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02 Apr 2013

State of the Team: Buffalo Bills

by Andy Benoit

The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 defensive starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.

Color Legend:

  • Star
  • Good
  • Adequate
  • Jury’s still out
  • Just a guy
  • Upgrade needed
  • No longer on the team

Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.

Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.

Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.

Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.




The Chan Gailey experiment is over; he did the best he could with limited resources. Now it’s Doug Marrone’s turn. He won’t last any longer than Gailey if the resources remain limited. Even after signing Kevin Kolb, the Bills are presumably interested in a long-term upgrade at quarterback. Whoever is under center will need more dynamic aerial weapons than what’s currently on the roster. To compensate for the receiver limitations, Gailey installed a horizontal spread offense. Marrone, a longtime offensive line coach faced with the same issue, is expected to use more multi-tight end sets and West Coast principles.


QB: Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson
RB: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Tashard Choice, Dorin Dickerson (H-Back)

Thanks to injuries, Kolb remains somewhat mysterious for a 28-year-old who has been in the league six years. He’s shown glimmers of promise at times, but if he were anything special, he wouldn’t have toggled between starter and backup throughout his career. He doesn’t quite play with the anticipation needed to offset his "just okay" arm strength. That said, it’s delusional to think that Jackson might be a better option. There’s a reason the perpetually raw ex-Vikings/Seahawks signal-caller has never fully been The Guy.

Spiller needs to be the focal point of Marrone’s attack. He has tremendous speed and change-of-direction prowess both as a runner and catch-and-run receiver. He also averaged a surprisingly high 2.0 yards after contact last season, sixth-best in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Information. Spiller and Jackson make a dynamic, well-balanced one-two punch. Lastly, Dickerson is an interesting player. He doesn’t have much blocking experience at the pro level, but he’s flexible in the pass game.


WR: Stevie Johnson, T.J. Graham, Brad Smith; Lost: Donald Jones, David Nelson

TE: Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Mike Causin

Stevie Johnson wins with fundamentals and instincts, but his raw skills don’t scare many defenses. He’s a respectable No. 1, though he’s more ideally suited to be a shining No. 2. Unfortunately, there are no major weapons around Johnson. The hope is that Graham can become the source of speed that Brad Smith hasn’t been. At tight end, Chandler can take advantage of opportunities but hasn’t shown that he can consistently create much his own. Lee Smith’s blocking could use some polish.


LT: Cordy Glenn LG: David Snow C: Eric Wood RG: Kraig Urbik RT: Erik Pears

Backups: Chris Hairston, Sam Young; Lost: Andy Levitre, Chad Rinehart

Glenn looked both good and bad as a rookie. Going forward, there’s reason for optimism given that he moves well for a 345-pounder. Wood has found a home at center. It’s remarkable that he’s so mobile given the horrific leg injury he suffered in 2009 and the torn ACL in 2011. It wouldn’t hurt Buffalo to upgrade on the right side of the line, but considering Marrone likely knows how to help his blockers with multi-tight end designs, the Bills can survive with the adequately sized Urbik and Pears.



The Bills are switching from a 4-3 back to a 3-4. (What else is new?) They have unsuccessfully toggled between the two defensive schemes for several years now. The only thing this defense sticks with is its tacit commitment to underachievement up front. The organization spent a No. 3 overall pick on Marcell Dareus and $50 million guaranteed on Mario Williams. Neither has been worth the price, and Williams is not an ideal fit in the scheme being installed by former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Still, it’s wise to go with Pettine’s scheme (which almost certainly will wind up being a 4-3/3-4 hybrid) because the Bills have the man-cover corners for it to work. But in order for this defense to prosper, the front seven, particularly the linebacking corps, must improve.


DE/DT: Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jarron Gilbert, Torell Troup, Alex Carrington; Lost: Chris Kelsay, Spencer Johnson, Kyle Moore

Mario Williams and Mark Anderson will likely spend most of their time at outside linebacker, which means the Bills need a defensive lineman or two. Ideally, Troup, a former second-round pick, would emerge as a stalwart nose tackle, allowing Dareus and Kyle Williams to play the five-technique. However, Troup has yet to make a major impact through three full years in the league. Finding a nose tackle is critical, because Pettine believes the best way to win with a 3-4 is for the defensive linemen to wreak havoc in the trenches through relentless attacks rather than just playing gap control. Kyle Williams and Dareus are both cut out to thrive in this fashion, but they would fare better if they each only had to deal with one blocker.


OLB: Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, Mark Anderson, Chris White, Arthur Moats?; Lost: Nick Barnett, Shawne Merriman

ILB: Kelvin Sheppard, Nigel Bradham, Bryan Scott, Arthur Moats?

It remains to be seen how and where these players will be used in the new scheme. Scott’s inability to be physical in the box was a big reason why Buffalo’s oft-used dime package floundered against the run last year. Considering the former safety's mediocrity in coverage, it’s time to make a change there. In that case, based on the current roster, Bradham (a 2012 fourth-rounder) will likely wind up playing alongside Sheppard. Bradham was unimpressive when the spotlight hit him in 2012. The other option is Moats, who's proper place in the new scheme is up in the air. Through Buffalo's constant scheme changes the past three seasons, he has never been able to hold on to a starting role.

Outside, Williams is somewhat of a wild card. Yes, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be good no matter where he lines up. But “good” does not equal a value of $50 million guaranteed, which is what Buffalo is hoping to get from him. Williams’ only experience in a 3-4 came in the five games he played for the 2011 Texans, and that was a different style of 3-4 than what he’ll encounter here. At the other spots, Lawson is solid in all phases but spectacular in none, while Anderson is strictly an edge rusher and played in the 4-3 his entire career.


CB: Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks; Lost: Terrence McGee

S: Jairus Byrd, Da'Norris Searcy, Mana Silva; Lost: George Wilson

Gilmore is on the cusp of shutdown corner status. He’s an athletic, physical press-man cover artist capable of winning one-on-one against upper-tier wide receivers. The next step for him is simply ironing out a few small wrinkles of inconsistency. Williams and McKelvin were both solid in their specific man coverage roles last season, while Brooks played well when given the opportunity down the stretch. At safety, Byrd is instinctive while Searcy has gradually forced his way into the lineup.


K: Rian Lindell P: Shawn Powell

Lindell is one of the worst kickoff guys in the league, and nothing special on field goals. Powell had a reasonable rookie year.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail andy@footballoutsiders.com

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 02 Apr 2013

12 comments, Last at 04 Apr 2013, 10:06am by Mike B. In Va


by theslothook :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 4:48pm

Here I think Andy is definitely in conflict with PFF. Jarius Byrd was their highest ranked coverage safety this year and top 3 last year. He's an absolute star. Kyle Williams was their defensive player of the year in 2010 and very good again this year. I think he's probably also a star.

by bubqr :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 7:05pm

Lots of blue green and black there, for a team that looked that bad. It does mesh with FOA 2012 vision of the Bills. Curious to see what FOA 2013 will predict.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 10:49pm

Only one blue - Spiller. Which is about what I'd expect for a team with their record.

by RickD :: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 11:44pm

And Spiller deserves that blue.

If he played on a competent team, everybody would know his name.

by theslothook :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 1:15am

Having that assumption would be a mistake. Wins and losses are a crude measure of talent and quality. This is partly explained by the huge swings in wins year to year, but also for the extraneous factors involving close wins, opponent strength, as well as other factors like coaching, turnovers, and general play horrible play from one overwhelming the successful play of another unit.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:26am

You are correct that overall number of stars is not necessarily an indicator of wins. I should have been more clear. I was also including their stats record. Between their wins and losses (both number and quality) and their overall stats, I wouldn't expect more than about 3 stars. That the Bills only had one doesn't surprise me at all.

by Theo :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 7:10am

How much does Nick Barnett have left in the tank?
He was released by the Packers after a few times ending up on IR, but has played all 16 games in the 2 seasons with the Bills.

by Tanner (not verified) :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 1:11pm

Barnett was horrid last year, especially in coverage

by A_man (not verified) :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 8:26am

Arthur is going to prove to be the moats talented ILB on the team.

by Andy G (not verified) :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 10:52am

I'm sort of confused as to what Stevie Johnson did to warrant a "good" rating. I realize Fitzpatrick and the other pieces in that passing offense left much to be desired, but I just don't see where Johnson is anything more than adequate. What exactly was on the film that makes him better than...say...Danario Alexander...or equal to...say....Dwayne Bowe?

by Dollar Dollar Bill (not verified) :: Wed, 04/03/2013 - 8:02pm

I am not sure what this sentence means:

"Stevie Johnson wins with fundamentals and instincts, but his raw skills don’t scare many defenses."

by Mike B. In Va :: Thu, 04/04/2013 - 10:06am

You're one of the only people I've seen give Gilmore any credit - I saw a lot of articles questioning the draft pick even during the season.