QB: EJ Manuel
Review: At this point nobody is expecting Thaddeus Lewis to compete for the starting job. Kevin Kolb’s future remains a huge question mark. Jeff Tuel is bound to be relegated to the practice squad for a long duration at some point. EJ Manuel is expected to be the answer at QB for the Bills. After 4.5 games it is difficult to know for certain what we can expect from Manuel. His learning curve has definitely been delayed. How he finishes the season should give Buffalo a greater indication of what we can expect out of him. After investing a 1st round pick in Manuel, the team isn’t ready to give up on him this early, even if they were disappointed with his early performances. If they were unsure of his ability to perform at the NFL level, they would have waited until 2014 to draft their QB. The draft class from 2013 looks strong so far this year so it’s not like we can expect a busted pick.
Moving Forward: Thad Lewis has been a pleasant surprise, but he isn’t the long term solution and is not a starting quarterback. The team may wish to keep him as the backup, but I would not be surprised if Buffalo brought in another QB during the off-season. However, it is unlikely that they add another inexperienced QB to the mix. They are likely to bring in a veteran/mentoring type if anything. No draft pick is invested.
Review: Both players have produced so far this year, but both have battled injuries as well. Spiller was limited until he didn’t play in week 8 due to his high ankle sprain. Fred Jackson is showing a lot of toughness and leadership by playing through his injuries, but he is no spring chicken and the injuries will most likely take a toll on him at some point this year. Jackson is savvy and is very good at blocking, picking up blitzes, reading defenses and finding wiggle room. But sooner or later his tires are going to lose their tread. Spiller is an extremely explosive back who can take it the distance at any moment, but it appears as though he is not being utilized in a way that takes advantage of his strengths (open space and cutback lanes). Perhaps Hackett will learn as he becomes more comfortable with his personnel and the offense, much like Gailey did as the under-utilized Spiller had a breakout 2012 campaign.
Moving Forward: The Bills will feature both of these backs next year, but the team invests an early-to-mid draft pick into a between-the-tackles running back that fits the mold of what Hackett appears to be trying to build in Buffalo.
Review: Stevie Johnson is the only WR with real game time experience for the Bills and is the leader of the WR group. He is not going to be replaced anytime soon (as evidenced by the contract he recently signed). Woods showed great rapport with EJ Manuel, but has been underutilized in the passing game since Manuel’s injury. Graham has made some big plays and his lack of consistency seems to be attributed to a struggling passing attack due to the QB situation rather than of his doing. Goodwin suffered an injury but in limited opportunities has shown that he is a real gamer, despite his 5’9" frame. Due to the struggling passing attack and the QB situation, teams have been able to generate a lot of pressure, preventing Buffalo from trotting out spread formation sets. This has limited Goodwin’s opportunities in the offense.
Moving Forward: The receivers (aside from Stevie Johnson) are young and raw, but talented. After spending a 2nd and 3rd round pick on WRs in the 2013 draft and a 3rd on a WR in the 2012 draft, it seems unrealistic for the Bills to invest another early-to-mid round pick on a WR in 2014. If anything, the team needs to bring in a greater veteran presence if they were to shake up the WR group. No draft pick is invested.
TE: Scott Chandler
Review: Chandler struggled in his first few games coming back from injury, but has been more involved in the passing attack since. He also seems to have regained his speed that was a concern for a short time early on this season. However, he should never be confused with a field stretcher or a burner by any means. Chandler’s biggest downfall is his blocking ability, as he really doesn’t have much of it. He is a threat in the passing attack, but is not considered a dynamic one. So essentially he is a good but not great receiving TE with limited blocking ability.
Moving Forward: The team may look to upgrade the TE position in 2014. Buffalo cannot spread out the offense due to the pressure being generated by the defense and Chandler does not provide them with much protection when he is asked to block. Right now they are forced to use Lee Smith as a blocking TE that is not a receiving threat, or Scott Chandler that is a receiving threat that cannot block. You would think Buffalo would want a player who can do both so their offense becomes more unpredictable. The Bills could go after a TE in the draft as early as the 1st round. It’s unlikely they find what they’re looking for in Free Agency.
Review: Cordy Glenn is currently rated as a top 10 LT by PFF and Eric Wood is a newly re-signed Captain for the team. Both of these players are the anchors of the offensive line. Legursky is the obvious hole that needs fixing after the team lost Andy Levitre to Free Agency. Colin Brown was so bad that he lost his job in Legursky’s first game coming back from injury, and Legursky had previously lost the job to Brown in the pre-season. Urbik has not dominated, but we don’t seem to be seeing anything terrible from him either. Pears would be the next logical choice for an upgrade on the offensive line if the team were to look to bolster their protection (after this season, they may want to). After all, they have a young QB they need to protect.
Moving Forward: The team may draft an offensive lineman, or 2, in 2014. It could be as early as the 1st round. It could be their first 2 picks in the draft. The offensive line is a big enough concern that spending both of their top picks is very possible. Marrone is credited as being an offensive line guru. Many fans are hoping that he has the ability to see what others don’t see in lineman (the untapped potential) which would allow the team to grab players in the middle rounds who can become excellent offensive lineman.
Review: Mario Williams is having a great season so far and much of that may be due to the attention that Kyle Williams and Dareus command. Both DTs have been having an excellent season as well. The only real question mark on the defensive front is Carrington, who has been lost for the season due to injury. Carrington has received a lot of hype coming into 2013, but unfortunately his injury has prevented him from being able to show case exactly what he has to offer as a starting DE.
Moving Forward: Carrington is due to become a free agent. The Bills did offer him a contract which was ultimately rejected as Carrington and his agent (Eugene Parker) felt that he had the ability to command more money based on his play during this season. We have not heard of any negotiations, but at this point there isn’t much leverage on the Carrington side as he has limited playing time in his professional career. It would make sense for Carrington to look for a shorter contract which would allow him to showcase his skills and, in turn, lead to a bigger payday. If they retain Carrington, I would not expect any big moves to be made on the DL other than situational players. If they do lose Carrington I wouldn’t expect them to go all-in on a replacement either. With M. Williams, K. Williams and Dareus, they don’t need a high profile player as those 3 will likely command enough attention to free up that 4th DL.
Review: We all know about The Legend of Kiko Alonso, so let’s move on. Manny Lawson has been one of the best free agent signings Buffalo has seen in a long, long time. He has wreaked havoc for Buffalo and been excellent against the run and pass. Jerry Hughes is a pass rushing specialist who has been pushed into a greater role. He excels at generating pressure but appears to be limited in the other areas of his game. His coverage abilities are mismatches for opposing offenses (re: Saints week 8) and is not considered an every down linebacker.
Moving Forward: The Bills could invest heavily in another linebacker. If they were able to find another linebacker to pair with Lawson and Alonso, the Bills would have one of the best linebacker groups in the league. Actually, they would have one of the best front 7s in the league. Jerry Hughes would still see the field, but not anywhere near the extent to which he does now. Providing an every down linebacker would eliminate a mismatch other teams may now have the blueprint for, thanks to New Orleans.
Review: Gilmore suffered a broken wrist which kept him out of the first 5 games. He played 2 weeks with a club and week 8 he finally sported a cast on his wrist. It’s no surprise that week 8 was his best game on the field not only because he could use his wrist, but because he was back in game shape as well. McKelvin, in Gilmore’s absence, wowed a lot of Bills fans. The former 1st round pick failed to awe fans and many were shocked that the team resigned him to such a large contract given his performance as a defensive back (his returning skills were not questioned). However, it appears as though he fits perfectly into Mike Pettine’s scheme or he finally figured it out. Either way, nobody is disappointed with McKelvin at this point and he is a great #2 CB. Robey, the undrafted rookie free agent, likely wouldn’t have seen the field had it not been for the injuries to Gilmore, Ron Brooks and McKelvin. However, he has looked like a true gamer (much like Marquise Goodwin, he plays bigger than his size). His short stature may limit his ability to fight for balls, but he isn’t a guy who is going to get beat for 270 yards and 2 TDs in a single game, either. Through the first 7 weeks of the season Robey was one of the best CBs in passes and yards allowed. That may have changed in week 8, but it still says a lot about him as a player.
Moving Forward: Perhaps they invest in some depth, but I don’t foresee the team investing a high pick into a CB when Gilmore and McKelvin look like studs and Robey looks to be the answer as the Nickel CB. Depth is sorely needed, and I should emphasize competent depth!
Review: Jairus Byrd is an elite FS. The Bills know it, and apparently Byrd and his agent know it (if you haven’t figured that out from the contract dispute). He missed the first 5 games due to plantar fasciitis, which has the ability to be a reoccurring problem. However, since he has been back he hasn’t had any flare ups, which is a positive sign. He is just getting into game shape so we should start seeing the play-maker we grew to love. Williams was supposed to make the transition to strong safety, but those plans were temporarily derailed when there were no healthy, competent cornerbacks on the roster. Now that everybody is healthy enough to play, Williams is back at SS. He made some plays early on, showed he has the fierceness to lay some hard hits, but also made some foolish penalties early on. He has cut down on those and he is still a liability in coverage as a corner. However, as a SS he is still coming into his own. We won’t know how well the transition will go, but right now everything looks good.
Moving Forward: If the Bills tag Byrd they may choose not to address this possible hole, especially after drafting Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks in 2013. D. Williams had some praise, but he is currently injured and has not seen the field much so far. If the Bills don’t tag Byrd, or tag and trade him, I would expect the team to make another draft pick investment come 2014. Otherwise, they are likely to let it ride with the guys they have.
QB: Not being drafted, possible vet signing
RB: Possible target, maybe even as early as a 2nd but no higher
WR: Not being drafted, possible vet signing
TE: A real need here so it's entirely possible, as high as a 1st potentially
OL: At least 1 OL will be drafted, possibly very early
DE: Possible target if Carrington leaves, nothing too high though
LB: Definitely targeting an every down LB, possibly very early
CB: Perhaps depth later on, but nothing serious
S: If Byrd were to leave they may go as high as a 2nd on his replacement
Round 1: TE
Round 2: OLB
Round 3: OL
Round 4: OL
Round 5: HB
Round 6: CB
Round 7: S
I would love to see the Bills trade down, if they had a similar high 1st round pick like they had in 2013. If they were able to swing that, then the first two rounds would ideally consist of a TE who can catch and block, an every down LB, and a between-the-tackles HB. I'm not in love with the idea of pushing OL to rounds 3 & 4, but with Marrone at the helm, I have to think he will spend some extra time finding the lineman he feels have the most untapped potential.
I don't believe this team is that far off, especially when you consider the positions that the team needs to draft. In years past there always seemed to be a ton, but this upcoming year there appears to be fewer.