by Mario Granata
The Buffalo Bills have been the talk of the offseason, acquiring players via trade or free agency that look to give them a legitimate shot at the playoffs and maybe even the AFC East crown. The Bills have some needs that had to be addressed, and they had to be addressed during free agency, since it is unlikely they would do so via the draft, as they don’t have a first round pick. How will the Bills offense look in 2015?
For 15 seasons, the Bills have been looking for a ‘franchise’ quarterback and although the book might still be out on EJ Manuel, the time has arrived for him to "put up or shut up". During EJ Manuel’s career, he has more detractors than touchdown passes, but with a legitimate coordinator in Greg Roman calling the shots, he should have a successful 2015. A run heavy offense based on 1 to 2 reads per pass play will help him in his development; although it is hard to say that a QB entering his 3rd season is still in a development stage of his career. He won’t be asked to do much other than to complete around 20 passes, and not turn the ball over. Simple enough, right?
Matt Cassel, although considered the ‘starter’ already is strictly a Plan B option when it comes to the Bills future. He has experience in the league and will look to come in for Ej if he struggles. Buffalo won’t have to worry about him too much.
Tyrod Taylor is an unproven player who has upside for the Bills. Buffalo will monitor his progress during the camp and pre-season to see if he could leapfrog Cassel on the depth chart, and with similar traits to Manuel, he can run if things break down with the offensive line. Roman's system the last two years was catered to a QB from a spread offense and it is anticipated that he will bring those features here to Buffalo, which could only help a player like Taylor
The Bills made the first big splash of the offseason by trading for LeSean McCoy. Initially, the move was looked down upon because Buffalo traded the ‘Legend’ Kiko Alonso in the process, but when one looks at the big picture of Alonso, the deal makes sense. Alonso had a stellar rookie campaign, but is coming off injury, so people should be concerned for how he will hold up during a 16 game season. McCoy is a proven slasher, already leading the league in rushing, and can give Roman something he has never had in San Francisco…a passing threat out of the backfield.
Fred Jackson has been the face of the franchise and is arguably the best blocking running back in the league when it comes to pass protection. A storyline that will come about will be his relationship with McCoy due to their twitter battle last season, but seeing that Jackson is a pro’s pro, he will do his work on the field, thus pushing McCoy to be better than ever.
Jerome Felton is the key for Roman to have his signature ground-and-pound style to take hold. When all else fails, or Manuel is struggling, Felton could provide that spark to spring McCoy during a tough and ugly game for the Bills. Felton's being one the roster means that one of the incumbent RBs may be on the chopping block.
Although they are not very big, the wide receiver core of the Buffalo Bills is a big play waiting to happen. With the addition of Percy Harvin, opposing defenses cannot simply tilt the field toward Sammy Watkins, which should open up some passing lanes for Manuel or whoever is at quarterback. A player who seems to be forgotten about is Robert Woods, arguably the best route runner on the Bills squad. He is not shy about blocking either, as he has contributed on special teams as well during his first two seasons. Woods is the only player who is known for getting his nose dirty as a blocker, so could Roman open up his playbook with these threats on the outside?
When the Bills decide to go to a 3-wide set, the defense has to account for each receiver, and Harvin, Watkins and Woods have proven to be too much for any slot corner. All can play the slot and be a success doing so. Again, the Bills have given Roman many new ‘toys’ to play with to open up the playbook.
Scott Chandler, who led the Bills in receptions in 2013, was released leaving the door open for Charles Clay. Although Clay doesn’t possess the same down field speed as Vernon Davis, he does present a matchup nightmare for the defenses that they will face in 2015. He is also not shy when it comes to the run game, as he will be that blocker for McCoy and Jackson that Chandler simply wasn't.
The Bills also have MarQueis Gray, a former quarterback and hybrid that can get to the second level and make some noise if needed. With the history that Roman has had, he will utilize two tight ends. Both Gray and Clay will be more athletic than the linebackers that they will face, so defenses will have to adjust to avoid any big plays.
The biggest question mark of the Bills, next to the quarterback position has been the offensive line. The Bills made an unpopular decision in signing Richie Incognito, due to his recent exploits with the Miami Dolphins, but on the field he is a mean and tenacious blocker and will be a force to be reckoned with. Incognito is in his early 30s and is essentially fighting for his professional career, so there aren’t going to be any plays that he will take off.
The left guard slot has had its share of speculation this offseason. Will the Bills go back to Chris Williams, a player who was lost for the season with an injury last season? Before he was hurt, the Bills managed 150 yards rushing during his starts, so if he is able to stay on the field, he will be productive.
Kraig Urbik had his contract restructured as he has proven to perform well at times at guard.
The rookie trio of Cyril Richardson, Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson are other names to watch out for when it comes to the Bills line. Henderson proved he was up to the task, as he shined at left tackle last year during Cordy Glenn’s absence, and will look to continue his production at right tackle this year.
Richardson struggled this past year at guard, but with time will be more productive as he gains experience. Kouandjio didn’t live up to the billing as a 2nd round pick, but initial reports out of Bills camp say that he is ready to make an impact in 2015.
All three of these young players have manageable contracts and give the Bills time to develop them into solid contributors on the offense.
The Buffalo Bills treated their free agency as the draft, as they were able to address some much-needed holes in the offense and the ability to have options when it comes to the draft. CJ Spiller is out, LeSean McCoy is in. Frank Summers is out, Jerome Felton is in. Erik Pears is out, Richie Incognito is in. Scott Chandler is out, Charles Clay is in. When one looks at the moves that the Bills have made, they seem not only as a team that is improving, but a team that will be a force in the AFC in 2015. Hop on the bandwagon if you haven’t already, because there is plenty of room.