"(Mario Williams) looks like a Madden character you create when you sit there and up-up the strength, and the guy keeps growing. And then he's the fastest guy on the field, too." - Ryan Fitzpatrick in May 2012
Every year here at Buffalo Rumblings, we run a summer series in which we talk about the ten most important Buffalo Bills players entering a given season. Where in past seasons we've focused the series on guys that needed to perform if the team was going to succeed, this year's focus will just be on the team's ten players most likely to directly influence the team's successes or failures in 2012.
Mario Williams - the $100 million man himself - is the penultimate name on this list, and the clear centerpiece of the team's new focus on the defensive side of the football.
I complained yesterday about the fact that Marcell Dareus has been a forgotten man, of sorts, along the Bills' defensive line all off-season. I'll follow that up by sort of glossing over Mario Williams today, because he's the fourth defensive lineman we've covered in this series, and there's a bigger point to make here. (And if that bothers you, well, we went in-depth on Mario earlier this week.)
The days of the shutdown, dominant NFL defense are numbered. There are still very good defenses, mind you, but there's not a unit out there that isn't susceptible to getting gashed now and again. In today's NFL, if you want to field a good defense, you need to have a great defensive line (or, even better, a great front seven, particularly for 3-4 teams). The Bills clearly approached the off-season with that in mind: they had half of a good front four in early March; now they have the makings of a dominant front four from end to end.
They'll need all four of those guys to perform (and it'd be great if a handful of the team's reserves were productive in spot duty, as well - competitive depth is also important up front). The unit's ability to function, for now, starts with Mario.
Mario Williams is the highest-paid defender in the history of professional football. If you're making that kind of a commitment to a guy, he'd better be the centerpiece of your defense. That's what Williams will look to be this season and for five more after: the central figure, the catalyst, and the setup man all wrapped up in one. Having Mario on the field will undoubtedly make life easier for the other ten players on the field - but he still needs to be the best player out there the majority of the time.
Buffalo hasn't had a defensive lineman this talented since Bruce Smith donned No. 78 during the team's Super Bowl years. They haven't had a defender this high-profile, and facing this much pressure to perform, perhaps ever. When we get down to brass tacks, fans are largely viewing Mario Williams - whether him solely, or what he does for the defense - as the difference between the 10-22 crapfest we've witnessed over the last two years and a team with playoff aspirations. Fair or not, that's the reality of the situation. Williams is being paid like a superstar. He needs to be that superstar.
Ten Buffalo Bills To Decide 2012
1. TBA 6/15
2. DE Mario Williams
3. DT Marcell Dareus
4. RB Fred Jackson
5. DT Kyle Williams
6. DE Mark Anderson
7. LB Nick Barnett
8. FS Jairus Byrd
9. RB C.J. Spiller
10. WR Stevie Johnson