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2021 Team Report: Buffalo Bills

Last updated: Tue, May 25

Offensive Philosophy

Over his first two seasons, quarterback Josh Allen was electric as a runner but inaccurate as a passer, so the Bills surrounded him with receivers who were great at getting separation and providing a large window, culminating in the trade for Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. Then in 2020, Allen took a massive leap forward as a passer, finishing 4th in the NFL in completion percentage after a more than 10-point year-over-year jump, morphing virtually overnight into an MVP candidate and turning the Bills passing offense into a major threat. For the run, the team prefers to use a committee where possible, with three players (including Allen) finishing with between 100 and 160 carries and between 400 and 700 rushing yards.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Josh Allen
Backup(s): Mitchell Trubisky, Jake Fromm, Davis Webb

Starting QB: Josh Allen has improved in nearly every metric since entering the league in 2018, and 2020 was clearly a huge step forward for him, as he saw his completion percentage jump up 11 points to 69.2, his passing yards hit 4544 and his passing touchdowns go from 20 to 37. His interceptions went up from 9 to 10, but his interception percentage dropped from 1.95 in 2019 to 1.74 in 2020, as his decision making improved. His rushing yards have dropped from 510 in 2019 to 421 last season, though he still scored 8 touchdowns on the ground. With weapons like Stefon Diggs, and Emmanuel Sanders he will only continue to improve.

Backup QB: Mitch Trubisky had a good 2020, but overall never found his groove in Chicago. Still, he's a much better option as a backup for Buffalo than Matt Barkley was. Hopefully the Bills won't ever have to put that to the test. Fromm is someone who will compete in camp but outside of a spate of injuries or an implosion by Trubisky we should never see Fromm and Davis Webb has yet to take a snap in a meaningful game.

Running Backs

Starter: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss
Backup(s): Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones, Christian Wade, Antonio Williams
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Zack Moss will start when healthy which, after an ankle surgery, should be in time for camp. Moss can break tackles, run with speed or power and catch the ball. Even healthy, some of Moss' snaps will go to Devin Singletary and visa versa. The two run similar games, but Singletary sits behind both Moss and quarterback Josh Allen at the goal line, which limits his impact a little.

Backup RBs: Matt Breida is well behind both Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in the backfield, and was signed despite a mediocre 2020 with the Miami Dolphins. Injuries have been an issue for Breida and he is mostly just there as protection in case that happens to either Singletary or Moss. He does have more straight line speed than the top two backs and can provide a change of pace. Taiwan Jones is primarily a special teams ace, while Christian Wade is a rugby player who has spent his time on the practice squad. Antonio Williams is also a practice squad guy, but his Week 17 last year showed some promise.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders
Backups: Cole Beasley, Marquez Stevenson (R), Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Isaiah Hodgins, Duke Williams, Jake Kumerow, Tanner Gentry, Brandon Powell

Starting WRs: After coming over to the Bills from the Minnesota Vikings, Stefon Diggs had a career year in several categories, including receiving yards, targets, yards per game and games with 100 yards or more. Another year with Josh Allen could continue to push him to greater heights. Emmanuel Sanders had a decent year with the New Orleans Saints, and his ability to move along the perimeter makes him an intriguing prospect especially in three-wide sets. The question is whether it is he or Gabriel Davis who grabs that spot. Davis had a very nice season as a rookie, but went 0-for-7 against Baltimore and Kansas City in the playoffs. He'll look to build on the former feature and avoid more of the latter.

Backup WRs: At 32, Cole Beasley is definitely closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but he is coming off a year where he hit the highest yardage total of that career. He'll be the primary slot receiver and a quasi-starter. The Bills took Marquez Stevenson out of Houston with their sixth round pick, a solid player who showed a ton of improvement over his college career and has really good speed. His best chance to make the team is as a return specialist. Isaiah McKenzie had a career year in 2020, but with the glut of bodies in front of him - many with more upside - he is unlikely to have much opportunity to shine in the coming year, while Isaiah Hodgins is hoping to just remain on the squad after a year on the practice squad, which is where Duke Williams was and at best will remain. Jake Kumerow, Tanner Gentry, and Brandon Powell will all serve as camp bodies and will struggle to make the final roster, unless they show special teams acumen.

Tight Ends

Starters: Dawson Knox
Backups: Jacob Hollister, Nate Becker, Tommy Sweeney, Reggie Gilliam

The Bills lack a top shelf tight end option, but that has never really bothered the team, and it is unlikely to change this coming season. Dawson Knox disappointed last year as a pass catching option, but Jacob Hollister has intriguing ability which was wasted in the Seattle Seahawks offense, and could flourish in Buffalo with no competition at the position. Tommy Sweeney is also interesting, and a bit of a mystery given he missed most of the 2020 season due to Myocarditis related to COVID-19. The team likes Gilliam and he can play H-back, fullback, and special teams, so he has a chance to stick again this year. Nate Becker is a glorified blocker who has bounced on and off of the team's practice squad the last two seasons.

Place Kicker

Tyler Bass: Bass was a hit in fantasy leagues as a rookie kicker, but we'll be watching his accuracy to see if he is truly here to stay. He did make 28-of-34 field goal attempts, but missed three from 30-39 yards. Mitigating this was his 8-of-9 accuracy rate from 40-49, 4-of-6 from 50+, and 57-of-59 rate on extra points, which indicates that his accuracy from 30-39 isn't a problem area. Bass isn't going in the top 5-6 kickers in most drafts, so there is a discount on the price of a kicker who finished in the top 5 in most every scoring system last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Isaiah McKenzie, Brandon Powell, Marquez Stevenson [R]

Buffalo has relied on two-way return specialist Andre Roberts for the past few seasons. Roberts is no longer on the team, which means the Bills will likely give return duties to his primary backup, Isaiah McKenzie, their sixth-round pick Stevenson, or the newly-signed Brandon Powell. Stevenson had three kick return touchdowns over the last two seasons on only 21 returns, so he could easily seize this job with a good camp.

Punt Returners: Brandon Powell, Isaiah McKenzie, Marquez Stevenson [R]

Buffalo has relied on two-way return specialist Andre Roberts for the past few seasons. Roberts is no longer on the team, which means the Bills will likely give return duties to his primary backup, Isaiah McKenzie, their sixth-round pick Stevenson, or the newly-signed Brandon Powell. McKenzie has the most experience returning punts and broke his only attempt in 2020 for an 84 yard touchdown.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Dion Dawkins, LG Cody Ford, C Mitch Morse, RG Jon Feliciano, RT Daryl Williams
Key Backups: OL Forrest Lamp, OT Spencer Brown [R], OL Ryan Bates

This run-heavy group returns all five starters, led by the tackle duo of Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams. Both players are durable and reliable. Inside, Jon Feliciano and Cody Ford offer impact blocking; Ford especially plays with an edge. Center Mitch Morse has been steady. Forrest Lamp arrived as a depth signing but could push Feliciano at guard. This line is rugged and grades in the top-10.

Team Defense

The Bills D/ST could take a step forward this year if they get contributions from their young defensive lineman - 2020 second-round pick AJ Epenesa and their 2021 first and second round picks, Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. They are going in the 6-8 range of D/STs in fantasy drafts, which is a bit above their finish in 2020 even though they were a winning team whose defense got better as the season went along. They do open with the Steelers in Buffalo, where they picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice, once for a score. The Steelers will also have inexperienced players at three spots on the offensive line, so it could be a hot start for the Bills D/ST.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Jerry Hughes, DT Ed Oliver, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Mario Addison
Backups: DE A.J. Epenesa, DE Carlos Basham [R], DE Gregory Rousseau [R], DE Efe Obada, DE Darryl Johnson, DE Bryan Cox, DE Mike Love, DT Vernon Butler, DT Justin Zimmer, DT Harrison Phillips

Starting DL: Jerry Hughes continues to play at a high level and consistently ranks among the league leaders in pressure generated. However, that hasn't translated into production as his fantasy value has diminished with just 31 solo tackles and 9 sacks over the past two years. Ed Oliver was a top-10 draft pick who has not made as big of a fantasy impact as hoped for thus far, but there have been positive signs in his development. Consider him a low-end DT2 with breakout potential. When Star Lotulelei opted out of last season, the Bills defense took a hit as they didn't have a capable replacement and were forced to play people out of position. While his fantasy value is minimal, his presence inside on early downs and ability to tie up blockers will help elevate everyone else. Mario Addison was brought in via free agency last year to provide a boost to the pass rush but mostly underwhelmed. At 34 years of age, he's likely better suited to a situational role as the Bills attempt to groom a long-term replacement.

Backup DL: The Bills drafted A.J. Epenesa in the 2nd round last year and he should be ready to push for a larger role, although he offers limited upside as a pass rusher. Two developmental edge rushers were also added at the top of this year's draft in Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Rousseau likely has more long-term upside while Basham is more pro-ready, but both could be potential starters in 2022. Efe Obada and Darryl Johnson may compete over the last roster spot on a crowded depth chart while Bryan Cox and Mike Love could be practice squad candidates. Vernon Butler is versatile enough to backup both defensive tackle positions and will remain a key member of the rotation. Justin Zimmer was a pleasant surprise last year and Harrison Phillips can also contribute in a limited role.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Matt Milano, MLB Tremaine Edmunds, SLB A.J. Klein
Backups: LB Tyrell Adams, LB Marquel Lee, LB Andre Smith, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Tyrel Dodson

Starting LBs: Matt Milano missed significant time in 2020 with injuries but has become a core member of the team thanks to his all-around play and excellent play in coverage. The Bills made that clear by signing him to a 4-year, $41.5 million contract before he hit the open market as a free agent this offseason. Tremaine Edmunds had a disappointing season last year in terms of his level of play and has yet to become the impact player the Bills were hoping for when they drafted him 16th overall in 2018. He's still only 23 years old and a 3-down linebacker so consider him a safe LB2 with upside. A.J. Klein played better than expected last year but is not athletic enough to handle a regular coverage role in nickel packages and fits best as a backup.

Backup LBs: Tyrell Adams was a very productive starter at inside linebacker for the Texans last year who should compete with Klein for a spot in the base 4-3. Marquel Lee is another experienced player signed in via free agency to provide additional depth. Andre Smith was signed to a 2-year contract extension but is primarily a special teams contributor along with Tyler Matakevich. Tyrel Dodson rounds out the depth chart after seeing limited snaps on defense last year as an undrafted free agent.

Defensive Backs

Starters: SS Jordan Poyer, FS Micah Hyde, CB Tre'Davious White, CB Levi Wallace
Backups: CB Taron Johnson, CB Dane Jackson, CB Siran Neal, CB Cam Lewis, CB Rachad Wildgoose [R], S Jaquan Johnson, S Josh Thomas, S Damar Hamlin [R]

Starting DBs: Jordan Poyer has established himself as one of the very best fantasy safeties in the league while averaging 80 solo tackles and a handful of big plays over the past three seasons. Micah Hyde excels at limiting big plays in the secondary but he doesn't make enough big plays to offset underwhelming tackle numbers. TreDavious White is at his best playing zone coverage but he's a capable shutdown corner who can match up against the opposing team's top receiver. While Levi Wallace has been a capable starter during his 3-year career, he always has to compete for a starting job and this year will be no different.

Backup DBs: Taron Johnson came up with one of the biggest plays of the year in the playoffs and puts up strong numbers given how often he's targeted as the team's nickel back. Dane Jackson showed a lot of promise as a late-round pick and figures to compete for a starting job this year. Siran Neal provides depth at nickel back and can contribute on special teams. The Bills only added Rachad Wildgoose in the 6th round of the draft, which could leave an opening for a veteran still. Jaquan Johnson is a promising developmental safety who has looked good in limited opportunities. Damar Hamlin is another developmental project at safety who could contribute down the road.