I am a believer in the Buffalo Bills.
Please stop laughing
Last seasons, the Bills finished with six total wins, three worse than the season before. Most of this is due to the AFC East being dominated again by the New England Patriots. A rookie quarterback in Josh Allen and an aging defensive and offensive core didn’t
Despite this, the Bills have a solid young core that reminds me a lot of the Chicago Bears. Again, please don’t laugh. The Bills have the pieces this offseason to rebound and not wait another 20 years to make the playoffs. Let’s break the Bills down then.
During their playoff run in 2017, many analysts fell in love with the Bills defense. Strong performances from veterans Jerry Hughes, Lorezno Alexander, and Micah Hyde led the defense to a solid overall season. While the Bills defense had many solid games, they gave up the seventh most yards per game.
What made the Bills defense special was their ability to turn the ball over, giving their offense great field position. The Bills finished the 2017 season with 25 total turnovers and three defensive touchdowns. Their turnovers are more impressive considering they only had 27 sacks on the season.
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) December 4, 2017
Without consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Bills were still able to outplay teams defensively. This past season, the Bills improved steadily on the defensive line, finishing the season with 36 sacks. Nine more sacks was all the difference for Buffalo as they jumped from the 20thto the 1stranked passing defense. The Bills also improved against the run, improving from 29thto 16th.
This ever improving defense is a testament to head coach Sean McDermott. The former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator has transformed the Bills defense from one of the worst in the league, to one of its most underrated units. In the three seasons before McDermott arrived, the Bills average defensive rank was 23rdin total yards. In 2018, they were ranked 2nd, their best ranking since 2014.
Should this Matt Milano pick even count because the Jets are so bad? pic.twitter.com/gujt3jfRkJ
— Barstool BC (@BarstoolBC) November 11, 2018
While the Bills still have a long way before becoming an elite defense, their young core should be feared. Cornerback Tre’Davious White has ranked as one of the league’s best cornerback since he entered the league in 2017. Fellow 2017 draft mate, Matt Milano, has proven to be a solid weak side linebacker. Finally, Tremaine Edmunds has proven, despite many rough moments in coverage, to be a young prospect on the rise.
Josh Allen by no means had the best rookie season in the world. His 2074 passing yards, and 18 total touchdowns were not enough to lift the Bills back into the playoffs. But before we give up on Allen, we need to understand that the cards are stacked against him.
His offensive line gave up 41 total sacks, 14thmost, and an eight percent sack rate, 10thworst. His top receivers were Zay Jones, a second year player, and rookie Robert Foster. LeSean McCoy, who has never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry, averaged a measly 3.2 yards per carry. While every rookie quarterback had at least one receiver with either 1000 yards or seven or more touchdowns, the Bills top wide receiver was Kelvin Benjamin. He was cut in December. In essence, there was nothing around Allen that could help him.
— VERSACEBOYENT (@VersaceBoyEnt2) August 26, 2018
Despite rough circumstances around him, Allen was able to flash franchise leading potential in his rookie season. While he has a lot of work to do as a passer, he is already a top rushing quarterback. His 631 and 7.09 yards per carry rushing yards led the Bills. Out of his 18 total touchdowns, eight were rushing. And those rushing touchdowns weren’t just quarterback sneaks. His touchdown runs were an average of 10 yards, including a 30 yard touchdown in Week 17.
While his running was the highlight of his rookie season, Allen showed flashes of his amazing arm. This throw against the Jacksonville Jaguars is what we can hopefully expect more of from the young gunslinger. His ability to stand in a collapsing pocket, and deliver a perfect strike to for a 75 yard touchdown should excite Bills fans. For context, this throw is against the 2ndbest pass defense in the league.
Josh Allen to Robert Foster for 75 yards!
Bills (+3) making a lot of noise up 14 early 👀pic.twitter.com/YKWPNdv25E
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) November 25, 2018
Josh Allen showed enough in his rookie season for the Bills to trust him with the franchise, but he is going to need help. He can only out run defenses, literally, for so long. This is where the front office needs to help themselves and surround Allen with sufficient talent to compete. And this offseason, they have all the ingredients to make a big jump.
Like the Rams in 2017 and the Bears this year, the Bills must use their cap flexibility and draft picks wisely to improve a blossoming roster. Going into the offseason, the Bills are in desperate need of offensive linemen and wide receivers. They also have an eventual need at linebacker, edge defender, and defensive tackle. It may seem like too many holes to fill in one offseason, but the Bears and Rams have proven aggressiveness is key to rising quickly.
In free agency, the Bills could look to improve their wide receiver and edge defender positions. Zay Jones and Robert Foster combined for only 83 receptions, 1193 yards, and 10 touchdowns. There is a clear need for a playmaker on the outside for the Bills. Luckily for them, this draft class is one of the deeper wide receiver classes in recent memory.
While the Bills could look at 1stround options like AJ Brown or DK Metcalf from Ole Miss, I like late round options for them. The Bills need to add a deep threat to their roster for Josh Allen’s huge arm. Targeting a player like Paris Campbell from Ohio State in the 2ndround or Riley Ridley from Georgia in the 3rdround or later would bring game changing speed to compliment the Bills quarterback.
This isn't even the best I've seen from him but Riley Ridley is quite good at football pic.twitter.com/NPldEajTEi
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) February 6, 2019
The Bills might want to look locally to find to draft one of the most underrated receivers in the draft. Anthony Johnson out of Buffalo is one of this draft class’s biggest sleepers. At 6’1, about 200 lbs., Johnson is a big bodied receiver who can feast in the red zone. Though not the speedster Buffalo desperately needs, Johnson has incredible hands and finds extra yardage after the catch consistently. With no significant weakness in his game, Johnson could help solidify the wide receiver position in Buffalo for years.
Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson uses his hands to stay clean on the release and creates separation in his break with nice use of route angles for this big gain #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/wWtEhq1kfz
— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) January 26, 2019
With their 1stround pick, the Bills should go with the best player available. This likely means they will get a top offensive lineman or edge defender. They could end up with a highly ranked prospect like Josh Allen out of Kentucky, no relation to the quarterback, or even Ed Oliver out of Houston. Either way, their first round pick won’t be flashy, but will fill a need on the defensive or offensive line.
Free agency will be very important for the Bills. They should look to fill minor holes and add depth in a free agency class full of lineman. Their main targets should be centers Matt Paradis from the Denver Broncos or Mitch Morse from the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills like Dion Dawkins at left tackle, but Trent Brown from the New England Patriots could be an immediate upgrade. Edge defenders like Dee Ford or Trey Flowers likely won’t be available, so veteran depth at that position is vital. The Bills can look at Ronald Darby from the Broncos or Bryce Callahan from the Bears at slot corner.
Mitch Morse (the center) is a beast in the middle pic.twitter.com/Pb2unbZMEl
— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 8, 2017
While the Bills need to focus on the trenches, there is room for some dark horses in free agency. Don’t be surprised to see the Bills looking to upgrade at running back with a former All-Pro in Le’Veon Bell. While Bell would prefer to be on a contender, the Bills can offer a lot for the former Pittsburgh Steeler. He will be more productive than LeSean McCoy in the running game and top receiver value. With a weapon like Bell, the Bills offense could be in line for a massive turn around.
Maaan, I wish I had LeVeon Bell’s patience, in-line at the grocery store, when an old person writes a check. pic.twitter.com/QSF6GI4arZ
— Daniel Dudley (@DDisBORED) October 30, 2017
This is the land of “ifs” however. And in all likelihood, the Bills will have to settle for an underachieving running back.
The Bills may have had a disappointing season, but the building blocks for the future are there. Head coach Sean McDermott has revitalized a once struggling defense that looks to get better with a young core. Buffalo also have 10 draft picks in 2019 to complement their $78.5 million in cap space, which ranks 4thin the league. The final piece is their young quarterback in Josh Allen, who looks to bring back the glory of the Buffalo quarterback. The Bills may not look like contenders now, but as the Rams and Bears can attest to, anything can happen in an offseason.