in the lineup. While Whaley said Jones was an option back in February, but that was likely an attempt to leverage a better deal with Tyrod Taylor more than an actual indication of trust. Peterman, the Bills 2017 fifth round pick, is a developmental pick like Jones. He does come from a pro-style passing offense, and shows coolness under pressure, good accuracy and can throw his receivers open. He lacks the plus-measurables you like in a quarterback, including arm strength and velocity on his passes. Yates was out of the league most of 2016, until the Miami Dolphins got desperate due to a Ryan Tannehill injury. He knows offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and is here as an extra pair of hands as the quarterbacks learn the offense, no more. Josh Woodrum was a small school prospect who didn't make it with the New York Giants last season, but has a nice arm and good touch. He remains a longshot to make the team, though.

Running Backs

Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backup(s): Jonathan Williams, Joe Banyard, Cedric O'Neal
Fullback(s): Patrick DiMarco, Mike Tolbert

Starting RB: Even with a new coaching staff, this will remain a run-centered offense. Coming off a 1,267 yard season with 13 touchdowns (the second highest total of his career), McCoy seems to be losing no steam and should be good for around the same numbers as last year. He does need to stay healthy, of course, and has been banged up parts of the last two years. 2016 was an improvement over 2015 though, and he should be a sure bet to play most weeks in 2017. McCoy had a nice year catching the ball as well in 2016, as he was targeted 58 balls and caught an impressive 21 of them for 356 yards and a touchdown. He probably will regress in terms of receptions, but if the Bills stick with their overall plan, McCoy will still see plenty of targets again this season.

Backup RBs: Right now it appears Jonathan Williams will be the backup to LeSean McCoy and given how much the Bills are supposed to run again this season, should be in position to produce. Williams has good size, but moves well with it and has shown pretty good speed and athleticism when given the opportunity to be on the field. Joe Banyard has bounced around the league since joining the Minnesota VIkings in 2013, despite being athletic and quick. He may show something different in Buffalo, but his inability to stick on a roster or get reps even when he is around doesn't bode well. Banyard could be a decent scatback or change of pace back in this offense if he can make it, though. Cedric O'Neal is a bit undersized, but runs with good power and some decent speed, but wasn't able to do so consistently enough to stick with the Philadelphia Eagles after they picked him up as a UDFA. He's going to have to work hard to stick on the roster in Buffalo as well.

Fullback: The Bills made a big investment in fullback this offseason, adding Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert. DiMarco has experience as a lead-blocking fullback in a zone running game, and he can pass protect when asked. Tolbert has a lot of experience as a runner and receiver in addition to blocking and could be a surprise contributor if McCoy goes down.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones [R]
Backups: Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Jeremy Butler, Walter Powell, Dezmin Lewis, Brandon Tate, Corey Washington

Starting WRs: The biggest challenge for Sammy Watkins will be staying healthy. Since his rookie year in 2014, Watkins has missed 11 games. Despite this, he topped 1000 yards in 2015 while missing three games. His talent is undeniable, but his inability to stay on the field is concerning-enough that the Bills declined his fifth-year option. Watkins has every reason to push hard this year as it's likely he will end up a free agent, and potentially one of the bigger ones on the offensive side of things as well. Could his replacement be rookie Zay Jones? While not a speed demon, Jones moves pretty well and he was able to add more to his route running repertoire his final year at East Carolina when the school hired Phil McGeoghan to be their receivers coach after he parted ways with the Miami Dolphins. Now the Bills receivers coach, McGeoghan seems like a guy who will be able to help Jones continue his development in exciting ways. This is still a run-first offense, but if the Bills stretch things out, Jones will see his fare share of balls. Unfortunately we may have to wait to find out as Jones hurt his knee and was declared week-to-week as of May 18.

Backup WRs: Andre Holmes looked like he might emerge as something in Oakland after a decent 2014 season, but instead slipped back into irrelevance. He could be a decent red zone target and he can stretch the field, but two seasons of mediocrity, it's hard to see him in a big role. The Bills also brought in Corey Brown via free agency. Another potential deep threat, Brown is pretty one-dimensional, and may make the roster but it will probably be as a fourth or fifth receiver. Jeremy Butler is mostly a warm body for camp, as are Walter Powell and Corey Washington. Both are rather limited receivers who may not have a ton of talent ahead of them but don't have a great deal of skill either. For two years Dezmin Lewis has impressed in shorts and depressed in pads. We don't expect much more from him this year despite his speed, as he drops the ball far too often. Brandon Tate is a kick and punt returner who has no value at receiver.

Tight Ends

Starters: Charles Clay
Backups: Nick O'Leary, Blake Annen, Logan Thomas

Charles Clay is a decent, if limited, tight end. In a world where tight ends are either blockers or 'move' tight ends, Clay is a little of both and a lot of neither. More than anything he is the lead checkdown option for Tyrod Taylor. Nick O'Leary was inactive most of 2015 and even though he was active for 16 games in 2016, didn't do all that much. Both he and Blake Annen are mostly blocking tight ends and help the run game. Logan Thomas is a former quarterback who switched to tight end for the Detroit Lions and was on their practice squad late last year. He was signed off the practice squad by Buffalo. He is athletic and has size, but also really raw.

Place Kicker

Steven Hauschka: Dan Carpenter was the Bills kicker in 2016, but he won't be with them for 2017. He only made 19 of 25 attempts and missed a go-ahead field goal attempt from 45 yards that basically ended the Bills playoff chances. Buffalo took the money freed up by the release of Carpenter and signed former Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka. The Bills offense had been declining in recent years under Rex Ryan, going from 36 and 38 field goal attempts for Carpenter in 2013 and 2014 to 27 and 25 the last two years. The offense could rebound and help Hauschka have enough attempts to be relevant in fantasy leagues, but the margins are thin at kicker. He is very accurate, making at least 88.9 percent of his attempts in four of the last five years and 12 of 14 attempts from 50+ in the last four years. He's probably going to be drafted in the top 10-12 kickers on his reputation with Seattle, but the Buffalo offense could hold him back.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Brandon Tate, Walter Powell

There are few returners in the world more experienced than Brandon Tate, who holds the NCAA record for career return yardage and has 400 combined returns as a pro. Barring a surprise cut, he'll handle nearly all of Buffalo's returns and everyone else will fight for scraps.

Punt Returners: Brandon Tate, Walter Powell

There are few returners in the world more experienced than Brandon Tate, who holds the NCAA record for career return yardage and has 400 combined returns as a pro. Barring a surprise cut, he'll handle nearly all of Buffalo's returns and everyone else will fight for scraps.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Dion Dawkins
Key Backups: Jordan Mills, Patrick Lewis, Cyrus Kouandijo, Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy, Michael Ola

Left guard Richie Incognito continues his Pro Bowl form as he made his second straight appearance. Paired with left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Eric Wood (returning from injury), the Bills' offense should find tough yards over Incognito. Right guard John Miller is decent when healthy, and Vlad Ducasse could start a few games in his place. Dion Dawkins, a tough long armed rookie out of Temple, is expected to supplant Jordan Mills at right tackle. Patrick Lewis will most likely be the backup center. Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandijo both have off the field issues holding their respective careers back, and Michael Ola could actually steal the swing tackle job. Overall this Bills' offensive line has premium talent and should rank among the league's top tier.

Team Defense

The Bills D/ST fizzled after a hot start in 2016 and ended up outside of the D/ST1 ranks in most scoring systems. This despite still finishing in the top ten in sacks with 40 and scoring three times on defense. The offseason saw a lot of change at the top of the organization, but the good news for the defense is that defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan was replaced by defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott. Leslie Frazier was hired to head up the defense, coming off of a successful year coaching Baltimore's secondary to lead the league in interceptions. The team lost #1 corner Stephon Gilmore in free agency to the hated Patriots, but after trading down in the first round added Tre'Davious White as his replacement. Free agency brought two new starting safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. The good news up front is that the first and second round picks from 2016, defensive end Shaq Lawson and inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, will be healthy enough to contribute after being non-factors in their rookie years. Stud defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will hopefully play 16 games after missing half of the season due to a suspension and injury. There are a lot of new faces from the top down to fit in, but if the secondary can gel and the front seven can stay healthy, the Bills could return to the D/ST1 ranks. Defense streamers should target the Bills because they are available outside of the top ten and open at home against the woeful Jets.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Jerry Hughes, DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Shaq Lawson
Backups: DE Ryan Davis, DT Adolphus Washington, DT Jerel Worthy

Starting DL: The Bills will transition back to a 4-3 defensive scheme this year following the hiring of Sean McDermott. Jerry Hughes has played defensive end before and should make an easy transition. His production declined with just 11 sacks in his last 2 seasons under Rex Ryan, but prior to that he posted back to back 9.5 sack years and has 10-sack upside. Marcell Dareus is an elite talent, but he hasn't quite played up to his ability the past two seasons. Part of that was related to the 4-game drug suspension last year, but he was also often misused by the coaching staff. Under McDermott, he should get more chances to rush the passer and live up the huge contract he signed. Kyle Williams is 34 years old and could be close to retirement, but he decided to stick around for at least one more year. He's still one of the best two-way defensive tackles in the league, and a capable fantasy option due to his strong tackle numbers. Shaq Lawson was taken in the first round last year but missed 6 games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. While he was overshadowed by the emergence of Lorenzo Alexander, he did flash some potential and should be in line for a big role this year given the team's lack of depth at defensive end.

Backup DL: Ryan Davis is an experienced backup whose main strength comes against the run, but he also posted 6.5 sacks in 2014 with the Jaguars. Adolphus Washington was the team's 3rd round pick last year, and he should serve as a key reserve. Jerel Worthy has had a brief but injury-plagued career, who will provide additional depth inside.


Starters: MLB Reggie Ragland, WLB Preston Brown, SLB Lorenzo Alexander
Backups: OLB Ramon Humber, OLB Matt Milano [R], OLB Tanner Vallejo [R]

Starting LBs: The Bills traded up to grab Reggie Ragland last year in the hopes that he would strengthen their run defense. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in training camp and missed his rookie season. With Zach Brown now in Washington, Ragland figures to step in as the team's new middle linebacker. The one concern about him since he was drafted is does he have enough range to hold down a 3-down role. Preston Brown has piled up plenty of tackles while playing ILB over the past 3 years, but he lacks great range and playmaking ability. He's expected to compete for the MLB job, but likely has a better chance to see playing time at one of the two OLB spots. Lorenzo Alexander enjoyed one of the most surprising seasons of any player in recent memory when the special teams start broke out with 12.5 sacks at 33 years of age. He re-signed with the Bills and appears headed for an OLB role on base downs, with a chance to play DE in clear passing situations.

Backup LBs: Ramon Humber is an experienced veteran player who has mainly contributed on special teams throughout his career, but could wind up playing a bigger role than expected. Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo were late-round picks who bring some much-needed speed and athleticism to the group.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Ronald Darby, SS Micah Hyde, FS Jordan Poyer, CB Tre'Davious White [R]
Backups: CB Kevon Seymour, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Shareece Wright, S Colt Anderson, S Shamiel Gary

Starting DBs: With Stephon Gilmore now in New England, the Bills will rely much more heavily on Ronald Darby. He had a disappointing sophomore year, but showed shutdown potential as a rookie. The rest of the secondary is likely to be brand new as the team signed Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde in free agency. Hyde was their most expensive addition, and his experience and versatility should provide an upgrade to the secondary. He doesn't profile as a typical in the box strong safety, but has the cover skills to help slow down opposing tight ends and slot receivers. Poyer is a converted college corner, who started at free safety in Cleveland last year until his season ended prematurely on a special teams play. The contract he signed doesn't guarantee that he'll be given a starting spot, but his versatility should be a good fit. The Bills traded down in the draft this year to acquire a future 1st rounder, but still managed to land one of the best cover corners in the draft. Tre'Davious White will try to replace Stephon Gilmore and figures to be a likely starter from day 1.

Backup DBs: Kevon Seymour will be given a chance to compete for a starting job outside, but the addition of White likely means his best chance for playing time will come inside as the team's nickel back. The team added some experienced depth in veteran corner Leonard Johnson, who played under McDermott in Carolina last year and Shareece Wright who spent last year in Baltimore. Colt Anderson only played two games with Buffalo last year, but he's played for McDermott and Leslie Frazier before and that could give him an edge in the battle for playing time early on.

Last modified: 2017-06-06 10:47:01