With training camp around the corner, there are quite a few players on the team ready to make a leap in their progression as athletes in the National Football League. At BillsMafia.com, we picked 10 players poised to breakout and produce at a high level.
Stay tuned throughout the next few weeks as we breakdown the 10 Buffalo Bills that are poised for breakout years in 2013!
While you normally wouldn’t be in a position to say that a player that has averaged just over nine sacks per year throughout the past seven seasons and was his team’s sack leader hasn’t broken out, Bills’ defensive end/ outside linebacker Mario Williams could very well be ready for his best season yet.
The former No. 1 overall pick signed with the Bills as a free agent last year, and was limited to playing left defensive end in former defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s relaxed 4-3 defensive scheme.
Mario consistently faced double teams, taking on not only right tackles, but was frequently chipped by guards and tight ends as well. Still, Williams finished the season with 10.5 sacks, the highest sack total of any Bills defensive lineman since Aaron Schobel was on the roster.
Williams dealt with a wrist injury throughout the year and recorded just 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks before getting surgery to repair it during the week eight bye. Following the bye week, Williams went on a tear, racking up 30 tackles, seven sacks and forced two fumbles over the final nine games of the year.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Williams graded out as the 12th best overall 4-3 defensive end in the 2012 season out of 42 qualifying players. His 56 quarterback pressures were 12th at his position. However, his ability as an all-around player went far beyond the stat sheet.
Williams made 23 “stops” against the run which ranked eighth among defensive ends. Mario was reportedly hovering around 300 pounds last year, but exhibits the necessary length, strength and push to consistently bring down running backs in the backfield.
Now, with the Bills’ transition to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s “hybrid” defense, Williams will have the opportunity to make more plays from a variety of places on the field.
With the offseason additions of pass rushers such as Manny Lawson and Keith Pough, coupled with the return of fellow defensive end/linebacker Mark Anderson from injury, Williams won’t face as many double teams making it increasingly difficult for opposing offenses to locate him prior to the snap.
In 3-4 looks, Mario’s versatility allows him to play multiple roles. His large frame enables him to anchor the five-technique defensive end position, where Houston Texans’ interior pass rusher J.J. Watt and former Bills’ defensive end and Hall of Famer Bruce Smith saw great success, in penetrating and attacking one-gap fronts.
Additionally, he has proven effective as a standup pass-rushing outside linebacker in the same scheme. In his last season as a Texan, Williams racked up five sacks in as many games, while recording 23 quarterback pressures in 123 pass rushing snaps before suffering a season ending pectoral injury.
In 4-3 looks, Williams can return to his natural defensive end position, where he can use his power to bull rush offensive tackles and disrupt plays in the backfield.
Coach Pettine is a smart individual and is going to put the best player on the team’s defense in a position to excel, no matter what the situation may be.
Throughout Pettine’s time with the Ravens and the Jets, he’s made one thing clear: he likes to get after opposing quarterbacks. Just because history says that defensive lineman are only asked to occupy offensive linemen, doesn’t mean Pettine abides by this.
In Baltimore, Pettine has used players like Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata to not only set the edge, but to attack the quarterback. Pryce contributed 13 sacks with the Ravens in 2006, and Shaun Ellis totaled 11 sacks during the 2009-10 seasons with the Jets.
Most recently, Pettine has utilized the talents of Muhammed Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, who combined for 10.5 sacks in the 2012 season.
While Mario Williams is a pass rusher first-and-foremost, his versatility, size and athleticism will allow him to play multiple roles in a hybrid defense, in a scheme where offenses will have to account for more than just him.
Mario Williams Projected Stat Line- 58 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 4 FF