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2018 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Offensive Philosophy

In four seasons as an offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll's teams have ranked 30th, 28th, 28th, and 29th in the league in pass attempts. In 2018 he takes over a team that ranked 31st in pass attempts, 4th in rush attempts, and lost its starting quarterback to boot. The Bills have a fantastic chance to finish 2018 as the most run-heavy offense in the league.

Quarterbacks

Starter: A.J. McCarron
Backup(s): Josh Allen (R), Nathan Peterman

Starting QB: Right now the edge for the starter's job sits with fourth year pro McCarron over rookie Josh Allen, but the money on the contract and the high pick used on Allen leave the door open for McCarron to end up as a backup. As it stands, we have only a little more information on McCarron's ability as a starter, since he's thrown just 133 passes over the course of 11 games in his career, totaling 920 yards, six touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He's not a great passer and while there are some non-NFL decision makers that love him, the deal he signed with Buffalo shows what the market thinks of him. If it was any of the other three top quarterbacks behind him, we'd think McCarron would be the backup by September. But with Josh Allen, it's up in the air.

Backup QB: In case you didn't pay attention during the NFL Draft season, Josh Allen has an incredibly strong arm and prodigiously bad accuracy. To what extent that that can be blamed on supporting cast and coaching, and whether it can be fixed is something hotly debated in the media. The NFL loves big armed quarterbacks like Allen but have rarely been able to fix one with the accuracy issues Allen has. The Bills are looking for a spark, but throwing him in over AJ McCarron may not do him any favors as the Bills receivers are shaky, their tight ends are middling at best and they lost two talented pieces on their offensive line. Putting him in early may not set him up for success. Neither Allen nor McCarron will be pushed by Nathan Peterman, who was disastrously put in the starter's role over Tyrod Taylor last year and really was terrible. Peterman may stick around as a backup, but if the team needs to break the glass on him, things are dire.

Running Backs

Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backup(s): Chris Ivory, Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy, Travaris Cadet, Aaron Green
Fullback(s): Patrick DiMarco

Starting RB: LeSean McCoy has topped 1,000 yards two out of the three seasons he's been in Buffalo, though last season was the first time he's been available for the full 16 games. He did see fewer yards per carry (4.0 down from 5.4), fewer 100-yard games (only four) and six touchdowns on the ground but did catch more passes (59) for more yards (448) than he had in the previous two years. This all happened despite taking less carries out of the shotgun and being in an offense that often struggled to move the ball through the air and yet wasn't centered around McCoy's ability. Regardless of which quarterback is in charge, the Bills have one with minimal NFL starting experience. That means they should lean on McCoy a lot and, hopefully, tailor things to his strengths a little more.

Backup RBs: Two years ago, Chris Ivory topped 1,000 yards and made the Pro Bowl with the Jets. However, he never really flourished in Jacksonville and was an afterthought with Leonard Fournette in the house. Ivory still appears to have a little in the tank, and could give McCoy a breather, or work between the tackles on short yardage downs. Travaris Cadet dislocated his ankle late last December, but is reportedly already running without any issues, and with his versatility he could have a passing down role, as well as be a reliable backstop to McCoy and Ivory.Taiwan Jones is primarily a special teams guy, though he has shown some ability to run the ball on occasion. He's coming off a broken arm suffered last November, but has a good shot to make the roster if he can get going on special teams again. He's likely to fight with Marcus Murphy for the role. Murphy was dynamic in college but has struggled with fumbles in the NFL. Aaron Green has been on the practice squad and is a longshot to make the roster. He's quick and showed some playmaking ability in college but has never been able to be reliable in pass protection, nor shown an ability to run between the tackles.

Fullback: The Bills spent big (for a fullback - 4.8 million guaranteed) on Patrick DiMarco in 2017 and got one of the best lead-blocking and pass-catching fullbacks in the league. They'll need him to continue playing at a high level to help with the transition on offense this year.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Zay Jones, Kelvin Benjamin
Backups: Ray-Ray McCloud (R), Brandon Reilly, Andre Holmes, Kaelin Clay, Jeremy Kerley, Quan Bray, Malachi Dupre, Rod Streater, Austin Proehl (R)

Starting WRs: Jones is coming off a bizarre offseason, with an arrest in Los Angeles which also resulted in a lawsuit and involved him putting his foot through a window. The charges and suit were dropped, and the team is committed to him as he comes back from shoulder surgery. Jones was not very exciting last season, catching just 27 of 74 targets - a depressing 37 percent. He had knee surgery in the offseason and missed OTAs. Kelvin Benjamin was expected to take over the "Alpha" role Sammy Watkins had squandered, but a knee issue seemed to hamper that. He had surgery this offseason and is already in practice. The team is looking to use him more effectively, but he has to be healthy for it to work. If both are healthy, Jones and Benjamin can stretch the field and the latter can be a reliable jump-ball winner as well.

Backup WRs: It may seem crazy to think a sixth-round selection like Ray-Ray McCloud could be a contributor early, but that's how shaky this wide receiver corps is. A little small by NFL standards, McCloud made plays consistently for Clemson last year and can do it at receiver, running back or on special teams. He may not be consistent as a receiver but the Bills are likely to use him all over the field. Jeremy Kerley saw some time with the Jets last season before he was suspended for PEDs and now could bring a veteran presence to the slot receiver role. Brandon Reilly is a sizable target who can play the slot and was called up after an injury to Jordan Matthews last season but didn't do much. Andre Holmes played 14 games with the Bills before being placed on injured reserve with a neck injury. In theory, Holmes is expected to be a vertical threat but that dimension was absent from his game last season. Kaelin Clay is likely to compete for the punt return job. A former Colts practice squad player, Quan Bray will battle for return duties, but has been lauded in the past as having the ability to make defenders miss after the catch. Malachi Dupre is a long-bodied receiver who does a few things well, but nothing outstandingly and was cut by the Packers after a good camp and a concussion last August. Rod Streater was out of football last season as he received an injury settlement from the Bills, but he was praised in camp and could surprise again this year. Rookie Austin Proehl is quick and could have a role as a possession receiver but has to prove he's willing to fight for the ball against bigger cornerbacks.

Tight Ends

Starters: Charles Clay
Backups: Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas, Khari Lee, Keith Towbridge, Jason Croom

Charles Clay is the most reliable tight end in the group but he's a mediocre receiver and tight end overall. Last summer Logan Thomas got a lot of hype for his athleticism and route running, but that didn't translate to the actual season so our hopes aren't high for him, but he is still new to the position compared to his peers. Khari Lee has bounced around for the last three years and is expected to continue his role as an inline blocker, as will Keith Towbridge, though it's unlikely both make final cuts. Jason Croom had some decent stats coming out of Tennessee but nothing special and ended up on the practice squad last season, which is likely to be the result of this year as well.

Place Kicker

Steven Hauschka: Steven Hauschka was a good free agent signing for the Bills in 2017. He didn't miss a kick under 40 yards, including 29 extra points and he made 7 of 9 attempts from 50+ yards. He was in the middle of the road in field goal attempts, and that isn't likely to get any better with the Bills offense taking a step back after trading away Tyrod Taylor. He's only a bye/emergency kicker and not one of the preferred options in that group despite being a solid, dependable kicker.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Taiwan Jones, Quan Bray

The 2017 Bills' return duties were handled by Brandon Tate, one of the most consistent and reliable specialists of the last decade. Unfortunately, his departure leaves a void. Taiwan Jones is the most experienced option left behind him, and with a new contract, the speedster likely figures prominently in the Bills' plans on special teams this year.

Punt Returners: Quan Bray, Micah Hyde

The 2017 Bills' return duties were handled by Brandon Tate, one of the most consistent and reliable specialists of the last decade. Unfortunately, his departure leaves a void. Micah Hyde is an experienced punt returner, but the question is whether his defensive value is too great to risk on special teams. Quan Bray has seen time as a return specialist, but players signed to reserve/future contracts are historically longshots to make the team's final roster.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Dion Dawkins, LG Ryan Groy, C Russell Bodine, RG Vlad Ducasse, RT Jordan Mills
Key Backups: Adam Redmond, Conor McDermott, Wyatt Teller (R), Marshall Newhouse

The Bills' offensive line lost left guard and center positions to retirement and did not use high draft picks to back-fill the positions. Left tackle Dion Dawkins had replaced Cordy Glenn (Glenn was traded to Cincinnati). Left guard Ryan Groy is a coaches' favorite and could also start at center. Russell Bodine is the other option at the pivot. Bodine arrived via free agency as did Marshall Newhouse, who could compete with Jordan Mills at right tackle; neither are elite options. Right guard should be a competition between Vlad Ducasse and rookie Wyatt Teller out of Virginia Tech. The Bills' line ranks as a low tier option headed into the season.

Team Defense

The Bills were a surprisingly good fantasy defense in the first half of the year as they converted to Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier's defense after two years under Rex Ryan. The fantasy value fell apart in the second half of the year even as the team marched to the playoffs for the first time this millennium. Their secondary was a strength with 18 interceptions, but the pass rush was anemic with only 27 sacks. The team needs 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson to start producing like one to bolster that stat. They did move up twice in the first round in the draft, and netted 19-year do-everything MLB Tremaine Edmunds in the process. Edmunds will help a no-name linebacker group improve, and the team added Vontae Davis to give them two aggressive cover corners with 2017 first-round pick and breakout player Tre'Davious White, but the likelihood of often playing from behind with AJ McCarron or Josh Allen at quarterback along with an underwhelming front seven probably means that the Bills fantasy defense will be at the bottom of our lists all season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Jerry Hughes, DT Kyle Williams, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Trent Murphy
Backups: DE Shaq Lawson, DE Eddie Yarbrough, DT Harrison Phillips [R], DT Adolphus Washington

Starting DL: The Bills signed Star Lotulelei in free agency to a big contract in the hopes that he will provide a big boost to their run defense. While mostly a 2-down player with limited upside as a pass rusher or fantasy option, he should make things easier for the other players up front. Jerry Hughes is the team's best pass rusher but has only averaged 5 sacks per year over the last 3 seasons. It seems unlikely that he's going to reach his potential even though he stands out as the best fantasy option in this group. Kyle Williams will turn 35 this summer and is not the dominant player he used to be, but he can still be effective if they manage his workload. Trent Murphy enjoyed a breakout season with 8 sacks last year but that seems like an outlier for him. He's better against the run than the pass and figures to make most of his contributions on early downs.

Backup DL: Shaq Lawson is a former 1st round pick who showed some promise last year with 4 sacks in 11 games. He has the talent to emerge as an impact player but will most likely have to beat out newcomer Trent Murphy for a starting role. Eddie Yarbrough was a training camp standout who worked his way up the depth chart and earned a key reserve role last year. The Bills drafted a very stout interior run defender in Harrison Phillips in the 3rd round, who is expected to replace Kyle Williams in 2019. Adolphus Washington is a former 3rd round pick himself who has shown very little during his first two years in the league.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Matt Milano, MLB Tremaine Edmunds [R], SLB Lorenzo Alexander
Backups: LB Ramon Humber, LB Tanner Vallejo , OLB Julian Stanford

Starting LBs: Matt Milano wasn't expected to contribute much after he was taken in the 5th round a year ago, but he took advantage of the situation and emerged as a productive starter. He is undersized but has the quickness to chase down plays and enough cover skills to stay on the field in clear passing situations. The Bills traded up to grab Tremaine Edmunds in the first round of the draft. He's very young at just 20 years old but has an unreal combination of size and speed that makes him a very appealing anchor to build their defense around. Lorenzo Alexander has proven himself a valuable and versatile player who can help out in a variety of ways. He made a successful transition from defensive end to linebacker last year, but his fantasy value took a huge hit as a result.

Backup LBs: Ramon Humber is a career special teams player who got a chance to start in Buffalo before eventually losing his job to a rookie. Tanner Vallejo was a late-round pick a year ago whose contributions were mostly limited to special teams. Julian Stanford is a journeyman who is on his 5th team in 6 years.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Tre'Davious White, SS Micah Hyde, FS Jordan Poyer, CB Vontae Davis
Backups: CB Philip Gaines, CB Taron Johnson [R], S Rafael Bush, Siran Neal [R]

Starting DBs: Tre'Davious White was a strong candidate for defensive rookie of the year and looks like a long-term starter on one side of the defense. He gave up some big plays but also has great ball skills and is very comfortable playing in the zone coverage schemes favored by the Bills. The Bills rebuilt the safety position in free agency last year and wound up with two breakout players whose big-play ability helped carry the team to the playoffs. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer both posted 60+ solo tackles and 5 interceptions in their first year with the Bills. Vontae Davis fell out of favor with the Colts following an injury-plagued season, but he has proven himself to be an elite shutdown corner in the past. If he can get back to that level of play, this has the potential to be one of the strongest starting secondaries in the league.

Backup DBs: Philip Gaines was part of a porous secondary for the Chiefs last year, but he'll try to turn things around as the slot corner for the Bills. Taron Johnson was a 4th round pick in the draft this year who could compete for nickel duties right away. Rafael Bush was signed from the Saints and offers some experienced depth behind the two starters. Siran Neal was another late pick in this year's draft who should be in the mix for the dime safety role.

Last modified: 2018-06-16 15:25:34