Now that the draft is done, I found myself searching for something to run commentary on for the remainder of the offseason, or at least until the lockout ends and preseason begins. While I am working on another offseason opinion article, these quasi-comprehensive analyses take a while to put together as I want to make sure my facts are right. In any case, after reading Brian's article on the 3 way battle for right tackle, I was wondering, what your opinions were for who should start at the beginning of 2011.
But before I can start going down the line, we must first address where the Bills starters seem to be set given the current depth chart. At quarterback, the undeniable starter is Ryan Fiztpatrick or Fitz as many fans have come to call him. In 2010, Fitz took over the starting job in week 3 and in just 13 weeks threw for 3,000 yards (the most by a single Bills QB since 2006) completing 58% of his passes while throwing 23 TDs and 15 INTs. More so, Fitz showed good poise in the pocket, took hits instead of sacks, and helped to manage an offense despite a questionable O-Line and some inexperienced WRs. While the Bills may still be looking for a franchise caller, Fitzpatrick has the starting job for another year or two, especially after the Bills passed over several prospects in this past draft.
The Bills are even more set at running back. Fred Jackson re-earned the starting position in 2010, having ran over a thousand yards the year before. Jackson is also a multi-threat back with pass catching, blocking and returning skills. C.J. Spiller meanwhile, was brought in last year in the first round to add a level of explosiveness and pizazz to a lackluster offense. While that has yet to be seen, Spiller is expected to have more of a breakout year in 2011.
At fullback, Gailey seems content with Corey McIntyre. McIntyre is a fair blocker, but is by no means elite. On the other side, McIntyre has some pass catching ability and rushed for his first TD last year.
At left tackle, CHIX seems set with Demetrius Bell. Bell a former seventh rounder in 2008 became a starter in 2009 before injuries forced him out of the lineup. In 2010, Bell impressed Gailey enough to start on the left again performing stronger without injury and fewer penalties. Next best option is 2009 fifth rounder Ed Wang who played left tackle at Virginia Tech.
With left guard the Bills have a high quality starter in Andy Levitre. Levitre was drafted in 2009 and became an instant success on the inside, noted for his durability and agility. Despite being a bit on the smaller size, Levitre hold his own.
An area of youth the Bills seem to set at wide receiver. Their franchise starter Lee Evans had his worst year in 2010. However, his speed and experience still warrants a double team from opposing defenses and he has had two 1,000 yard receiving seasons despite playing with literally several QBs during his time with the Bills as a former first rounder. The other starter right now is Stevie Johnson, who like Bell was a seventh round prospect who came into form in 2010. While he has had a few drops and got off to a slow start, Stevie electrified fans with over 1,000 yards receiving and will be closely watched by defenses in 2011, possibly freeing up Evans in the process a bit more.
Defensive ends for the Bills in 2011 are all but set with defined starters and backups. Starting are this year's first round pick Marcell Dareus who is a big run stuffer and Dwan Edwards, a former second rounder from Baltimore and big 2010 offseason acquisition. Behind these guys are Spencer Johnson, an experienced 3-4 end who will likely back/help tutor Dareus, and Alex Carrington, a 2010 third round pass rusher who will see more reps this year.
At nose tackle the Bills are also set with starters and immediate backups. Pro Bowler Kyle Williams anchors the middle and despite being undersized is a huge pass rusher with 6 sacks last year. Behind him is Torell Troup who was originally drafted in the second round last year to take over for Williams (like that will happen any time soon now) but has added weight to his frame to fit a typical nose tackle.
Like the wide receiver, the Bills have some questions with its outside linebackers but defined starters. At strongside, the Bills have veteran Chris Kelsay who by no means will be elite, but shows good effort on the field. Opposite him on the weak side is Shawne Merriman, a three year pro bowler and established 3-4 pass rusher who has not seen much playing time in the last three years do to injury. The Bills are hoping he can be a big asset in 2011 after signing him from the Chargers.
Free safety is the last position that the Bills seem set with 2009 rookie Jarius Byrd who recorded nine interceptions in that year but lacked the same playmaking ability the year after. Still he is a force for opposing QBs to reckon with.
Areas that I see the Bills having intense competitions to determine the starters have been determined by the following conditions. There are two or more players of equal caliber in competition for a spot, there may be a hole given the absence of last years starter due to roster cut, position switch or inconsistencies, or the current starter is currently a free agent. Positions that will be closely examined are at center, right guard, right tackle, tight end, both inside linebacker positions, both cornerback positions, and strong safety. As I plan on going into depth on these positions in later posts, I shall only list the players in line to compete for these areas, not taking into account outside free agents (rookies or from other teams). [* Indicates could start at two positions, italics indicates Bills FA]
Center: Geoff Hangartner, Eric Wood*
Right Guard: Eric Wood*, Kraig Urbik, Chad Rinehart, Mansfield Wrotto*
Right Tackle: Erik Pears, Mansfield Wrotto*, Chris Hairston
Tight End: Scott Chandler, Shawn Nelson, David Martin
Inside Linebacker (Mike): Andra Davis, Akin Ayodele, Kelvin Sheppard*, Chris White
Inside Linebacker (Will): Paul Posluszny, Kelvin Sheppard*, Reggie Torbor
Cornerback #1, #2: Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Drayton Florence, Aaron Williams
Strong Safety: Donte Whitner, George Wilson*, Bryan Scott, DaNorris Searcy
You will note that in the poll below, I have included positions that the Bills seem to have starters right now. With the poll I am opening up the possibility of conducting a further in depth look at one of these spots if you guys feel that the Bills will be having competition in training camp to determine the starter for that position. Of course you also have the option to not choose any of these if you feel that my thoughts are correct. In any case, I hope that you will enjoy this series and Go Bills!