Last week we assembled our Buffalo Bills “All-Drought” team offense. This week we dive into which contributors on the defensive side of the ball made the most impact during the drought era. There were several difficult decisions when assembling this list as the Bills have had a much deeper talent pool on defense versus offense over the past 17 years.
So without further adieu, let’s dive in!
Defensive End: Aaron Schobel, Mario Williams
During his nine-year career in Buffalo, Aaron Schobel was a pass rushing machine. His career total of 78 sacks places him second all-time in franchise history (a staggering 93 fewer than hall-of famer, Bruce Smith). He got to the passer 14 times in 2006, placing him in a tie for the fourth highest single-season total in team history.
At the conclusion of the 2009 season, the two-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher retired after spending his entire career in a Bills uniform. Schobel did attempt a comeback the following year, however, he never actually played another down.
Though his overall effort during his final season in Buffalo came under heavy criticism (and rightfully so), Mario Williams was an unstoppable force during his first three seasons with the team. His 43 sacks from 2012-2015 place him sixth in franchise history. In 2014 he achieved All-Pro status for his 14.5 sack campaign.
As a Bills fan, nothing was more entertaining during the drought-era than “Mario Watch”. As soon as it was announced that he arrived in Buffalo on a free agent visit, fans couldn’t refresh their browsers fast enough for updates. Though he ended his career as a Bill on an unceremonious note, Williams is still one of the most high-profile free agent signings in team history.
Honorable Mention: Jerry Hughes
Though Hughes never matched Williams’ gaudy sack totals, his longevity as a pass-rusher in Buffalo cannot be overlooked. Despite his reputation for receiving personal fouls on what seems like a weekly basis, he has been a consistent force since coming over via trade from Indianapolis in exchange for linebacker, Kelvin Sheppard.
Defensive Tackle: Kyle Williams, Pat Williams
There’s just something synonymous about the name “Williams” and defensive prowess in Bills lore. As one of the most underrated players in the NFL over the past decade, Kyle Williams is the epitome of a “Buffalo-type” player. His unmatched work ethic and incredible leadership ability was finally rewarded last season when he got his first taste of playoff football since being drafted 134th overall by the team in 2006.
His 43.5 career sacks place him in fifth on the Bills’ all-time list, however his ability as a run-stopper is even more impressive. To the delight of Bills fans everywhere, the five-time Pro Bowler signed a one-year extension to return to the club in 2018 for one last hurrah.
Who could forget big Pat Williams? In 1997, the Texas A&M product signed with Buffalo as an undrafted free agent as an over-ager at 25 years old. For the next eight seasons, he made a living stuffing opposing runningbacks in the backfield. Much like Kyle, Pat was best known for his work ethic, never taking a play off. He only missed three games due to injury during his time with the team.
After leaving as a free agent in 2005, Williams went on to play six more seasons with the Minnestoa Vikings before calling it a career.
Honorable Mention: Marcel Dareus
It was tough to leave Dareus out of a starting spot, however, Pat Williams just barely edged him out. While Williams made his hay in run support, Dareus was one of the most effective pass-rushing defensive tackles in franchise history. With 35 sacks in seven years with the Bills he was named to two Pro Bowls, joining Mario Williams as an All-Pro in 2014.
Linebacker: London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Paul Posluszny
Throughout his career, wherever London Fletcher played, he registered triple-digit tackles on a yearly basis. In five seasons with the Bills, he never fell short of 90 solo tackles in a season, setting a career-high in 104 in 2005. In 2004 he was an integral part of a Buffalo defense that nearly cut the drought short, however like many on this list, he left without a playoff appearance.
After leaving as a free agent in 2006, he would go on to play seven more seasons with the Washington Redskins, eventually retiring at 38 years old. Like Williams, he never missed a game during his time in Western New York.
From the moment Takeo Spikes arrived at One Bills Drive, he immediately became a fan favorite. During his time with the club, he did it all. Not only was he an outstanding asset in run support, he also had excellent pass rushing ability from the outside linebacker spot. In 2004 he even nabbed five interceptions en route to his second Pro Bowl appearance as a member of the Bills (the only two of his career).
After suffering an ACL injury in 2005, his season was finished after only three games. Despite the setback, Spikes continued his career, playing six more years between Philadelphia, San Francisco and San Diego.
The final starting linebacker spot was a bit tricky, but in the end it’s tough to exclude Paul Posluszny. In four years with the Bills, he recorded 295 tackles at the middle linebacker spot, setting a career high in 2010 with 103. After having his rookie campaign cut short due to injury, Posluszny exploded back onto the scene the following season.
Though his time in Buffalo was relatively short, fans were disappointed to see the former second-round pick leave as a free agent after his rookie contract expired. After spending the last seven seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he announced his retirement last month following the team’s Cinderella run to the AFC championship game.
Honorable Mention: Preston Brown
Brown deserves recognition for his tackling efficiency alone. Last season he led the NFL with 144 combined tackles (84 solo). While no facet of his game will ever “wow” spectators, his ability to wrap-up ball carriers in the open field shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Cornerback: Nate Clements, Antoine Winfield, Terrence McGee
Not only was Nate Clements the best defensive back of the drought-era, he may just be one of the best in franchise history. His 23 interceptions in five years as a Bill rank him eighth all-time. He also ranks second all-time in passes deflected behind fellow drought hero, Terrence McGee with 87. Though he was sometimes criticised as a “selfish” player, there is no question that he was one of, if not the most talented on the list.
Since his departure in 2006, the team has never fielded a true lock-down corner. Though he left for the big bucks in free agency, his only Pro Bowl appearance came as a member of the Bills in 2004.
Of course, Clements may not have posted such gaudy numbers without his partner in crime, Antoine Winfield. Though he wasn’t known for his hands (only accounting for six interceptions in 72 games in Buffalo), Winfield was one of the most effective tackling corners in NFL history. Surprisingly enough, he became honed his skills as a ball-hawk after signing with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004, nabbing 21 picks in his nine seasons.
Winfield is just another player on a long list of high draft picks who eventually left for more money due to self-imposed financial restrictions put in place prior to the Pegulas purchasing the team.
Rounding out the group is Terrence McGee, an often under-appreciated player considering that he was a member of some of the worst defenses of the drought. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, he spent his entire 10-year career in Buffalo, and currently ranks first in career pass-deflections with 99. Like Winfield, McGee was a tackling machine in the defensive backfield, setting a career-high of 78 in 2007.
He also made his mark as a high-caliber kick-returner throughout his career, returning five kicks for touchdowns from 2004-2007.
Honorable Mention: Leodis McKelvin
Say what you will about his occasional mental gaffes, but Leodis McKelvin served admirably as a starting corner for the Bills from 2008-2015. Expectations were always unreasonably high considering the fact that he was a bit of a reach at 11th overall in 2008, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that he held down a starting role on the team for nearly a decade.
Safety: Jairus Byrd, George Wilson
Jairus Byrd produced what was perhaps the greatest rookie season of the drought era with nine interceptions in 2009. He was narrowly edged out by Brian Cushing of the Houston Texans for Rookie-of-the-Year honors, a decision that came under scrutiny when Cushing tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs the following offseason. He also made the Pro Bowl in three of his five seasons in Buffalo.
Like so many others, Byrd left town after his rookie deal expired, landing a big contract with the New Orleans Saints in 2014 despite an injury-riddled season due to chronic plantar fasciitis the year prior. Regardless, he still ranks tenth in team history with 22 picks in five seasons.
George Wilson is perhaps the most underrated player on this list given his incredible production at the free safety position after transitioning from wide receiver in 2007. Though his production was never recognized with any league accolades, he was a steady safety-valve on the back end for seven years.
In 2011 he matched a career-high with four interceptions at 30 years old. Not bad for an undrafted free agent playing defense for the first time since high school. He would go on to finish his career in Tennessee, retiring at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
Honorable Mention: Donte Whitner
This spot was a toss-up between Whitner and Aaron Williams, however given his career longevity, Whitner has the edge. Despite never living up to his status as the eighth overall pick of the 2006 draft, he managed to carve out an 11 year NFL career, remaining relatively healthy throughout. Known for his booming openfield tackling ability, wide receivers across the league had their heads on a swivel when matching up with him.
Special Teams: Rian Lindell, Brian Moorman, Leodis McKelvin
Rian Lindell had virtually no competition for this spot. He is second on the Bills all-time behind Steve Christie for successful field goals, and he is eighth overall in total points scored. He is also third all-time in field goal conversion percentage with an 83.3 percent mark.
Moorman had even less competition than Lindell as the starting punter considering Chris Mohr and Colton Schmidt were the only other punters that played during the drought. Despite a lack of competition, Moorman was one of the best in the business, playing from 2001-2013. Not many fan bases can get away with owning a punter’s jersey, but given his long-standing status as team MVP during some of the darkest years of Bills football, fans can wear number eight with pride.
Though McKelvin didn’t quite crack the list as a cornerback, he certainly ranks among the elite kick returners in the NFL over the last decade. In eight seasons with the team, he averaged 26 yards per kickoff return and 10.3 yards per punt return, running four of them back for touchdowns. Though an argument can be made that McGee deserves this spot, since he already made the list as a defensive back, McKelvin gets the nod.
Editor’s babble: What a terrific look back at some of the Bills best players during the playoff drought. Thankfully the drought is now firmly in the history books and we can move forward. Thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his in-depth look at a difficult time in Bills’ history. You can follow Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.
Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the owners of the BillsMafia.com website.