Last week, Chris Steuber - an NFL Draft analyst that also doubles as the Director of Pro Player Personnel for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League - shared a link in which he broke down the top ten Buffalo Bills prospects under the age of 25. I found that list largely agreeable, but wanted to tweak it and flesh the angle out a little bit.
Right now, the Bills have 29 players that will be 25 years old or younger through the end of the 2011 calendar year. (That seems like a rather large number, no?) Of those 29 players, only five have been in the league for two or more years, and very few have offered up tangible production. Picking 10 players out of that group is therefore largely an exercise of projection. Still, I'll start my list off the same way Steuber did - with one player who has produced.
You'll find my Top 10 list, as well as all 29 Bills age 25 or younger, after the jump.
1. WR Stevie Johnson (Age 24). After two seasons in which he was buried on the depth chart, Johnson exploded onto the scene last season with 82 receptions, 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. The only things Johnson lacks are elite long speed and consistent hands; if he can improve the latter, he'll still be able to hurt defenses all over the field thanks to impeccable route-running ability. Johnson will turn 25 this summer.
2. DE Marcell Dareus (Age 21). The Bills haven't been fortunate enough to draft a prospect this clean in years. Though he won't exactly be playing a high-production position, Dareus has a legitimate chance to become one of the league's best at what he does - clog running lanes and disrupt the passing game. Dareus won't turn 22 until this November, and is the second-youngest player currently on Buffalo's roster.
3. RB C.J. Spiller (Age 23). Though he struggled to adjust to the NFL as a rookie, there's little doubt that he has the natural talent to become the explosive game-breaker that he was drafted to be. When the game slows down for him and he corrects some minor problems (ball security chief among them), look out - and that holds truth both as a running back and as a kick returner. Spiller will turn 24 this August.
4. C Eric Wood (Age 25). Right now, the biggest factor working against Wood is his injury history, as he has missed starts in each of his first two seasons. In 2010, his second year in the NFL, we saw Wood mature as a blocker and provide the Bills with their best center play in years. He'll need to become more consistent and stay healthy, but Wood looks like he'll be an excellent long-term starter in the pivot. Wood turned 25 just this past March.
5. FS Jairus Byrd (Age 24). Like Johnson, Byrd has a year's worth of elite-level production on his CV, having nabbed nine interceptions and secured a Pro Bowl berth as a rookie. Though fans point to the fact that he picked off only one pass last season as reason for concern, Byrd was still a playmaker, scoring a touchdown and forcing three fumbles. He's not a perfect prospect, but I expect him to be a productive, centerfield-type safety in the NFL for a while. Byrd will turn 25 in early October.
6. OLB Arthur Moats (Age 23). Moats is the first of two players to make my Top 10 list that didn't crack Steuber's. There's a lot to like about Moats, not the least of which is the fact that he was able to impact games as a pass rusher despite switching positions (twice) coming out of James Madison. A stronger and more technically sound Moats could become a consistently productive pass rusher as soon as next season, but he won't crack the starting lineup until he can defend the run better. Moats only turned 23 this past March.
7. CB Aaron Williams (Age 21). Williams is the type of cornerback that teams with physical defenses covet - he's an outstanding athlete that plays a physical style of football. Blessed with better ball skills than his interception totals reveal, the only weakness to Williams' game is long speed. With help over the top, Williams should be a valuable all-purpose corner - and he could play free safety in a pinch, as well. Williams is the youngest player on Buffalo's roster, having turned 21 just five days before the 2011 NFL Draft began.
8. OG Andy Levitre (Age 25). Steuber pointed this out as well: it'd be easy to bump Levitre up a list like this, simply because he's been a productive and durable starter on the line in his first two seasons. As it is, Levitre simply needs to become more consistent (a buzzword you've seen a lot in this article); he already has the look of a long-term starter at left guard without it. He and Wood give the Bills a ton of mobility up front. Levitre turned 25 just three days before Wood did.
9. DE Alex Carrington (Age 23). Coming out of Arkansas State, Carrington was clearly a project player, as he needed to learn and nail down entirely new techniques to play 3-4 defensive end. He was still able to get onto the field and make some noise (including a sack against Pittsburgh), and will be counted on as a rotational player in 2011. If things go well, he could be bookending Dareus for a number of years. Carrington will turn 24 this June.
10. WR Marcus Easley (Age 23). I'll end my list with a second player that did not make Steuber's Top 10. Buffalo got a lot of production out of its rookie receivers last year, and none of them carry the level of investment from this organization that Easley does. As Buddy Nix might say, big kids that can run aren't easy to find, and Easley - who is reportedly up to around 225 pounds - has 4.4 speed. He looked great last summer before a knee injury ended his season, and he's got an uphill climb to playing time, as he's buried on the depth chart. Still, aside from Johnson, Easley is Buffalo's highest-upside wide receiver. Easley will turn 24 this November.
Bills Players Age 25 Or Younger (Through 2011 Calendar Year)