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Buffalo's Waiver Wire Strategy to Roster Building: Part 3 (Analysis)

In the first two parts of this series (2010 part and 2011 part) I analyzed the first two years of roster moves for Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix, trying to see if they were really building this team through the draft or if there were multiple things to do to get the Bills ready for playoffs. In part one, it was clear that this team used midseason roster moves to pick up some very productive players, and in part two, we saw that the team continued to grab players off the streets, although they had little to no impact so far. In part three, I'm going to take a look at those two years of roster moves and see if there are any trends that emerge.

Positions:

First, let's check out the players added, sorted by position, to try and identify some trends:

2010 Adds: 2011 Adds: Total:
OG (3) TE (3) TE (5)
TE (2) K (2) OG (3)
OT (1) DE (2) OT (2)
DT (1) OT (1) K (2)
OLB (1) WR (1) DE (2)
RB (1) DT (1)
OLB (1)
WR (1)
RB (1)

Looking at this list, a few things become clear: First, that Buffalo has a clear emphasis on finding offensive players versus defensive players from the waiver wire. Out of the 18 players added, 12 are offensive, 4 are defensive, and 2 are on special teams. Secondly, there definitely seems to be a push towards finding bigger guys. 8 of the players added are linemen, and of the tight ends, Mike Caussin is the smallest at 6'5", 252 pounds. In fact, every player added through the waiver wire was at least 6'4" and 250 pounds, excepting the kickers, Tashard Choice (5'10"), and Derek Hagan (6'2"). Thirdly, the positional adds seem to reflect the positional needs of the team at the time. In 2010, we had a serious depth problem along the o-line, and had 4 linemen get added. We needed a pass rusher, and added Shawne Merriman. We had no true tight ends, so we picked up two. In 2011, we still had no definitive tight end besides possibly Scott Chandler, so we grabbed more. Our kicker got injured in his contract year, so we tried out a couple new ones. We lose Fred Jackson, we add a veteran RB. We lose a bunch of receivers, we add Derek Hagan. Overall, the positional adds seem to be a mixture of current needs (players who have just been injured that need replacing) and long term needs (offensive line depth, finding a tight end, building up the defensive line).

Ages:

When you sort the players obtained by the seasons of experience they'd had when they were obtained, it could also give a more accurate look into Buffalo's strategy for the waiver wire.

Number of seasons played when joined Buffalo 2010 Total 2011 Total Total
0 2 1 3
1 2 2 4
2 1 3 4
3 1 2 3
4 0 0 0
5 2 1 3
6 0 1 1

As you can see, midseason waiver acquisitions are heavily skewed towards younger players. There are again several reasons for this. For one thing, if a player has been in the league 4 or more years, they are usually entrenched with a team or in a contract that keeps them from being available during the year. Younger players are more likely to be cut to save money. However, a young player also provides many benefits. If they're young, they have many years left to improve their craft. As they say, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Young players may not have been a scheme fit for one team, but in another, they can grow into an excellent role. For example, note how Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart showed nothing for the Steelers and Redskins, respectively, but now are some of the best pass-blockers in the NFL. And our good friend Aaron Maybin was atrocious against the run and had one trick, but in Rex Ryan's mismatch schemes he was able to bring a much needed pass rush for New York.

Draft Position:

If we check by the overall draft status of these players, you see it's actually a fairly good mix:

Round Drafted 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UDFA
Number 1 0 4 3 2 3 1 4

So for the most part, the free agents tend to come from the 3rd-6th round, or UDFA's. Our first rounder was Shawne Merriman, to clarify who we got from the upper end of the draft. What we can see here is that there are essentially no high draft picks who last until they are available on the waiver wire. A couple notables are Aaron Maybin and Vernon Gholston, both of whom were massive busts that eventually overrode their draft status. However, for most first and second round picks, they are either too big of an investment to drop or playing well enough to stick around (Or they are grabbed as soon as they hit the streets, back before the draft begins).

Impact:

Let's talk impact for a second. When I showed off that first list of free agents acquired (one year after they'd joined the team), everyone was praising Buddy Nix for his ability to find productive players from nowhere. But then I listed the second group of free agents, the ones who had yet to have an offseason with Buffalo, and people were having trouble naming one person to have a future productive season for us. Why is that?

For one thing, there isn't exactly a past body of work to go on with these guys. Of the 18 midseason adds we had, 7 had never played in an NFL game before being added to Buffalo (according to the SBNation sports reference). 13 of the 18 had played less than a full season. The remaining three had all played more than three seasons of games.

Look back on the last offseason's posts. One of the biggest concerns going into this year was the offensive line, which had never played a full snap with all its pieces together before. Between new guards Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart, the departure of Geoff Hangartner, and new tackle Erik Pears, people were proclaiming the early demise of Ryan Fitzpatrick. It probably didn't help that Urbik and Rinehart had never started a game before, and Pears was coming in as the replacement to possibly the worst RT situation in franchise history. One year later, and the o-line (except for unknown talent and depth at left tackle) is one of this team's strengths, largely thanks to the excellent play of these pickups.

So when you see names like Jarron Gilbert and Fendi Onobun, don't despair that you've never seen them play. Maybe a change to a new team is all it will take for them to break out and become a solid roster piece!

2011 Bills Added Free Agents Watch List:

Now let's take a look at the players added in 2011 and how they might play a larger role in Buffalo this year. I removed four of them - the two kickers (due to Lindell's new contract), Sam Young (he is limited athletically and couldn't beat out Colin Brown for a gameday spot), and Tashard Choice (due to our already having 2 great RB's and him being a free agent).

  • Lee Smith
    Smith is a former 5th round pick of the Patriots from last year. 6'6", 269 pounds, he is a protypical tight end. He still needs to bulk up a bit, and isn't the greatest athlete, but could eventually develop into someone like Kevin Boss or Anthony Fasano - a solid starter with red zone ability who can be an excellent lead blocker.
  • Kyle Moore
    As a defensive line prospect, Moore is a bit on the underwhelming side. In college, he had trouble getting sacks and disengaging at the line of scrimmage, and he had some injury history. However, he was very strong against the run and had the right frame to improve in the NFL. In Buffalo, Moore would compete with Chris Kelsay, Jarron Gilbert, and Alex Carrington for a spot on the depth chart at LDE. While he's a decent option for his abilities playing against the run, his ceiling is probably third string.
    Here's a link to Moore's MTD Scouting Report from his draft year: http://www.mockingthedraft.com/2009/3/30/814618/scouting-report-kyle-moore
  • Derek Hagan
    Hagan is one of the players Buffalo has picked up that have been around the league a while, like Erik Pears or Shawne Merriman. He has never been an excellent wideout in the league, or even a good one (his career high is 29 catches in a season). However, he showed some chops when playing next to or in place of Stevie Johnson at the end of last year, and it's interesting to see if he could find a place in Chan Gailey's spread, which seems to allow receivers to "plug and play" right into a productive spot.
    Fans would probably like to see Hagan only come back as a fourth receiver option, backing up players like Marcus Easley or a rookie draft pick like Michael Floyd, but as far as depth options go Hagan would be a good one to have around.
  • Fendi Onobun
    Fendi never caught on at his previous stops in St. Louis (where he was drafted) or Jacksonville (where we grabbed him from). It's a little bit of a mystery how some of the "basketball" tight ends flourish while others can never get used to the game. Onobun was a late round pick without a lot of film or buzz to back him up, so what I can go by are his pro day measurables and his catches in his pro day highlight video. He measures 6'5.5" tall, ran a 4.48 40 yard dash, vertical leaped 37.5 inches, and had an 11'1" broad jump. I'm sure with all the Combine madness lately you can compare those numbers to current prospects to get an idea of where he fits athletically. He also seemed to do a good job catching balls with his hands, not his body. But there wasn't a large amount of film on him as a football player, so it's tough to project him. Onobun looks to be a project player for the position who has a decent shot at the third TE spot, battling Mike Caussin for it. His practice squad eligibility is going away, though, so it's now or never for the Falafel Footballer.
    Here's a link to Onobun's pro day highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KcC8FEGSms
  • Jarron Gilbert
    Gilbert is a very intriguing prospect, and has the best chance, in my opinion, to find a niche in our defense as an aggressive LDE or a backup three technique for Kyle Williams. Everyone knows about his athleticism from the video of him jumping out of a pool (and if you haven't seen it yet, go watch it - it's pretty eye-opening what the human body can do). Gilbert was considered and still is considered to be a fantastic athlete but a sub-par football player. He's an explosive player and a superb tackler, but had very poor technique when rushing the passer. He also tended to disappear in some games. But he has excellent size and athleticism and seems like he could be another late bloomer good for 6 sacks next year.
    Here's a link to Gilbert's MTD Scouting Report from his draft year: http://www.mockingthedraft.com/2009/3/3/776357/scouting-report-jarron-gil
  • Kevin Brock
    I'll be honest, I really know next to nothing about Brock. He was a UDFA back in 2009 according to SBNation, and has bounced around the league a few times never catching on anywhere. As a UDFA, he never generated any of the draft buzz that helped you to learn about a player. Here's some snippets from his SBNation scouting notes:
    A good technician as a blocker and will battle defenders. Possesses a solid frame for the NFL tight end spot and flashes solid quickness. Not explosive or fast and isn't a threat to stretch defenses. While a very active blocker, lacks muscle mass and can get manhandled by bigger defensive linemen and linebackers.

What have we learned?

In this series about Buffalo's style of roster management I looked to mostly open eyes about how an NFL team handles the roster even into the season, as well as to try and telegraph Buffalo's style of teambuilding as others like Der Jaeger have done before. Here's the highlights:

  • In two years, CHIX have found 3 solid starters, 1 injured starter, 4 good backups, and 5 "project" backups with potential to be eventual starters.
  • Buffalo focuses on getting players on the offensive side of the ball from the waiver wire - 67% of their acquisitions were on offense.
  • Buffalo is looking to build a team of giants. Most of the players added were at least 6'4" and 250 lbs. Even the linemen and tight ends added were large for their position.
  • While Buddy Nix's style of drafting is "Best Player Available (at a position of need)," Buffalo's style of waiver play seems to be "grab positions with no depth, then grab positions with low depth."
  • Despite most free agents being older players, most of Buffalo's midseason adds are actually players in their first four years in the league who have been cut or put on a practice squad.
  • Most of Buffalo's acquisitions came from the 3rd-6th round or UDFA's. Usually, a player drafted in the first two rounds either is good enough to stick around with their team or gets snapped up before the season begins after being cut.
  • 72% of Buffalo's waiver players had played less than a full season's worth of games before coming to Buffalo.
  • If you're looking for the most likely players to be with the team next year who were added in 2011, it's Lee Smith and Jarron Gilbert, with Fendi Onobun a sleeper if he beats Mike Caussin, and Kyle Moore a possibility depending on exactly how much depth at DE we get this offseason. If you're looking for a breakout player, it's likely Gilbert, unless Scott Chandler leaves in free agency and gives Smith a starting job.

I hope you enjoyed this series and learned something about how Buffalo has put together their roster away from the springtime madness of free agency and the draft! Perhaps later on in the offseason I'll start to profile players Buffalo could grab in the 2012 midseason.

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of BuffaloRumblings.com.

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