In continuing a theme in which I respond to fan questions on the blog (keep them coming, whether it be here, @BrianGalliford or via email), today I'm responding to a question submitted by reader Chuck:
"Mr. Galliford," Chuck writes (with unnecessary formality), "if you had to pick five players on the Bills that could become stars or 'break out' as it's called, who would they be?"
It's an interesting question, to be sure, and there will definitely be some people lining up to make bold proclamations about players that I don't mention after the jump (I imagine Marcus Easley will be mentioned once or twice, for instance). After the jump, you'll find my thoughts on the five Bills players that I think will have an opportunity to break out in one way or another this season.
5. Justin Rogers, CB/KR. I don't think fans are as excited as they could (or should) be about the second-year cornerback out of Richmond, largely due to the amount of activity with higher-profile names around him at cornerback. I'm more interested in what Rogers offers as a kick returner, anyway. Keeping in mind that he only registered 13 returns in four games as the primary kick returner, Rogers ripped off seven runs of at least 30 yards in that month of work; three of those went for at least 40 yards, and he even had one 50-plus yard return. He needs to become a better decision-maker as a kick returner to become more consistent, but this guy has Pro Bowl potential as a return specialist, and upside as a cornerback as well. Talk about him more, Bills fans.
4. Donald Jones, WR. Watch Buffalo's offense early in the 2011 season - they were a receiver away from doing some serious damage (and they did quite a bit as it was). There's no reason to believe that they won't return to that form at the outset of the 2012 season, and I believe Jones is still the guy with the best chance of starting when the season begins. There's an old adage about third-year receivers blossoming, and there's no question in my mind that Jones has the athletic talent to excel in this league. Jones is a bit of a punching bag in the fan base, but while he may not have star potential, I think he can develop into a quality starter with a well-rounded game in this offense.
3. Jairus Byrd, FS. Byrd has an opportunity to become a household name on the national scene again, but only if the team's shiny new additions on the defensive line cause as many erratic throws as Byrd picked off in his well-known rookie season. The former second-round pick out of Oregon has developed into a quality all-around safety in the last two (much quieter) seasons, and with a more active pass rush, Byrd could again approach the statistical output he had as a rookie to earn more national recognition that he's been deserving of for a while now.
2. C.J. Spiller, RB. We've gone over this repeatedly: when Spiller finally got a feature back opportunity last season, he showed that he can be a productive and explosive running back in this league, and not just a gadget player. As we've discussed ad nauseam this off-season, Spiller's break-out potential hinges almost entirely Chan Gailey's ability to give him ample opportunity without being the feature back, because Spiller proved that all he needs is opportunity with a strong close to the 2011 season. His star potential has not faded one iota.
1. Marcell Dareus, DT. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am more excited to see what Dareus does this season on the defensive line than I am about Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, or anyone else (though I'm more interested in the whole rather than the parts in general). Dareus had a rock solid rookie season despite losing his running mate, being the focal point of blocking attacks and the defense in general crumbling behind him. Surrounded by a potentially all-star cast, I firmly believe that Dareus will emerge as the star player of Dave Wannstedt's defense. He has the ability to do a bunch of different things well, and will be a handful for offensive linemen no matter what.
What say you, Bills fans? How much different does your list look than mine? Pick bones in the comment section.