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Bills’ Positional Priorities: October Edition

Photo of DE Jerry Hughes from buffalobills.com.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell named the AFC East “the league’s most topsy-turvy division” after one quarter, saying the Bills’ biggest surprise was their defense. The Bills have allowed a league-low 13.5 points per game. Wideouts have averaged only 3.8 yards after the catch, the 3rd-lowest YAC rate in the NFL.

Opposing QBs have the league’s second-lowest passer rating on throws of 15 yards or more. The Bills’ foes aren’t chewing up yards on the ground, either; the Bills are 9th in Opponent Rush Yards per Game.

DT isn’t the cause of the Bills’ success against the run, though. Thornton, Dareus, and Washington are on Joe Buscaglia’s list of bottom ten Bills right now. Jerel Worthy missed the first three 2017 games (concussion), only playing in the Falcons matchup.

Only 34-year-old Kyle Williams is playing at a Pro-Bowl level right now, but he’s on a one-year deal. The Bills are likely going to spend at least one of their RD1-2 picks on a one-technique and/or three-technique defensive lineman.

The early RD1 contenders so far are Clemson’s Christian Wilkins and Washington’s Vita Vea. Wilkins is the most versatile; he’s played DE, NT, and 3-Tech, and is even used on offensive plays.

Vita Vea (say “VIE-tay VAY-uh”) is the biggest and fastest of the first rounders (346 pounds, 4.8-second forty), and is an offensive coordinator’s nightmare. Don’t sleep on Utah’s Lowell Lotulelei; his brother played for McDermott and Beane in Carolina.

Later steals include the quick and explosive Dre’Mont Jones from Ohio State, Kahlil McKenzie, a DT/NT out of Tennessee, Michael Hill a NT/DT Buckeye, and two LSU Tigers, Christian LaCouture and Frank Herron.

DE is another story. Jerry Hughes is having a Pro Bowl season. In Week 5, Hughes was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated DE, edging Joey Bosa and Vinny Curry. He has the fifth-fastest sack this year, dropping Matt Ryan in 2.54 seconds, and forced a fumble in that game for White’s scoop-and-score.

Photo of DE Shaq Lawson from buffalobills.com.

On the other side, Shaq Lawson is full-go from a groin injury that caused him to miss the Falcons’ game. He’s had 12 tackles and 2 sacks despite the missed game. In Lawson’s stead, Eddie Yarbrough made 4 tackles, a stuff, and a sack, versatile vet Lorenzo Alexander plays the DE role on occasion, and Ryan Davis hasn’t looked out of place in limited duty.

The Bills brain trust might look at the meager Day 3 pickings at this position and choose to add a Lorenzo type –an active, versatile defender– perhaps in RD3. Heck, LoZo was so versatile, he was NFL Draft Scout’s #10 Defensive Tackle! I’d look at Jaylon Ferguson (LA Tech) if he declares, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo –who’s played EDGE/OLB/ILB for the Sooners, or Javon Rolland-Jones from Arkansas State, who needs 13.5 sacks this year to tie the NCAA FBS record for a career, currently held by Terrell Suggs.

LB play has been a mixed bag. The Bills let Zach Brown seek greener pastures, and I thought letting the sideline-to-sideline LB go would boomerang on us. So far that hasn’t happened due to scheme, but an early draft pick may need to be used on one. Speed in coverage is a liability of our linebackers, but tackling isn’t.

Photo of LB Preston Brown from ESPN.com.

Preston Brown is tied with NaVorro Bowman as the 3rd-ranked MLB in combined tackles (Only Kuechly and Wagner are ahead of him). Ramon Humber has one fewer tackle than Brown with 38. Now, who is a linebacker that fits the 4-3 scheme, has sideline-to-sideline speed, savvy football smarts, productivity, and the right degree of toughness?

RD1’s Malik Jefferson, who switches from ILB to OLB this season. He’s the fastest on my board, and the most-likely defensive prospect in RD1. I expect Jefferson to be gone by the Bills’ first pick. Dante Booker (Ohio State) and Josey Jewell (Iowa) aren’t far behind and may be there by the Bills’ second or third pick.

Other good fits on Day 2 are Micah Kiser and Tremaine Edmunds (both Virginia Tech), Cameron Smith (USC), Matthew Thomas (Florida State), and Skai Moore (South Carolina).

DB starters are ballhawks, but lack backups. Tre’Davious White leads the NFL with 11 passes defensed. Jordan Poyer is the NFL’s leading Safety in the same category with 6 PDs. Micah Hyde has 5, as does the currently-injured E.J. Gaines. After that, there’s an abyss, with a whopping 92 NFL DBs with better stats than any Buffalo Bills.

Expect one DB to be drafted every year under this regime. The McBeane defensive back will have 4 years of experience, has played zone, shows toughness, exudes the team-first ethos, and has logged more than 25 combined interceptions + passes defensed over his career.

Day 2 might be the spot for Free Safety-Cornerbacks like Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson (Say “FACE-son”), USC’s Iman Marshall, or Connecticut’s Jamar Summers. Day 3 steals fitting the Bills’ system include Rashard Fant from Indiana and Darius Phillips, a CB/KR/PR from W Michigan.

Photo of RG John Miller from NewYorkUpstate.com.

O-Line players were bad and plenty on Joe Buscaglia’s bottom ten. RG John Miller had Buscaglia’s lowest player grade; RT Jordan Mills was the second-worst player, and even Dion Dawkins made the list, playing out of place for injured LT Cordy Glenn. Pro Football Focus and Sean McDermott must agree about Miller; he was replaced by Ducasse in the Bengals game, but he’s no upgrade.

Groy has promise at Center and Guard, but isn’t getting starter snaps at either spot. Thankfully, Cordy’s back practicing, and Seantrel Henderson now returns from suspension, which may allow this OL slider puzzle to work. The Bills are PFF’s 7th-rated in pass protection, but just 27th in run-blocking (see RB, below).

Look for a Day 2 and/or Day 3 pick, most likely a big zone-blocking Guard. We at DraftTek thought Dion Dawkins would be a Guard in the NFL, and Dion still might be. One very-draftable Guard who’ll go first is Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, whose size (6’5” 325), quick feet, Taekwondo belt, and ability to turn a defensive lineman in the run game will appeal to McBeane.

Tyrone Crowder is a load (349 lbs.), and isn’t speedy, but he’s nasty in the run game and pass-wise he’s solid; Crowder didn’t give up a sack in 2016. Martez Ivey, Damian Prince, and Mason Cole are big Day 2 prospects who fit the qualities McBeane will look for, and Day 3 prospects that fit the archetype include Michael Dieter, Beau Benzschawel, and Bradley Bozeman.

Photo of Charles Clay from democratandchronicle.com.

TE Charles Clay won’t be back for a while, as he left the last game with a left knee injury requiring surgery. O’Leary’s 54 yards against Cincinnati is a blueprint going forward. He was targeted the most, with a market share of 7 of Tyrod’s 25 passing targets (28%).

Logan Thomas seems to be a work in progress, but Rico Dennison’s scheme has traditionally used TEs a lot. Baker Mayfield’s TE target, Mark Andrews, is a RD2-A possibility. He’s a downfield receiving option who reminds me of Jay Riemersma in that they both found the seams well against man or zone.

RD3’s Jeb Blazevitch out of Georgia is possibly the better downfield blocker, having done so for Chubb and Sony Michel. The Bills have lost downfield blocking (Hogan, Goodwin, Watkins), so that’s a factor. Blazevich has been described as a “team player with high character, attitude, and effort”. Doesn’t that sound like a McDermott guy?

RBs are only as good as their O-Line and the scheme. Yards Per Carry (3.4, with Taylor and Tolbert both bringing that average UP) is a concern, although the Bills have already faced the NFL’s best run defenses they’ll see all year. Yards After Contact (1.58) suggests downfield blocking is worse than the last several years.

Photo of RB Mike Tolbert from NFL.com.

While another RB might be seen as a luxury pick, Shady will need a breather, and I don’t believe Tolbert is the answer. Look to RD3 or RD4 for a back with shiftiness, knack for finding the thinnest of gaps, excellent receiving skills, team player with no character concerns. I like Mike Weber from Ohio State, a “bowling ball with elite speed” who’s known for toughness.

Later on, look at two Justins –WVU’s Justin Crawford and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. Crawford is known for his Shady-like jukes and change of direction. Jackson is Mr. Relentless. When the hole opens, nobody accelerates through it quicker. Jackson’s receiving ability is on a par with McCoy’s, as well.

WR is a mess. Buffalo Rumblings does a very good job of portraying the dumpster fire here. It’s been awhile since we had a 1A and 1B wide receiver, hasn’t it? It’s possible the Bills draft two pass-catchers, depending on the healing of Jordan Matthews’ thumb and Zay Jones’ psyche.

How about ND’s Equanimeous St Brown in RD1? He put up 4/182 vs Syracuse last year, has the height and body frame to shield the ball, and @Jimetrics compares him to a taller DeVante Parker. Allen Lazard and Auden Tate are the same build, but not as natural at the catch point.

Day 2, I like Deon Cain from  Clemson for his separation skills, Dante Pettis  from Washington’s fight for the football,  and Peterman’s college target, Jester Weah, who has many McDermott qualities. All can get over the top of a defense, and maybe get the Bills over the hump!

QB is often followed by “problem” in Buffalo. Tyrod Taylor is 2nd-lowest to Alex Smith of the Chiefs in aggressiveness, per Next-Gen NFL stats;  The difference is what they do with it. Smith has a snazzy 76.6% comp rate with 11 TD, 0 INT. While not awful, Tyrod’s line is 62.5%, 6 TD, 2 INT.

Photo of QB Tyrod Taylor from buffalobills.com.

Tyrod’s running ability (highest ypc on the team) has masked some of the deficiencies on the line, and has masked the team’s rushing average. I claim we’d be worse off by starting a rookie this season or next without fixing the OL first.

However, there is a QB in every round of the coming draft that fits Rico’s system. In RD1, Darnold’s still a possibility, but so is Mason Rudolph, with his precise sideline-timing throws and deep-ball accuracy to throw over the top when the box gets too crowded.

In RD2, Lamar Jackson is tempting for his athletic upside that would fill The Cap, but he’s Cardale Jones all over again –too raw for immediate NFL use. Luke Falk, likely a RD2-A pick, has the ball spin for Lake Erie winds, and isn’t averse to tough coaching. In RD3, look at Mike White (Western Kentucky) with his composure and deep-ball accuracy, and Max Browne, Peterman’s successor at Pitt. Browne has great size and upside. He left USC when Darnold came on the scene. Good plan.

With the season only one quarter over, a lot can change, but true fans thrive on that dynamic. Nothing is set in stone here, and that’s why we like it. The NFL Draft is still far away, and that’s okay; it’s not heresy to peek at potential cure-alls, even if you’re playoff caliber.

It’s October, but we still insist on reading the DraftTek mocks. We even run our own drafts over at FanSpeak to reassure ourselves that The Answer is on his way to Buffalo. It’s no coincidence that “Mafia” and “Mania” are one letter apart.

Editor’s babble: Many thanks to Dean Kindig, DraftTek’s Bills Analyst for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can follow Dean on Twitter @TCBills_Astro.


The views and opinions expressed on this website blog are soley those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Buffalo FAMbase, Inc., and/or any/all contributors to this site.

11 thoughts on “Bills’ Positional Priorities: October Edition

  1. Thanks for the article. On Offense, I see QB, RT, RG, WR as needs, with depth needed on the O-line and RB. QB has been a glaring need for two decades now. IMO, the Bills have a championship caliber defense, but the offense (mainly the QB) is holding the team back. If the Bills can finally address the 20 year old problem and get the franchise QB that’s long been eluding them as well as keeping a stellar defense, then the team will be a legitimate contender, especially with the way the Patriots have been looking this year.

    I’m curious to see if Dareus and Glenn both get traded in the offseason. If so, I wonder what kind of return they’ll get for both? Sure, it would be great to get more high round draft picks to fill holes on the team. IMO, losing both players huge salaries would be good that way the Bills can load up on players now and have a shot at the Superbowl before having to pay players huge salaries once their rookie deals are up. The Ravens had a lot of success during Flacco’s rookie deal as they were able to afford to pay a lot of players that were key to the success of the team which helped lead them to a Superbowl win. After the Superbowl win, the Ravens gave Flacco a ridiculous contract and the team was not able to resign a lot of key players, which is a big reason why the Ravens have been unable to get back to where they once were. If the Bills were to trade up and draft a QB at the top of the draft, they would have five to six years of paying that QB on a rookie deal before having to pony up over $100M to resign him on his second contract. So if the Bills do things right, the next four to six years could be great ones for the Bills. Beane & McDermott have both said they want to build through the draft, so I think if they could be on the right path.

    • I sure hope Beane thinks hard about trading Glenn. LTs are like gold. However, if Seattle wants to give us a RD1, or a player and a RD2, it’s tempting!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read my long-winded article. You raise some valid considerations. QB may be the problem, but Tyrod’s challenges don’t explain McCoy’s 3.2 ypc average. That would be the line play. I’m all about getting Dareus gone, but the cap hit is too much. Glenn needs to get better and stay, imho, and soon. His injury and Seantrel’s suspension have impeded Dawkins’ placement on the line.

    We ought to be monitoring the LTs who’ve been injured, specifically SEA, but wait out a good offer or trade for Glenn.

  3. The biggest reason the Ravens haven’t been good after giving Flacco the deal is Flacco hasn’t been any good since signing that deal. You can’t chew up 20% of the salary cap, or whatever he makes, and be mediocre on a good day and flat out bad the rest of the time. He needs to be carrying the team, and instead he’s been no better than Tyrod, if not worse.

    Dareus and Glenn…I think it’s going to be near impossible to move Dareus shy of cutting him outright. At this point he’s a player with potential at best and his contract is a major liability. I don’t think another team would take on that contract with no compensation, much less give something up for it. About the only thing you could trade it for is another bad contract a team wanted to get out from, like Osweiler had…and considering there’s a cap hit involved, I don’t think two teams could trade bad contracts, take the prorated cap hit, along with taking on a big salary to boot. Someone would surely give Dareus another shot, but only with a team friendly deal. Glenn they might be able to move, but again, you’re not likely to get anything significant in return. There’s a reason the Bills would be interested in moving on from these guys and that’s not lost on the other team involved in making it happen.

    BTW, add LG to the need list beyond this year. Incoginto is on his last year and he’s up there. They might be able to resign him, but they might want to get younger and cheaper.

  4. I think Incognito signed an extension that keeps him in Buffalo for 1-2 more years. It sounds like they are considering trades before the upcoming trade deadline (Halloween?). I can’t see anyone wanting to take on Dareus’ contract, especially for how many games he misses.

  5. Looks like Incognito is technically under contract in 2018, but it looks like the 3rd year was a phony year put in to spread the bonus out…and his cap number doubles for that last year. Looks like he would count for 7.5 mil if they just kept him on as is.

  6. Good morning…

    Excellent article Dean !!

    If only Glenn can stay healthy as he continues to have feet and ankle problems. Maybe dropping 20+ lbs may help… His contract runs through 2020, some reports have it at $65 million others at $60 million with 36 guaranteed. I can’t see then trading him but they have to find a way to get him close to 100%. At least he tries to play.

    Dareus on the other hand got his money and lost motivation. Rumors are out that he asked for a personal day off this past Monday as he stayed in Alabama. (it will be interesting to see if he gets drug tested). He is a lost cause, maybe the motivation he needs is to be cut and start over on another team. His contract is a killer but it wouldn’t shock me to see him gone when the season ends regardless of the cap hit…

    The Bills need to build both lines come draft time. The O-line has been a constant struggle for years even though they led the league in rushing the last 2 years the pass blocking has been marginal..

    Of course we’ll have to see what QB’s are available as I’m sure they will draft one or package up picks to move up if they have someone designated.

    I see where Watkins is complaining about getting the ball and hasn’t exactly been setting the NFC on fire.. The Bills were not going to pay him or DB Gilmour the type of blown out salaries that each demanded. That being said a playmaking WR is a must and even a RB wouldn’t be a surprise in the early rounds.

    The defense can use help at all 3 levels, Rookie LB Milano look good against Cinnci, the line can use an influx of young talent and a team can never have enough DB’s.

  7. if glenn and dairyus are gone (as rumors indicate) all but (2) of the previous regime’s no 1 and no 2 draft picks for the last 6 years are still on the team.
    2 players out of 12 in 6 drafts, first and second picks. not so good.