Expectations are sky-high for the Buffalo Bills heading into the summer of 2015, and rightfully so. With a revamped lineup and coaching staff (and a suspension looming for a certain flaxen-haired pretty boy), the hapless city of Buffalo has realistic playoff aspirations for the first time in a long time. Below I’ll examine some of the players who might not have the established names of some of their more famous teammates, but could produce just as well.
RG John Miller
The Bills’ 3rd round draft pick is an imposing physical presence, at 6’2” and just over 300 pounds. The Bills drafted him with their new game-plan in mind, which will be an aggressive brand of run-heavy, ground-and-pound football. Miller has all of the qualities you look for in an interior lineman, showing the ability to get excellent vertical push, while course possessing a big, strong body that’s difficult for defenders to move off the ball. Richie Incognito figures to start over Miller heading into training camp, but bear in mind that Incognito was out of the league last year. I can definitely see Miller overtaking him over the course of the summer, or at the very least earning a larger chunk of playing time. With the run-heavy offense, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to break out.
RB Bryce Brown
Speaking of the run-heavy offense! There will be plenty of carries to go around, and ultimately I don’t see more than three running backs suiting up on most Sundays. Fred Jackson, as much as we love him, is getting up there in age. He averaged just 3.7 yards-per-carry last year, which is less than spectacular, and at age 34, it’s hard to wonder when Jackson will simply wear down. Bryce Brown is a significantly more explosive back, and his light-footed running style would be an excellent complement to LeSean McCoy’s cut-and-slash abilities.
2015 draft pick Karlos Williams probably isn’t going to do enough in order to make an immediate impact as a rookie, and while Jackson may start the season as the official backup to McCoy, either an injury or straight out-performance will likely provide Brown with the opportunity he needs.
TE Nick O’Leary
Long-time Bills tight end Scott Chandler is no longer be suiting up in Buffalo, and will be replaced by vertical dynamo Charles Clay. But who will act as the secondary tight end? Chris Gragg has had every opportunity to seize the job for two years now, but 2015 draft pick Nick O’Leary has the chance to steal that job over the summer. Again, the Bills will operate under a run-first offense, but O’Leary has the abilities that could make him a useful underneath complement to Clay, where Gragg operates mainly as a run-blocker. O’Leary is a decent route runner with exceptional hands, and if he can prove himself to be even halfway decent when it comes to blocking inside, he might just enter the season as the number two tight end. It will all come down to his ability to block, so he has some work to do this summer.
CB Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore began to break out in the second half of last year, and I believe he makes the necessary strides to establish himself an elite corner in 2015. The 2012 first-round pick got off to a slow start in 2014, which could have been due in large part to a lack of reps in the summer as he recovered from hip surgery. The big, physical cornerback had some major adjustments to make as well, as his style of play was made somewhat obsolete by the new set of rules on illegal contact. However, he made the proper adjustments and quickly became the cornerback that the Bills expected when they drafted him. In his last eight games, he held opponents to just a 50% completion percentage on passes thrown in his area. He’s put in the work in the film room and on the field—this guy is going to be a top 10 corner in 2015. Bank on it.
FS Duke Williams
The Bills were left with a vacancy at free safety after Da’Norris Searcy left for Tennessee, and Williams is the fairly obvious choice to fill it. Rex Ryan did come out just this week and say that there would be an open competition for the job, but I don’t see any way that Williams doesn’t come away with it. The former sprinter has outstanding speed, and is rarely beat in man coverage. What he lacks in size and strength he makes up for in aggressiveness, as he is an excellent open-field tackler and is not afraid to get physical. He’ll receive some pressure from backups Kenny Ladler and Baccari Rambo, but come September it’ll be Williams out there opposite Aaron Williams. Expect him to be an important cog in Rex Ryan’s offense, as many teams will take their chances going up top versus trying to take on the terrifying Buffalo front line.