With the first game only a few games away I realized that I need to conclude this series of posts otherwise they would not be off-season opinions. For the conclusion of this series, I shall first address which address areas that need to establish themselves in the upcoming season of play. Then I shall take a look at the Bills free agents after this season. From there I shall finish with an analysis of potential draft choices of the first three rounds for the positions of need. Bear in mind that as this is the last post of this caliber that I will be doing for a while, it may be a bit long so sit back and relax.
Areas of Concern
Perhaps the biggest area of concern from last year was the defense, specifically the run defense. CHIX made big moves in free agency and the draft to remedy this area bringing in big players that have been noted to stop the rush at all levels, as well as bringing in linebackers that are more versed in defending the pass. While the defense showed its secondary defenders particularly susceptible to the run, the unit as a whole, particularly the starters look a lot more solid. As such, the bulk of my concerns rely shall be on the offense.
Before I address those I must first look at areas where the offense seems to be good for the time being. The first is the halfbacks where the Bills have a capable starter, playmaker and backup, as well as a fair fullback. Additionally, the tight end position seems to be reasonably set with three good blocking TEs that seem to also have good hands.
The wide receiver position, despite having talent and depth is one area of concern in that they do not have an established one-two punch in that area. Stevie Johnson is definitely a starter after a breakout year and showing that he can still catch balls in tighter coverage. Opposite him is Donald Jones, a second year man who climbed the depth chart last year as a slot receiver. In preseason action, Jones did not seem entirely comfortable in a starting role, but has good speed and hands. Competing for his spot done the line is fifth wideout Marcus Easley who is bigger and faster, but is less consistent. Parrish and Nelson both have had lots of playing time last year and also could start, but Gailey seems more comfortable in backup slots for now. While I am sure that Jones (and Easley if needed) will perform well this year, I am not sure that the Bills still won’t struggle with the pass game.
However, the passing game cannot begin to take off without a solid offensive line. While the line has performed decently in the run game, its players (including the starters) have often struggled in protecting the quarterback. The interior of the line seems set between Levitre, Wood and Urbik starting and Rinehart as an immediate backup. The tackles give major cause for concern. Erik Pears has had an okay preseason in all fairness, but he is not elite by any means. This is evidenced also by the fact that CHIX attempted to bring in pro-bowl caliber tackles in free agency, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The most concern is warranted at left tackle manned by Demetrius Bell. Bell was fair in 2010, but has struggled mightily in preseason play, so much in fact that Gailey gave left tackle reps to Levitre and switched fourth round pick Chris Hairston from right tackle to left. Should Bell struggle, Hairston seems to have the support of the coaching staff as he has a better build than Levitre (although Buffalo is known for its undersized talent), but pre draft analysts noted that he may not have the speed necessary for the left side.
The last area of concern is at quarterback, despite having a proven starter in Ryan Fitzpatrick. First off, before you all start rioting, let me say that I am a huge fan of Fitz as he is a very mobile, heads-up passer that can take the big hit once in a while. Fitz however can be inconsistent, although that heavily depends on how effective the offensive line is for the week. More of my concern lies in his backup Tyler Thigpen who struggled mightily in preseason in completing passes and moving the ball up the field.
2012 Bills Free Agents
Good or bad though the Bills happen to have quite a few players (including starters) that are set to become free agents next year. This includes 1 defensive starter and 6 offensive starters, including three from the already insecure offensive line. Here’s a list comprised of the fifteen 2012 free agents:
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
OT Demetrius Bell
OT Erik Pears
OG Kraig Urbik
OG Chad Rinehart
TE Scott Chandler
TE David Martin
WR Stevie Johnson
WR Roscoe Parrish
ILB Andra Davis
ILB Kirk Morrison
ILB Reggie Torbor
SS Bryan Scott
K Rian Lindell
LS Garrison Sanborn
Obviously the Bills will try to re-sign several of these players, and others will have less of a priority. According to Brian the Bills are currently in the process of negotiating contracts with both Parrish and Johnson which would provide a lot of stability for the wide receiver corps. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is likely to be targeted for an extension as he is a capable starter and would at the very least be an unbelievable back up should Gailey draft a QB in the top three rounds next year). Although in regard for Fitz though, the Bills may wait on a contract to see how he performs this year as it is.
Rounding off the list for people the Bills should (in my opinion) also try to re-sign are kicker Rian Lindell who has been very reliable in the past, TE Scott Chandler who is the closest player to a full fledge starter the Bills have had in a long time and ILB Kirk Morrison who has lots of potential as a pass defender and fair run stopper. I suspect that the Bills will try to keep either Kriag Urbik or Chad Rinehart as both have starting potential and would keep the line more stable as such.
Players that will depend heavily on their production this season will be tackles Erik Pears and Demetrius Bell. With Chris Hairston looking like an eventual starter on the line, one of these two will likely have to go as they are arguably the weakest unit on the team. ILB Andra Davis needs to have a strong 2011 campaign to justify his starter spot after a lackluster 2010 season. SS Bryan Scott may be nearing the end of his time in Buffalo after the Bills drafted Da’Norris Searcy, but still could provide good support in the backfield from time to time. TE David Martin will also be fighting to be retained as Chandler has been seeing more field time and the Bills just brought in a rookie fifth rounder to bolster their blocking TEs. Long snapper Garrison Sanborn could go either way after beating out newcomer Danny Aiken late in camp. The one person that seems to have little chance of making the roster is ILB Reggie Torbor who has not been terribly productive in his time in the NFL.
Obviously it is a bit early to know what the Bills needs may be at the end of the season depending on how well certain areas of the team perform and which players get traded or lost/brought in by free agency. In determining the potential needs for the Bills in the upcoming year then I am going to base my choices off my current roster analyses (see links at the top of the article). Additionally the collegiate players that I mention may not even be in the draft in 2012 depending if they stay in college for another year, or that they were taken before the Bills pick (which will hopefully be the 32nd pick of the draft).
I feel as though the Bills will be looking to bolster their offense for the most part but will take a few defensive players as well. In no particular order these positions include QB, OT, WR, ILB, OG, and OLB possibly. Quarterback is on the needs list assuming that at the very least Thigpen is struggling as a backup. Offensive tackle is clearly a need while I think the Bills may take a guard if either Rinehart or Urbik are not re-signed. Wide Receiver meanwhile warrants a look provided that no true #2 wideout appears. The inside linebackers get another visit simply as three veterans could possibly be leaving the team and outside linebacker depending on the health and consistency of the players (although given that CIX passed over several options this past draft and shifted Carrington to OLB seems very unlikely).
Let’s assume with Brian’s predicted 6-10 record for the Bills that they will have a top ten pick in the 2012 draft. Based off of CBS Sports College Rankings and Walters Lists, I compiled my top ten prospects in these areas. (Bolded players mean that they stand a fair chance of being a top 15 pick.) Throughout the season I shall keep you apprised of these players as the Bills narrow down their priority needs list.
QB: Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones,
Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Kellen Moore, Robert Griffin, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Lindley
OT: Matt Kalil, Jonathan Martin, Riley Reiff, (D.J. Fluker,)
Andrew Datko, Matt Reynolds, Nate Porter, Mike Adams, Levy Adcock, Ricky Wagner, Bobby Massie
WR: Alshon Jeffery, Justin Blackmon, Jeff Fuller,
Michael Floyd , Ryan Broyles, Greg Childs, Juron Criner, Nick Toon, Jermaine Kearse, Chris Owusu
OLB: Quinton Coples, Donte Paige-Moss, Brandon Jenkins, Bruce Irvin,
Devin Taylor, Courtney Upshaw, Vinny Curry, Brandon Lindsay, Jonathan Massaquoi, Shayne Skov
ILB: Luke Kuechly, Manti Te’o, Vontaze Burfict, Zach Brown,
Don’ta Hightower, James-Michael Johnson, Tank Carder, Travis Lewis, David Lavonte, Jerry Franklin
OG: David DeCastro, Kelechi Osemele, Kevin Zeitler,
Ryan Miller, Cordy Glenn, Rokevious Watkins, Lucas Nix, Barrett Jones, Joel Froman, Braden Hansen
Thanks for all your support and spell checking with this series.