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2015 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matt Cassel
Backup(s): EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor, Matt Simms

Starting QB: The quarterback position is the biggest Achilles heel the Bills have to deal with. We thought that new head coach Rex Ryan brought in Matt Cassel to challenge third year quarterback EJ Manuel for the starting job, but it seems as though Cassel already has the gig. In the past, Cassel has shown that he can get an offense through a game with minimal mistakes, but he's not a great quarterback and it's hard to imagine the Bills going deep into the playoffs with him at the helm. The problem with Cassel is he's the type of quarterback who does just enough to fool you into thinking he's good. His time with the Minnesota Vikings is a perfect example of this, as he consistently did just enough to keep the team in games, but often he would refuse to test cornerbacks on deep balls and was wildly inconsistent when he did. In the end, he couldn't get the Vikings in position to win a game. However despite being a quarterback with limited skill, Cassel might be the safer option and one who, while not winning many games, won't lose them either.

Backup QB: In two years under center, EJ Manuel has not looked anywhere near as good as the team hoped when he was taken with the Bills' first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. When not injured, Manuel has been staggeringly mediocre. Manuel has wheels and is very mobile but his accuracy can barely be called that and he doesn't seem to have really mastered the playbook. This is pretty much a make or break year for him, and he's not even guaranteed to have a chance to prove he can play. You have to assume the team is ready to move on from one of the biggest blunders of the previous regime. Tyrod Taylor is super-athletic quarterback who reportedly turned down more money from the Denver Broncos because he believes he has a shot to start in Buffalo. Considering how unimpressive he's been in minor action with the Baltimore Ravens, that tells you a lot about the quarterback position here. There's room for us to be surprised though, as we can't truthfully say we know what he's truly capable of as he's barely played over his four years in the league. Matt Simms is a recent addition from the New York Jets. Coach Rex Ryan likes the former Tennessee product quite a bit and while so far Simms has looked no more than average under center, he could show more. We know Manuel hasn't been impressive (or healthy) in his early career and Matt Cassel is a placeholder with a low ceiling. Can Simms surprise? On the one hand, you'd have thought he would have had a shot by now if he could play. On the other hand, the Jets were so dysfunctional under center, they may have just forgotten about him. He's a long shot but worth watching.

Running Backs

Starter: LeSean McCoy
Backup(s): Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Karlos Williams [R], Corey Knox
Fullback(s): Jerome Felton, John Conner, MarQueis Gray

Starting RB: Tthis will be McCoy's offense, and if you had doubts they were gone when the team released Fred Jackson. McCoy looked terrible for much of last season, running hesitantly, trying to stretch too many runs outside and generally looking like he had lost a few steps. Early on the injured offensive line was somewhat to blame, but when it got healthy, McCoy still had issues. His struggles, his frustration with Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's offense and his contract (and contract demands) forced the Eagles to ship him north to Buffalo. He's behind a decent offensive line, but there are a few things working against him. First, he's facing stacked boxes because nobody is going to be afraid of whichever guy lands at quarterback. The receivers have some hop to them, but they'll be held back by the quarterback play as well. So expect McCoy to see full tackle boxes, which will slow him down. Secondly, McCoy just looked off last season and it is fair to wonder if something is wrong. At 26 it's hard to imagine his ability already falling off, but it's fair to wonder what happened last season. He'll get all the opportunity in the world to prove to everyone he's OK as Ryan recently told WGR 550-AM radio that this team will "run 50 times" if they can.

Backup RBs: Bryce Brown was thought to be next in line for when C.J. Spiller left, but there's a good chance that won't happen now, and Brown was prone to really dumb mental errors and doesn't protect the ball well, so he might not even make the roster. Anthony Dixon is a decent backup, but like Brown could find himself off the roster. Rookie Karlos Williams is a developmental guy with only two years experience as a running back, having converted from safety. He runs an incredibly fast 40 for a guy who weighs 230 pounds, but that's all he does but he isn't really all that adept at reading his lanes and runs terribly stiff. It could take a while for his game to shape up. Corey Knox is an unimpressive runner who has yet to take part in anything but special teams. He'll be gone by the end of camp if not before. Overall this is a top heavy groupówith McCoy as the lead and Jackson as a solid backup. After those two though, there's not much depth.

Fullback: While some fullbacks will be used to do more than block, the Bills don't tend to use them that way. Of this group, Jerome Felton is the most interesting guy as he was instrumental in helping Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson get to 2,000 yards in 2012.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Percy Harvin
Backups: Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, Deonte Thompson, Marcus Easley, Justin Brown, Marcus Thigpen, Tobais Palmer, Caleb Holley, Dezmin Lewis [R], Andre Davis [R]

Starting WRs: From a receiver standpoint, the Buffalo Bills are in pretty good shape. Sammy Watkins had a solid first season, just missing 1,000 yards on 65 catches with five touchdowns. That's impressive considering his quarterbacks were an uninspiring Kyle Orton and a struggling EJ Manuel. Watkins was heavily involved in the offense from the start and was impressive for the most part. We expect Matt Cassel or Manuel to look for him even more this season. Robert Woods has played well for the past two seasons, and he has a knack for taking advantage of attention shifting towards a guy like Watkins. He caught as many balls as Watkins did in 2013 (65) and on 24 less targets. He might actually see even less targets this year depending on how the offense utilizes Percy Harvin and Charles Clay and in a run heavy scheme at that. What will be interesting is seeing what the Bills do with Percy Harvin. Previously Harvin has almost always been a slot receiver, but he told BuffaloBills.com that he expects the team to move him into several roles, as was the case often with the New York Jets. He could eat into everyone's touches. We know Rex Ryan likes him - he pursued him the moment Harvin was available - so we can expect to see Harvin used often.

Backup WRs: With all the players ahead of him on the depth chart, Marquise Goodwin could get lost in the shuffle. He's a deep threat who will probably do more damage on special teams than in the offense and it's possible the Bills might even move on from him. Chris Hogan was a slot guy last season and with the players they already have on the team, it seems likely that he will not see much action unless Harvin gets injured. Marcus Easley signed a four-year contract as a special teams ace. Deonte Thompson was signed off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in December of 2014, but while he has 4.3 speed, he has had few catches and is likely on the roster bubble or could be back on the practice squad if he has eligibility left. Justin Brown is a long-shot to make the roster. he was signed after Pittsburgh gave up on him and its hard to imagine him climbing the depth chart any more easily here. The Bills picked up Marcus Thigpen off waivers for some kick return duty. He excelled at it in Miami with the Dolphins in 2012, but has yet to recapture that magic. Tobais Palmer was a big time UDFA in Jacksonville in 2013, but fell out of the league after flopping. Caleb Holley caught on as a free agent last year but was never active and is just an average receiver. The Bills also added two UDFAs from this year's draft class. Dezmin Lewis hails from Central Arkansas where he dominated lower-level competition. He has a lot of upside, but it will take time for him to adjust to NFL defenses. Andre Davis was a street free agent who can make a tough catch but isn't known for being a tough competitor, which is why he wasn't drafted. Lewis has a better chance to make the roster, but both could be on the practice squad or cut by the end of the summer.

Tight Ends

Starters: Charles Clay
Backups: Chris Gragg, Nick O'Leary [R], Chris Manhertz, Clay Burton [R]

Charles Clay is a solid tight end who took a step back last year but is overall a very talented move tight end who can attack the seam. As with everyone above, he could be hampered by a lack of targets in a run-heavy scheme, but the team has to throw at some time and Clay will be a solid option then. Behind him, Chris Gragg is almost assuredly going to be overtaken by rookie Nick O'Leary. Gragg has done virtually nothing in two years and he had issues making third string last year. At least O'Leary has upside, though he is so similar to Gragg and Clay that it was surprising the Bills picked him up, even in the sixth round. He might emerge as the starter in a year or so if he can prove reliable. He's not as athletic as Clay, so it won't happen this season. Chris Manhertz is the definition of the word project having never played football before he was signed after the 2014 season ended. A basketball player at Canisius College, said his football experience before this was Madden. His size is impressive at 6'6" and 255 pounds, and he isn't afraid of getting physical. He's very athletic as well. But even Rex Ryan - the guy who praises every player as if he's a Hall of Famer - isn't sure Manhertz will make it past OTAs. Clay Burton was supposed to play defense at Florida, but quickly switched to tight end due to a lack of them on the team. He's athletic, but seemed to get lost in the shuffle with the Gators and never really stood out and his production was minimal, totaling just 180 yards in three seasons.

Place Kicker

Dan Carpenter: Carpenter continues to hold down the fort for a team that might rely on their kicker by design this year. The Bills defense and running game are going to be cornerstones of the game plan under new head coach Rex Ryan. That should keep Carpenter in the top 10 in field goal attempts, which is where Nick Folk was when he was Ryan's kicker for the Jets. Carpenter was also 6-of-8 on 50+ yard attempts, which means you should give him a bump in leagues that give more points for longer scores. Carpenter is accurate from distance and his team clearly trusts him as only four kickers had more 50+ yard attempts in 2014. For some reason Carpenter is going outside of the top 10 kickers, which should make it easy to wait and be the last to take one in your league.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Marcus Thigpen, Daniel Herron, Percy Harvin, Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins

A change in coaching staff leaves us speculating on how Buffalo will handle their return game this season. With receiver Percy Harvin rejoining coach Rex Ryan, Harvin is a good candidate to land the primary return job. Receivers Marquise Goodwin and Marcus Thigpen also are experienced returners who could see opportunities. Sammy Watkins continues to get mentions when the Bills return game is brought up, but has yet to handle an NFL return. Harvin handled the majority of returns, and his primary competition Marcus Thigpen was released. Harvin's status has been up in the air with talk he may retire. The Bills brought in running back Dan Herron and he and Denarius Moore have both been used on kick returns.

Punt Returners: Marcus Thigpen, Leodis McKelvin, Robert Woods

Cornerback Leodis McKelvin was Buffalo's punt returner of choice in 2015 before missing time to an injury. Receiver Marcus Thigpen handled the punts early in the season but was then released. Receiver Denarius Moore then took over until McKelvin's return from injury.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Cordy Glenn, LG Chris Williams, C Eric Wood, RG Richie Incognito, RT Seantrel Henderson
Key Backups: T Cyrus Kouandjio, G John Miller [R], C Kraig Urbik, G Cyril Richardson, G Darryl Johnson

The Bills look to be a run-first unit under new head coach Rex Ryan and the team took a positive step toward this goal by signing former Pro Bowler Ritchie Incognito in the offseason. Incognito spent last year out of football but he should be an effective run blocker who can be beat in pass protection. A similar player to Incognito (at least on the field) is left tackle Cordy Glenn. Glenn is a massive human being and the team can often find tough yards running behind this player. Next to him, Chris WIlliams hopes to shake off his various injuries to hold the left guard spot down this season. He will have competition in the form of veteran Kraig Urbik. Right tackle Seantrel Henderson was a pleasant surprise last season, as the seventh round pick won the job as a rookie and never gave it up. Henderson is a well balanced player and the team hopes his continues his development. Henderson earned over $370k in performance based play bonus, the most in the entire league. Cyrus Kouandijo should benefit from the change in coaching and he could be a depth name at several positions. Overall this Bills' line has good talent but none that we can point at and call elite. Their ranking can improve if Williams stays healthy and Henderson continues to get better.

Team Defense

The loss of head coach Mike Pettine last year did not slow down this elite unit. The Bills were the bane of quarterbacks everywhere and finished as a top three fantasy defense, including top five finishes in yards and points allowed. Buffalo traded away ILB Kiko Alonso for LeSean McCoy, but they also have a new defensive-minded head coach in Rex Ryan, and retained emerging edge rusher Jerry Hughes before he hit free agency. With arguably the best front four in the NFL and a good streak of top years under their belt, expect the Bills to be one of the first D/STs drafted in your league and expect them to deliver on that lofty status.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Mario Williams, DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes
Backups: DT Corbin Bryant, DT Stefan Charles

Starting DL: The Bills figure to undergo another major scheme change on defense under new head coach Rex Ryan, who tends to favor using multiple fronts that help keep the offense off balance. The Bills already had success under Ryan protege Mike Pettine in 2013, so the pieces are clearly in place for them to remain a dominant unit. We can likely expect edge rushers Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes to see some time as linebackers, so there is a risk that either could lose their DL position eligibility in fantasy leagues. That being said, the Bills know that both players are at their best rushing the passer so expect to see them playing up near the line of scrimmage in most situations. Williams is obviously the star of the group and should remain among the most productive fantasy options at a shallow position like DE. Jerry Hughes is an explosive edge rusher and re-signing him was a key offseason priority for the Bills since he should be a perfect fit in the new defense. As great as those two players are, the defensive tackles might be even better or more important. Marcell Dareus was perhaps the best player at his position last year and is entering a contract year. His strength and quickness make him nearly unblockable at times, but it's very difficult for opponents to double team him with the talent elsewhere. Note that he will miss the season opener while serving a 1-game suspension. Kyle Williams is somewhat overlooked at this point since he's dealt with some nagging injuries in recent years, but he can still be a dominant force and cause havoc behind the line of scrimmage.

Backup DL: While the starters are all Pro Bowl caliber players, several of the backups have also proven to be effective players at times. Corbin Bryant has shown some flashes during limited playing time and had a very strong camp. Stefan Charles was signed off the Titans practice squad and provides great depth as an interior run stuffer.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Preston Brown, WLB Nigel Bradham, SLB Manny Lawson
Backups: OLB Randell Johnson, ILB Tony Steward (R)

Starting LBs: The Bills surprised some observers when they sent young LB Kiko Alonso to the Eagles in a trade for LeSean McCoy. While he was a very talented player (particularly in coverage), he was also coming off a torn ACL and there were durability concerns surrounding him as he left college. With the move back to more of a 3-4 front, chances are he would have been competing with Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham for snaps as there may not be a great way to use all 3. So, the Bills clearly felt they had the players they needed to play ILB and traded from a position of strength to address a position of weakness. Preston Brown quickly emerged as an everydown player during his rookie season and was already calling all the plays in minicamp. Nigel Bradham had a rough start to his career but showed that he can be a productive player in 2014, and he will also be playing for a new contract this year. Both players have LB2 upside given how favorable the Bills stats crew tends to be. Manny Lawson was a key piece of the 2013 season under Pettine, and could wind up seeing significant playing time again as he is solid against both the run and pass.

Backup LBs: Although the Bills felt this was a position of strength, there isn't a ton of depth left following the Alonso trade. Randell Johnson was a 7th round pick a year ago and has great measurables but is also a project. Tony Steward is an intriguing late-round selection out of Clemson. He was highly rated coming out of high school, but was limited by injuries.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, FS Corey Graham, SS Aaron Williams, CB Leodis McKelvin
Backups: S Duke Williams, S Bacarri Rambo, CB Ronald Darby (R), CB Nickell Robey, CB Ron Brooks

Starting DBs: Stephon Gilmore has yet to reach his potential as a shutdown corner, but he has shown flashes and will be counted on heavily in the new defense. If he can lock down one side of the field, that will make things easier for Leodis McKelvin on the other side. He has played well at times, but has also struggled and it seemed clear that Corey Graham outplayed him during much of 2014. McKelvin suffered a setback on his recovery from the ankle injury that ended his season and will miss the first 6 games. Aaron Williams helped offset the loss of Jairus Byrd in free agency, but he brings more of a physical presence to the secondary with a dropoff in playmaking. Da'Norris Searcy was a valuable player who often went unnoticed, but he signed with the Titans in the offseason. He's expected to be replaced by Corey Graham, who made a transition from corner to safety this offseason.

Backup DBs: Duke Williams was groomed for a starting spot, but was beaten out by Corey Graham in camp. Baccari Rambo was picked up midseason last year and had an amazing 2-INT performance in a huge win over the Packers, so he will be in the mix for playing time as well. The Bills added to their impressive depth at the corner position with the selection of Ronald Darby in the 2nd round of the draft. He is a physical corner whose production in college was underwhelming because he was rarely tested, but he'll be forced to play a lot due to the McKelvin injury. Nickell Robey has quickly developed into a very reliable nickel corner who can match up well against WRs in the slot. Ron Brooks suffered a scary neck injury last year, but is a key special teams player on the coverage units.

Last modified: 2015-12-08 17:01:15