With part I of this series, I took a look at the offense; comparing current players to needs, possible times to draft a player and the best free agents for areas of needs. Head Coach Doug Marrone is seeking to change the Bills and their 31st ranked defense and to do so, he brought in former Jets DC Mike Pettine who will likely run a hybrid 3-4, 4-3 defense.
Several changes have impacted the Bills defense, including the retirement of pass rushers Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman and releasing LB Nick Barnett and SS George Wilson (the latter has signed with the Titans). On the other side, the Bills did re-sign/franchise FS Jairus Byrd, CB Leodis McKelvin and just signed LB Manny Lawson. There is a lot of depth in the draft and in free agency for defense, and many will not be surprised if the Bills take on a few former Jets defenders. For the sake of simplicity I am just using a 3-4 defense.
NT M. Dareus, T. Troup, J. Ross
DE K. Williams, M. Williams*, A. Carrington, J. Gilbert, C. Bryant
OLB M. Lawson, M. Anderson, A. Moats, B. Smith
ILB K. Sheppard, N. Bradham, B. Scott, C. White, K. Morrison, G. Lloyd
S J. Byrd, D. Searcy, M. Silva, T.J. Heath, D. Ellis
CB S. Gilmore, L. McKelvin, A. Williams, R. Brooks, J. Rogers, C. Butler
ST R. Lindell, S. Powell, G. Sanborn
Nose Tackle – Round 5-UDFA
With the Bills likely reverting back to a 3-4 defense, they will probably switch to Marcell Dareus in the middle due to his size and shift Kyle Williams to a defensive end position. (I still expect them to switch off from time to time.) Behind Dareus though is less clear. Former second rounder Troup has been injured often and might not make the roster over the likes of Jay Ross. Still there are many
3-4 Defensive End – Rounds 4-UDFA
With a 3-4 defense, Kyle Williams will likely shift to the end. Who plays on the other side of Dareus is a little less clear. Alex Carrington will likely see ample playing time after a strong showing last season. Another major contender is Mario Williams, whose size is that of a 3-4 DE, but has the athleticism of a 3-4 OLB. Williams will most likely be rushing the passer and thus see most of his time on the 3-man front. The Bills could still seek to add more depth here, especially if Mario plays more at OLB this year.
Outside Linebacker – Rounds 1-UDFA
Let’s assume that Mario Williams, due to his size, pass rush ability and unlikelihood to drop into coverage stays on the defensive line. The two starters right now would be Mark Anderson and newly signed Manny Lawson. Both though are not 3 down players. Moats could be an intriguing backup having some success in this capacity before, but there can never be enough pass rushers. There are still a number of good free agents available and a ton of depth throughout the draft, particularly in the first round.
Inside Linebacker – Rounds 1-UDFA
The Bills only have two-down linebackers on the inside. The projected starters, Nigel Bradham and Kelvin Sheppard are young and still have areas to improve in. Their primary backup, Brian Scott will likely only see the field in passing situations. Chris White, our special team specialist may see a little playing time, but Kirk Morrison, barely saw action last year. The Bills still could do well to make some upgrades here given this position’s importance in a hybrid defense.
Safety – Rounds 3-UDFA
The Bills managed to accomplished their most important goal in free agency and that was retaining FS Jairus Byrd. However, they do have a lack of depth at safety after letting George Wilson go. DaNorris Searcy is capable to replace him after a strong season last year, but depth is very thin thereafter.
Cornerback – Round 4-UDFA
Originally some thought the Bills might try to draft corners in back-t0-back first rounds, but with re-signing Leodis McKelvin who is officially in contention for a starting corner job, this seems very unlikely. Gilmore is clearly the #1 corner with McKelvin and Aaron Williams fighting for the number 2 spot. Brooks and Rogers provide young depth, but the Bills could seek to add one more D-back as this position seems most susceptible to injury.
Not an area of concern
Special Teams –UDFA
The Bills experimented with two kickers and switched punters early on last season. For now I am not expecting any serious changes. The big key will be whether Marrone will use Lindell on field goals greater than 50 yards. Powell whilst inconsistent is the only punter on the books, but I expect both he and Lindell to compete with some strong undrafted rookies in camp. Sanborn returns as a solid long snapper, while the Bills continue to benefit from having Leodis and Brad Smith as their return men.
Not an area of concern