The headline of this article is misleading, perhaps intentionally so. The Buffalo Bills are currently in the nascent months of yet another roster overhaul; GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey have put together a roster that's long on question marks and short on experience. Still, the team has competition across the entire team, and in a throw-away year meant for building a foundation, the team's plan appears to be to try to develop some of the young talent already on the roster.
Not all of that talent is created equally, nor are any two players in exactly the same situation. As such, "boom or bust" and its typical connotations doesn't apply to every player that appears on this list (and the list could be much, much longer, as well). Therefore, we urge you not to equate "boom or bust" to "make or break" - for the majority of these players, the 2010 season will not be the sole deciding factor regarding their future inclusion in the team's re-building plans.
Instead, we're going to highlight five Bills players (again, yes, there are legitimate arguments for many more players on this list) that are entering a season in which they could help the team boom or bust. Every NFL player either reaches his potential or he doesn't, but in the cases of these five players, their immense ceilings could have huge positive effects on the team's overall performance. Hence, "boom or bust." One last note: in the interest of not stating the blatantly obvious, four quarterbacks did not make this list.
WR James Hardy. The 2008 second-round pick has had a tough start to his NFL career. Early on, his impact was felt quickly, as he caught a game-winning touchdown pass in just his second professional appearance. But inconsistency and a knee injury quickly derailed that flash-in-the-pan start, and Hardy is now entering his third NFL season with just 10 career receptions. Buffalo jettisoned and this off-season, leaving the Bills with a young, hugely unproven receiving corps. Hardy is the most talented player of that young bunch, and will be given the first shot of earning a starting spot opposite . If he blossoms in his third season, he could finally turn into the weapon that Buffalo drafted him to be - a terror in the red zone. If not, the Bills will probably rotate receivers in and out of the second slot extensively, looking for receiving help elsewhere.
OT Demetrius Bell. With just eight professional starts, Bell is Buffalo's most experienced potential starting left tackle. He also arguably has the most upside. The fact that he's still rehabilitating a knee injury that cut his 2009 season short is cause for concern, and depending on his availability at the start of training camp, could prevent him from having the opportunity to live up to his listing here. All indications are, however, that Bell is the team's preferred option on the left side, and like fellow 2008 draftee Hardy will be given the first shot at earning the starting job. Finding a legitimate option at left tackle this season would do wonders for the team's needs list a year from now.
OLB Aaron Maybin. For whatever inexplicable reasons, Bills fans still insist that Maybin's entering a make-or-break year in just his second NFL season at the ripe old age of 22. That idea is completely ridiculous, but I digress. The Bills have done a commendable job of bolstering their 3-4 personnel this off-season, even if there are still question marks entering the season. One of those question marks is whether or not the team's outside linebackers will be able to generate a pass rush, and if ends up retiring, that question morphs into a potentially catastrophic concern. Maybin is switching to a position at which his athleticism will be of better use, but where he'll undertake more positional responsibility. If Maybin shows flashes of brilliance this year, this defense could emerge as one of the better young units in the league.
CB Leodis McKelvin. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around why some fans are frantic over the fact that is taking first-team reps over McKelvin. Folks - Florence is a good player, and so is McKelvin. The Bills will use nickel and dime defensive packages so frequently this year that it hardly matters at all who the "starter" is. The 2008 first-round pick is the third '08 draftee to make this list, which isn't surprising, as that draft class enters its third season, typically a critical one for young NFL veterans. Buffalo is deep at cornerback, so an average season from McKelvin would not drastically harm the prospects of the defense. This team could use more play-makers, however, and McKelvin can be electric with the ball in his hands. His emergence could turn one of the league's most underrated secondaries into one of its very best.
Jairus Byrd. Yes, even entering the season with the title of "Buffalo's Best Play-Maker," Byrd belongs on this list. His nine-interception rookie season was dreamy and everything, but Byrd still has a lot to prove at this level - namely that he can still contribute big plays on a consistent basis. As Buffalo's centerfielder, he won't be a critical part of Buffalo's run defense, but it'd be nice if he made strides in that department. It'd also be nice if those nagging injuries gave Jairus a break for a while; they nagged him during the pre-season, and eventually ended his stellar rookie year prematurely. Byrd is by far the closest player on this list to elite status, but if he falters as a sophomore, Buffalo's secondary goes from potentially outstanding back to average in a hurry. Unless, of course, someone else steps up.