When we talk about the Buffalo Bills offensively, we know the big players right off the bat. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Lee Evans. Stevie Johnson. Fred Jackson. These are the players that opponents will spend most of their time game planning for entering the 2011 season.
It's a trio of secondary targets, however, that will - within the framework of improved offensive line play, improved game-planning and more consistency from Fitzpatrick, of course - determine just how good Buffalo's offense can be next season. Those three players are receivers Roscoe Parrish and David Nelson, as well as running back C.J. Spiller.
All three are players that any defense will struggle to match up with. Nelson's length and sure-handedness make him a very tough cover in the slot; he has the look of, at minimum, an impressive possession receiver. Parrish is a player that head coach Chan Gailey made a huge part of his game plans in the first half of the 2010 season, and I think it could reasonably be argued that he out-performed Johnson when the two were healthy.
Spiller was the least productive of those three players, but might also be the most important.
Essentially on reputation alone, Spiller drew more attention from opposing defenses last season than any Bills skill player aside from Evans. This was particularly true early in the season, but remained true to an extent even as he struggled through his rookie season. Defenses were loathe to relax their efforts to defend Spiller, and as defenders blanketed the rookie, Spiller's teammates were repeatedly left open. Fitzpatrick found them early and often.
Spiller is capable as a receiver in the slot. Frequently, Gailey used him in much the same way he used Parrish last season, with mixed results. Parrish got down the field more frequently than Spiller did, obviously, but Spiller has the ability to beat a defense deep.
To close, I'll again point at the framework of nothing is certain. Football is the ultimate team sport, and if the Bills want to be a better offense - one that can produce against any defense - they'll need to be healthier, they'll need more consistent blocking, more consistent quarterback play, and a more consistent ability to finish plays. We can't point to any one thing; everything needs to improve. But in Parrish, Spiller and Nelson, the Bills have a trio of players that defenses will struggle to match up with. If that framework improves, this is a group of players that can make an average offense look elite.