Occasionally, I get an email question from a reader that is compelling enough that I have to write about it. That happened earlier this week, when I was queried about my thoughts on the "ten most important Bills that have two years of experience or less."
Typically, I tend to group these players into a lump in my mind, simply because the vast majority of the Bills players that fit this description haven't done much on the field. I made the attempt to separate them out, however; you can find that effort after the jump. You're also encouraged to provide your own lists.
10. Donald Jones, wide receiver. Was surprisingly effective as a slot receiver as an undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State (18 receptions, 213 yards, 1 TD), but I'm listing here because he is one of the team's most promising young special teams players.
9. Danny Batten, outside linebacker. Has the ability to have an Arthur Moats-like impact as an edge rusher and special teamer in 2011 coming off of a season-ending shoulder injury.
8. David Nelson, wide receiver. Had a terrific rookie season (31 receptions, 353 yards, 3 TD) as an undrafted rookie out of Florida. I'm not sure how much upside he has, but his role as a possession receiver out of the slot will be extremely vital to the offense as long as the team continues to overlook the tight end position.
7. Jairus Byrd, free safety. Was disappointing in his second season after a Pro Bowl rookie year. Durability is a concern, as is his range in coverage. I still consider Byrd the Bills' best player at forcing turnovers, and this defense is starved for playmakers. He needs a return to form in 2011.
6. Arthur Moats, outside linebacker. Scouts saw something in this kid, and Moats proved last year that he has a knack for the art of rushing the passer. Has a legitimate chance to become a major contributor for the Bills defensively, and is already there as a specialist. Must improve separating from blockers and making plays in the running game. Will get more comfortable at linebacker the more he plays.
5. Alex Carrington, defensive end. Played sparingly as a rookie, spending the majority of the season on the inactive list. (Still has more career sacks than Aaron Maybin.) With the Bills releasing Marcus Stroud after the season, Carrington is in line for a major playing time increase as a five-technique defensive end - and his on-field maturity is critical for the league's worst run defense.
4. Andy Levitre, left guard. He's only been here for two years, but he's made 32 consecutive starts and has been the team's only constant along the offensive line in that time frame. A gritty, hard-nosed player that isn't physically imposing, but occasionally flashes dominance as a blocker. Still rather inconsistent, and will need to eliminate that to emerge as a cornerstone to the line in his third season.
3. Torell Troup, nose tackle. Was unremarkable as a rookie, even as he saw consistent amounts of playing time as the year wore on. Struggled to separate from blocks and make plays in the running game. Working his butt off to get stronger this off-season. If Troup can develop into the zero-technique NT he was drafted to be, it'll give the team's best defender, Kyle Williams, much more freedom schematically.
2. C.J. Spiller, running back. This kid was drafted to be a game-breaker, and he broke exactly one game last year (Week 3 in New England). Really struggled transitioning from the college game, where he was a man among boys, to the NFL, where he was a boy among men. Has all the talent in the world, and Chan Gailey is convinced he's figured out how to utilize Spiller effectively to maximize his potential and increase his production.
1. Eric Wood, center. Another player that has durability concerns, as he's missed time in each of his first two years. Has the blocking disposition, smarts and on-field awareness to be an elite NFL center, and it's a virtual lock at this point that he'll take over that position in 2011. Still susceptible to double moves in pass protection, but has increased the instances in which he's displayed dominance as a run blocker. I've long believed that offensive lines take on the identity of its center, and if Wood can stay healthy and become consistent, that's nothing but a good thing for the Bills.