Mitchell adds size to a weak weak-side position (Photo Source)
Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft - in fact, prior to the free agent signing period of this past March - we took a look at the Buffalo Bills' roster position by position, breaking down then-current personnel, finding holes, and building our community needs list.
Now that free agency and the Draft have been completed, and the Bills have infused their roster with new talent, it's time to repeat our process. Where has Buffalo gotten better? Where have they gotten worse? How will additions impact which Bills veterans remain on the roster? These are questions that we'll attempt to answer over the next week or so.
We continue those discussions today with an examination of Buffalo's outside linebackers. To view our previous discussions on Buffalo's OLB situation (pre-off-season), bang it here.
Angelo Crowell: Statistically, Crowell had a very solid 2007 season, racking up 126 tackles, two sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and a safety. He remains Buffalo's best starting linebacker, simply because he's entering his fourth year as a full-time starter for the team. A free agent-to-be after the '08 season, Crowell will be playing this season for a lucrative contract extension. Get in line, Angelo - some guys named Evans and Peters may already be ahead of you.
Keith Ellison: Pressed into action as a rookie in 2006, Ellison - while not overwhelmingly productive - held his own despite being a mediocre athlete and a sixth round pick. Ellison came back to earth a bit in 2007, tallying an incredibly pedestrian 38 tackles in 12 games (along with a sack and an interception). It's pretty clear at this point that Ellison isn't starting material at the NFL level, but he's got plenty of experience and is very intelligent, making him a competent reserve and special teams player.
The Additions: Kawika Mitchell, Alvin Bowen, Marcus Buggs, Jon Banks
Mitchell was signed on the opening day of free agency and immediately penciled in as the starter on the weak side (replacing the demoted Ellison). At 253 pounds, Mitchell is a big pursuit linebacker that can make plays sideline to sideline and gives the Bills much more beef in their front seven - the perceived main problem in the team's inability to stop the run last season.
With the Bills losing so many players at this position (see below), it was imperative for the team to bring in young, bright athletes to compete for backup spots - and that's exactly what they did. Bowen is the ringleader of the new guard, brought in to play special teams initially. All three players are excellent athletes with some upside and special teams ability - and with the top three slots on the depth chart set, one or two of these players will make the roster to boost the team's special teams units.
The Subtractions: Coy Wire, Mario Haggan, Josh Stamer, Leon Joe, Kevin Harrison
The first three names on this list are names that Bills fans are used to hearing - these three guys were integral parts of Buffalo's elite special teams units over the past four years, and now all three are ex-Bills. Wire was a special teams captain, but the biggest loss here may be Haggan - he was the most consistent performer on special teams, and he was the only reserve the Bills had that was big enough to man the strong side position in the event Crowell was injured. Haggan will serve a four-game suspension for drug infractions to start '08, but he's also an unrestricted free agent, meaning he won't be back.
Pre-Season Outlook: It's surprising how much roster turnover the team has experienced at this position. Five outside 'backers from the 2007 Bills roster are gone, replaced by four new names. The changes, at least on paper, look good - the Bills are stronger and more balanced at the top of the depth chart, and far more athletic in the reserves - and those players have upside. This unit has the potential to be devastated once again by injury, and depth is woefully inexperienced beyond Ellison, so start praying to the football gods now, folks - this unit needs to stay healthy.
Change: Bigger starters; younger, faster reserves.
As always, your thoughts and opinions on this analysis are welcome in the comments section. Hope everyone has enjoyed/is enjoying their holiday weekend.