The 2016 NFL season begins now, with 32 teams scheming to knock off the reigning champion Denver Broncos. The NFL Draft is just around the corner, but the first step in any offseason plan is to assess a team’s needs. Here we look at what the Buffalo Bills team needs are.
These reports were compiled with the help of Inside The Pylon’s writers and editors, as well as the outstanding offseason primers at OverTheCap.com, which are invaluable for understanding the salary cap and contractual obligations of each team. In addition, the depth chart data is courtesy RosterResource.com – thanks for all your support!
Buffalo entered 2015 hoping that the addition of new head coach Rex Ryan would put them over the top and end their postseason drought – which enters its 16th season in 2016. However, despite some improvements on offense, the Bills defense regressed and they missed out on the playoffs once again. Ryan is surely under heavy pressure from relatively-new owner Terry Pegula to end the drought, and general manager Doug Whaley is definitely under pressure to succeed after three seasons of treading water.
The good news is that with a full offseason to implement his scheme – and the addition of twin-brother Rob as a defensive assistant – Rex Ryan should be able to get better results out of the talent the Bills have on defense. Transitioning from a base 4-3 scheme led by Jim Schwartz to Ryan’s hybrid 46 scheme left some players playing out of position and others confused on their assignments. One of those playing out of position was expensive defensive end Mario Williams, who was cut shortly after the 2015 season. Some of the confused will have had enough exposure to the Ryan system, and multiple Ryans to ask about it. The Bills also fired long time DL coach Karl Dunbar, who came with Ryan from New York, and added a new defensive line coach – John Blake – who last coached in the NFL from 1993-95 with the Dallas Cowboys and their stellar defensive front.
Defensive End / Edge Rusher
Finding a bookend for Jerry Hughes might be the top priority for the Bills in the upcoming draft. While the Ryan scheme does not require superlative edge rushers, they certainly help. Ryan will look to bring pressure from odd angles and unexpected places, which is easier when you have a reliable edge rushing presence on both sides. Having a complement for Hughes will also allow him to work against fewer double teams, which will only make him more effective.
While Marcell Dareus is locked up long term and Kyle Williams shows no signs of slowing down, the middle of the Bills defensive line will be counted on to not only hold firm at the point of attack, but also to help collapse gaps and bring pressure up the middle. The Bills need a capable depth piece, able to step in for either starter in the event of a minor injury. They have Corbin Bryant as a quality rotational player, but could use another who could step in for Williams in 3rd & long situations and penetrate would be another weapon for the Ryan scheme to use in scheming up innovative blitzes.
Nigel Bradham departed in free agency and AJ Tarpley retired, leaving a hole inside. Ryan’s defenses have traditionally featured a stout run defender (like David Harris) and a more versatile player. Preston Brown has shown the talent to be that versatile piece, so expect the Bills to target a bigger, stout-against-the-run tackler on Day 2 or 3 who can step right in, find the ball, shed blocks, and make tackles.
The Bills paid a hefty price to move up and select Sammy Watkins, who has yet to justify his lofty draft status with top-flight production. Robert Woods has yet to blossom into a reliable #2, making receiver a position where Buffalo needs to find an upgrade. The departure of Chris Hogan, as well as the limited skillsets of Marquise Goodwin, Leonard Hankerson, and Greg Little leaves Buffalo needing at least one, if not more wide receivers with more well-rounded skills.
Cordy Glenn was hit with the franchise tag, ensuring he will be with the team through the 2016 season. Cyrus Kouandjio will presumably handle the right tackle position, but the Bills will definitely be in the market for more talent and bodies at the offensive tackle position. Seantrel Henderson is a nice depth option, as are some of the other names on the roster, but none offers the potential upside of a starting left tackle, which may be a major need if Glenn is not signed to a contract extension.
Randall Johnson and Manny Lawson are acceptable, average players in Ryan’s scheme, and Kevin Reddick may provide upside beyond that if he continues to improve. Free agent addition Zack Brown will be given an excellent shot at the starting role opposite Lawson, but this is another position where a talent upgrade would help enormously.
Tyrod Taylor was a revelation in his first year as a starter for Buffalo. However, without a contract extension, Taylor could depart as a free agent after the 2016 season, making this a position where the Bills must look for depth and possibly a long-term starter. If Taylor is not signed to a contract extension then this position would be considered a major need for Buffalo.
Veteran Richie Incognito was re-signed and together with John Miller, form an above average tandem the Bills will rely on in 2016. However, Incognito is not a long term solution, so the Bills will be looking to find his replacement at some point in the next two drafts. Incognito is valued by Ryan for his toughness and leadership, in addition to his skill as a blocker. Cyril Richardson, the team’s 2014 fifth-round pick, was once a coveted prospect and with some luck could fill a need.
Set, For Better Or For Worse
LeSean McCoy may be facing a short suspension (or fine) for his offseason altercation in a nightclub, and Karlos Williams has a concussion history but this tandem – if healthy and available – forms one of the most dynamic backfields in the NFL.
Charles Clay restructured his contract and remains one of the upper echelon tight ends in the league, able to contribute both as a pass catching threat and as an effective blocker. They signed Jim Dray to address any blocking liabilities they may have had. Chris Gragg and Nick O’Leary provide promising and adequate depth at a position the Bills are unlikely to look at in the upcoming draft.
Corey Graham and Aaron Williams are excellent fits in the Ryan scheme, with good range and tackling ability. Robert Blanton and Duke Williams provide adequate depth, though Williams’s man-to-man coverage skills in the red zone could use some work.
Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby are excellent bookend starting corners, and they added Sterling Moore and Corey White to address depth in the slot and at outside lane CB. but depth beyond them is iffy at best, and it never hurts to have more quality depth at the most important position on defense.
Colton Schmidt and Dan Carpenter form an average, but useful pairing as punter and place kicker. Neither is spectacular, but neither is a liability, meaning the Bills are very likely to ignore these positions in the upcoming draft.