The 2015 NFL Free Agency period is around the corner and the Buffalo Bills will look to bolster their young roster with over $30 million in available salary cap room. Headlines throughout free agency will be dominated with news surrounding the superstars like Ndamukong Suh, Dez Bryant and Justin Houston among others, but there will be major contributors in the coming seasons from players that have flown under the radar.
To some, free agency presents optimism to fans, with the idea that one giant acquisition can potentially change the tide for a particular franchise. However, the best teams have shown that the real value of free agency lies with players that fulfill a specific role for a team in a cost-efficient manner.
Over the past two seasons, Doug Whaley has followed the “Moneyball” model in free agency, staying away from the free agent “heavy-hitters,” which has allowed him to see a positive return on minimal investments in players such as Brandon Spikes, Corey Graham, Boobie Dixon, Manny Lawson and Alan Branch. As fans, we all would like the Bills to bring in premier talents such as Mike Iupati or Jordan Cameron, but there are several under-the-radar free agents that could have an impact for Buffalo if signed.
RB Roy Helu, 26 years old, Washington Redskins
Roy Helu has been an interesting player to follow throughout his career. The 5’11” 215-pounder was a fourth-round pick of the Washington Redskins in the 2011 NFL Draft out of Nebraska. As a rookie, Helu split carries with Ryan Torain, gaining 640 yards and two touchdowns on 151 carries, in addition to 49 receptions for 379 yards and a score. After spending the 2012 season on Injured Reserve, Helu returned in 2013 to find the Redskins’ backfield crowded with Alfred Morris, Tim Hightower and Evan Royster.
Over the last two seasons, Helu has been extremely effective in his limited opportunities, running the ball 102 times for 490 yards and five touchdowns, while adding another 728 yards and two scores on 72 receptions. Helu is an intriguing player that could interest the Bills, as he has enjoyed success in both gap and zone-blocking schemes He’s a physical back that excels in-between the tackles, as noted by his 64 carries for 387 yards (6 yards-per-carry) running in the “A” or “B” gaps, while gaining just 138 yards on 38 carries outside the tackles over the past two seasons.
Helu is a compact runner that has great speed (4.40 40-yard dash) and is a major threat in the passing game. There certainly will be questions surrounding Helu’s ability to carry the load for an offense, as he’s had just 12 games in his four-year career with more than 10 touches. However, in those 12 games, Helu had 216 touches for 1,127 yards (5.2 yards-per-touch) and six scores, so he’s shown that he can be effective when given a chance.
WR Kenny Britt, 26 years old, St. Louis Rams
The Bills haven’t hidden the fact that they want to provide the offense with as many receiving weapons as necessary, spending 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 4th and 6th round picks at the wide receiver position since 2012. While some haven’t worked out as planned, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods appear to be a dynamic duo that should be cornerstone pieces for years to come. However, the Bills still lack a physical pass-catcher with size that can consistently win in contested catch situations- particularly in third-down and red-zone situations.
Kenny Britt is a 6’3” 225-pound receiver that spent the 2014 season with the St. Louis Rams, after playing the first five-years of his career with the Tennessee Titans, who selected him with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Britt has had a rocky career to this point, dealing with nagging groin and hamstring injuries in addition to having several run-ins with the law. While teams may have to be thorough with Britt’s background check, there’s no denying the impact he provides on the football field. In his six-year career, Britt has caught 205 passes for 3,198 yards (15.6 yards-per-catch) and 22 touchdowns despite catching passes from lower-tier passers like Vince Young, Kerry Collins, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Austin Davis.
Britt is a big, physical receiver but he has incredible speed for his size (4.4 40-yard dash) that has quietly made him one of the better deep threats in the league. During his career, Britt has been targeted on 85 passes that traveled 20+ yards downfield. He caught 38 of them for 1,362 yards (42.5% of career yardage) and nine touchdowns.
Britt scheduled a meeting with the Bills last year, before opting to sign with the Rams, but Doug Whaley would be wise to approach the veteran wideout again this offseason.
TE Niles Paul, 25 years old, Washington Redskins
Greg Roman’s power run game relies on multiple tight ends that fulfill a variety of roles from running vertical routes, executing trap, combo and cut blocks while lining up in several different positions. Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron are the cream of the crop of free agent tight ends, but the Bills may look to secure the services of 6’1” 240-pound Niles Paul, a converted wide receiver that caught 39 passes for 507 yards and a touchdown in 2014.
Inconsistent in his blocking, Paul is still a very raw player that’s just scratching the surface of his potential. In his four seasons with Washington, Paul started just 17 games, serving as a backup to Chris Cooley, Fred Davis and Jordan Reed.
Paul is a freakish athlete that was finally able to carve out a role with the Redskins’ offense after switching from wide receiver to fullback, before finally finding a home at tight end. Paul is an interesting case, because standing just 6’1” he doesn’t have the prototypical size or length you look for in a tight end, but his athleticism and skills in the passing game make him an ideal “move” tight end or H-Back.
It’s not far-fetched for Greg Roman to envision Paul as a new Swiss Army Knife for his offense.
LG Clint Boling, 25 years old, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bills are in the process of overhauling their offensive line after a disastrous showing in 2014, particularly at the guard positions. Mike Iupati and Orlando Franklin headline the crop of free agent guards, but Clint Boling has quietly been one of the more reliable offensive linemen in the AFC over the past three seasons.
Drafted in the fourth-round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of the University of Georgia, Boling, who stands 6’5” and weighs in at 315 pounds is a quality pass protector that shows a mean streak in the run game. Over the past two seasons he’s surrendered just three sacks, 12 quarterback hits and 33 hurries. For perspective, Bills’ guard Erik Pears allowed four sacks, six hits and 24 hurries in 2014 alone.
While Boling doesn’t have the prestige of some of his fellow free agent offensive linemen, he will be a great value to whichever team signs him.
DL Leger Douzable, 27 years old, New York Jets
Buffalo’s defensive line is arguably the best in the National Football League, but with Rex Ryan implementing more 3-4 concepts to the defense, he may look to his former team in order to fill a role with the Bills. Muhammed Wilkerson Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison gained notoriety as the “Sons of Anarchy” under Rex Ryan with the Jets, but Leger Douzable was quietly one of the more productive and efficient 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL over the past two seasons.
At 6’4” 305 pounds, Douzable has the length and bulk requisite of the five-technique end position in a 3-4 front. Although he played just 322 defensive snaps in 2014, Douzable graded out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 23 graded 3-4 defensive end. An impressive player that is effective defending both the run and pass, Douzable ranked 11th in PFF’s “Run Stop Percentage” metric, recording 12 “stops” in his 133 defensive snaps against the run. He’s also capable of disrupting opposing quarterbacks as noted by his 13 pressures, good for 21st among 45 qualifying players at his position.