Each day leading up to the official start of the NFL football season, I will be providing you with player rankings, team previews, analysis, predictions, opinions and a whole lot more.
When Rex Ryan arrived in Buffalo a year ago, he proclaimed that he wanted to build a bully. Instead, it was another season where the Bills missed the playoffs, doing so for a league-high 16th consecutive time.
Ryan’s bully builder didn’t go as planned, although the offense held its own. As usual, Ryan used a ground-and-pound attack and the Bills were the only team in the NFL to run the ball more than they threw it. He traded for LeSean McCoy and hired Greg Roman as the offensive coordinator. The result? Buffalo led the NFL in yards per carry (4.8) and game (152.0). It even plucked a decent quarterback, with Tyrod Taylor breaking out after being stuck behind Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
The defense is where the Bills really disappointed. Ryan derived from his 3-4 scheme, instead using a hybrid defense that went from being the fourth ranked unit in 2014 to 19th last year. Ryan is, however, resorting back to the 3-4 defense this season and hired his brother Rob during the offseason.
Grading the Roster
QBs- Tyrod Taylor (7.5), E.J. Manuel (7.2)
RBs- LeSean McCoy (7.6), Reggie Bush (7.3), Mike Gillislee (7.2)
WRs- Sammy Watkins (7.9), Robert Woods (7.3), Leonard Hankerson (7.2), Marquise Goodwin (7.2)
TEs- Charles Clay (7.5), Jim Dray (7.2)
Ts- Cordy Glenn (8), Jordan Mills (7.2) Seantrel Henderson (7.2)
Gs- Richie Incongnito (7.7), John Miller (7.2), Cyril Richardson (7.2)
Cs- Eric Wood (7.5), Fernando Velasco (7.3)
DEs- Kyle Williams (7.8), Corbin Bryant (7.4), Jerel Worthy (7.2), Leger Douzable (7.2)
NTs- Marcell Dareus (8.1), Alameda Ta’amu (7.2)
OLBs- Jerry Hughes (7.9), Manny Lawson (7.4), Lorenzo Alexander (7.2), Kroy Biermann (7.2)
ILBs- Preston Brown (7.5), Zach Brown (7.3), Brandon Spikes (7.3), David Hawthorne (7.3)
CBs- Stephon Gilmore (7.7), Ronald Darby (7.7), Nickell Robey (7.3), Sterling Moore (7.3)
Ss- Corey Graham (7.4), Aaron Williams (7.3), Robert Blanton (7.3)
K- Dan Carpenter (7.3)
P- Colton Schmidt (7.3)
KR- Walter Powell (7.3)
PR- Robert Woods (7.3)
Team- 7.395 (11/32)
Offense- 7.379 (21/32)
Defense- 7.433 (9/32)
Quarterbacks- 7.35 (24/32)
Running Backs- 7.37 (10/32)
Receivers- 7.38 (18/32)
Offensive Line- 7.42 (10/32)
Defensive Line- 7.48 (3/16)
Linebackers- 7.39 (7/16)
Secondary- 7.43 (8/32)
Special Teams- 7.3
PREDICTION– 10-6 (2nd AFC East)
The efficient 26-year-old Taylor completed 63.7 percent of his passes last year for 3,035 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also added 568 yards on the ground, a franchise best for a quarterback, to go with four scores. In all, it led to the Bills and Taylor agreeing to a six-year extension worth $90 million, although Buffalo can release him by the third day of the 2017 league year and also get out of the contract following the second season of the pact.
Taylor’s low interception total is impressive considering how many deep shots he likes to take. Despite a somewhat smaller stature, 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, he possesses a strong arm and puts a lot of loft on those deep balls, which hit his receivers in stride more often than not. He did lack some consistency on a lot of his other passes and missed a bit too many “easy” completions. Taylor has a quick and compact release and is accurate throwing on the move. And evidenced by his rushing totals, he can beat defenses with his legs too.
Former first-round pick E.J. Manuel made two starts in place of Taylor last season, but still showcased the inaccuracy and indecisiveness which allowed Taylor to beat him out in the first place. Cardale Jones was taken in the fourth round and will most likely be redshirting this season.
A lingering hamstring issue kept McCoy from being his usual self, although the 29-year-old isn’t getting any younger. He missed four games due to the injury and seemed to be affected in several other contests. Despite the problems, Shady still totaled seven runs of 20-or-more yards. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry and finished with 895 yards rushing on the season.
When he’s on his game, McCoy is the most elusive back in the league. His jump cutting ability and vision are ridiculous and he still possesses the acceleration and long speed to take it to the house from anywhere on the field. An underrated part of McCoy’s game is his ability between the tackles. Sure, he’s better outside of them, but showed patience running behind a lead blocker out of some power runs in Roman’s offense. As a screen back, McCoy is dangerous because of his shiftiness and explosiveness in the open field.
Buffalo surprisingly released 2015 second-round pick Karlos Williams. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, he ballooned to 261 pounds at one point during the offseason, although the Bills had him at 229 pounds. The team did sign a 31-year-old Reggie Bush during the offseason and Mike Gillislee averaged a productive 5.7 yards per carry in limited action last season.
Sammy Watkins exploded over his final six games, tallying 679 of his 1,047 yards and six of his nine touchdowns during that stretch. He caught 60 passes in all over the course of the year to go with just four drops. Watkins stretches the field well by using his speed and elusiveness. He also collects solid chunks of yardage after the catch, using his strength to break tackles.
Watkins is going to need more help around him, however. Robert Woods is solid and will again be the starter opposite of him, but there’s been an open competition between Marquise Goodwin, Greg Little, Greg Salas, Dezmin Lewis, Jarrett Boykin and Kolby Listenbee for that No. 3 receiver.
For a guy who gets paid as much as Charles Clay does, he should be more involved in the offense. He had 51 receptions for 528 yards and three touchdowns. He’s agile and quick for a tight end, which makes it tough to bring him down and lines up in the backfield, slot and as a natural tight end. He’s also a solid blocker.
Playing in a contract year, left tackle Cordy Glenn put everything together in 2015. As a pass protector, Glenn is dominant, using his length to effectively move pass rushers past the quarterback. He’s very agile in his lower half and uses his hands well to anchor defenders. His run blocking isn’t as great, but is still solid and flashes when he’s on his game, using his size and strength to push defenders backwards. Jordan Mills and Seantrel Henderson are competing for the starting right tackle job, although neither showed much last season.
Richie Incognito has made the most out of his second chance after the bullying scandal in Miami led to his release with the Dolphins. Incognito is nasty and physical, especially in the running game. He uses his power and explodes through defenders when trap blocking, but also has the agility to be able to pull and locate moving targets. Incognito tends to stay put at the line of scrimmage in pass protection instead of changing his set points, but his quick hands and striking ability allows him to do it. John Miller started as a third-round rookie at right guard last year.
Underrated center Eric Wood has always been rock solid, both as a pass protector and run blocker.
Marcell Dareus leads the way up front, although he’ll be suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He posted 10 sacks two years ago, which was outstanding considering how much he’s asked to take on blockers to free up outside rushers. He’s a long-armed power player who is impossible to keep blocked. He’s a great bull rusher due to his upper body strength and is quicker than you’d think for a 320 pounder to close in on the quarterback. In run defense, Dareus is great at splitting gaps and finding the ball carrier. He also has the power to anchor down and bring down running backs with just one arm as he’s still engaged with a lineman.
The 33-year-old Kyle Williams is coming off a season-ending knee injury, how does he respond? He’s been an underrated player for a long time. He plays with exceptional leverage and is quick for a man his size (6’1, 303). He also possesses a lot of brute power.
Corbin Bryant will fill in at nose tackle during Dareus’ absence, which means third-round rookie Adolphus Washington will start as a defensive end. Bryant gets off the ball well and has plenty of length. He’s at his best in run defense. Jerel Worthy, Leger Douzable and Kroy Biermann provide depth.
Jerry Hughes’ sack total took a huge dip last year following consecutive 10 sack seasons, but I still like his game. The speed rusher has a supremely quick get-off and showcases great flexibility when bending around the edge. He also has the lateral agility to cut across a lineman’s face and win inside. In run support, Hughes holds his own despite being just 6’2, 254 pounds. But his speed is what he uses to his advantage, especially in pursuit and cutting off a ball carrier before they can turn the corner.
Who will start opposite of him? Both Lawson’s are most likely going to be out Week 1. Manny Lawson, who sets the edge well and is a better run defender than first-round rookie Shaq Lawson, is facing a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Shaq, meanwhile, is on the PUP list with a shoulder injury. Lorenzo Alexander will most likely get the start to begin the campaign.
Preston Brown struggled during the final stretch last year but had a really solid rookie season. We’ll see what’s in store for year three. Zach Brown will be the other starter after second-rounder Reggie Ragland tore his ACL.
Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby form possibly the most underrated cornerback duo in the NFL. Gilmore is a solid press corner who likes to use his strength to re-route receivers, while Darby was consistent and has really quick feet. Nickel corner Nickell Robey also has solid footwork. Corey White, Sterling Moore and Javier Arenas provide depth.
Corey Graham made a transition to safety after excelling as a cornerback in 2014 and was solid. Aaron Williams comes off a serious neck injury, so we’ll see how he comes back, although Duke Williams and Robert Blanton could fill in if he struggles.
NFL PLAYER RANKINGS