An oft repeated mantra on Rumblings is that the team is better in terms of talent, if not record. The Bills haven't managed to exceed the win totals of Jauron's worst season--you know, the one he didn't even get to finish because he was fired for being ineffective. With Nix's first terrible coaching pick gone before getting a crack at a fourth year of futility, the won-loss records go by the boards. Marrone is a new head coach, both to Buffalo and the NFL. While some didn't like the hire we are all hoping that Marrone will lead the Bills to their first winning record in a decade.
Let's focus instead on the positions of need in 2010 and how those positions look now.
Quarterback: Nix started off his tenure with Edwards, Fitzpatrick, Brohm and Levi Brown, the lone QB chosen in the three drafts so far. (I believe Brown, a late round flyer, was last seen failing in the CFL.). Three years later, the Bills have Tarvaris Jackson and some guy (Aaron Corp) none of us even knew was on the roster until Fitzpatrick was dumped. Nix cut Edwards after a very brief starting run (2 games?) in which Edwards played pretty much as he had before Nix took over as GM. Nix then approved an ill advised contract extension for Fitzpatrick, one that made him the unquestioned starter. Luminaries such as Tyler Thigpen (likely a Gailey call) and Vince Young were brought in as designated backups and were each terrible when given chances to play. It seems clear that the Bills will be taking a QB at some point in the first 3 rounds. That guy could be the franchise QB or he could continue the line of Nix's other QB choices (Edwards, Fitzpatrick).
Judgement: Heading into his 4th draft as a GM, Nix has not improved the QB position. And good god the bar was set low.
Running Back: Nix started off with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. That was a pretty stacked position to which he added CJ Spiller. Nix converted Lynch, a former first rounder, into some mid round draft picks. Lynch's bruising style of running has been missed but Spiller has higher upside in terms of scoring from any position on the field. (I believe that Lynch's longest TD in Buffalo was about a 50 yard run that featured him breaking an inordinate number of would-be tackles against the Bengals.) Several irrelevant 3rd backs have been on the roster over the past three seasons.
Judgement: Nix has upgraded the talent at this position. While Jackson appears to have lost a step - and has set himself up for suspension by all but saying that he's going to keep sticking his helmet into defenders - Spiller is an elite level talent.
Offensive Line: Nix started out with two real building blocks, Wood and Levitre. Bell manned LT in a relatively solid, though not at all spectacular fashion. Hangartner was okay, and the right side of the line was a revolving door of ineffectiveness. Since 2010 Nix has added Urbik, a starting caliber guard, drafted Hairston - currently manning RT- and spent a 2nd round pick on Glenn, who had a decent 2013.
Judgement: LT, RG and RT have improved. C is the same (except that Wood's injury history is longer and durability even more questionable) and LG is worse. Nix improved a net 2 offensive line positions (3-1=2), an upgrade even if not as clear as RB.
Tight End: Nix had scrubs at tight end when he took over the team. Derek Fine was a good blocking TE but not a downfield threat. Shawn Nelson had loads of potential but never panned out. Since then the team has made due with Scott Chandler, the first TE to put up decent yardage since, um, damn. Lee Smith is a blocking TE, a one trick pony like Fine. Caussin and Sawyer are nonfactors.
Judgement: Chandler is the only thing that keeps this from being an absolute push. The question that I have is whether Chandler is a good TE or just one who has put up yards due to being a checkdown option. I'd say his hands are good enough to list this area as being mildly upgraded.
Wide Receiver: Nix started with Evans, Hardy, Steve Johnson, TO, Parrish, Josh Reed and Jenkins. TO, Hardy, Reed and Jenkins were quickly shown the door, leaving Evans, Johnson and Parrish. Nix added Easley, who still hasn't caught a pass, and less than stellar talent like Donald Jones, David Nelson, Paul Hubbard, Naaman Roosevelt...you get the idea. Evans, like Lynch, was converted into mid round picks, and Parrish was allowed to leave in free agency. Graham was added and didn't do a whole lot in his rookie campaign. He and Johnson are all the team has at WR right now.
Judgement: This is a push. The team had one proven WR when Nix took over and, 3 full seasons later, has one proven WR.
Defensive End: Nix took over a until that included Schobel, Maybin, Kelsay, Chris Ellis, and Denney. Schobel called it a career rather than play OLB. Kelsay hung on as a terrible OLB due to the gobs of money Nix inexplicably threw at him. (Even Kelsay was openly amazed at his good fortune.) Maybin was a bust at OLB just like he'd been at DE and was soon off the roster. The so-so Spencer Johnson and Marcus Stroud moved from DT to DE as did John McCargo. Carrington was added in the draft, Dwan Edwards came over in free agency. Then Nix junked the 3-4 and went back to the 4-3. Kyle Moore was brought in (currently a free agent) and the Bills added the highly coveted Mario Williams as well as Mark Anderson in free agency. Kelsay retired, Merriman turned the lights out, and most of the ho-hum guys that have cycled through the roster (both before and during Nix's tenure) are gone. Right now the Bills have Mario (who might be grumpy if actually turned into an OLB), Anderson and Carrington at DE.
Judgement: The quality of this unit hit bottom so hard it bounced. From Maybin to Mario is a clear upgrade.
Defensive Tackle: The Bills ended the 2009 year with Spencer Johnson, McCargo, Stroud and Kyle Williams at DT. Nix added Troup, who has played about 4 snaps in his injury plagued career, and then Marcell Dareus. The bb.com roster currently lists 7 DTs, several of whom you've never heard of.
Judgement: Marcell vs McCargo? Really? Williams kept this unit from being a total joke and he's still here. I believe that Nix extended him, though I could be mistaken. The DT unit has improved.
LB: Nix took over a unit headlined by Posluszny. Bryan Scott is about the only other familiar name. Poz was serviceable but not elite. Nix has brought in several free agents and draft picks. Sheppard has been a disappointment. Bradham and Moats are familiar names but neither have been more than reserve guys thrust into starting (at times) roles. Lawson has been brought over in free agency. Bryan Scott remains.
Judgement: 3-4, 4-3, hybrid....the LB unit is widely seen as bad, which is where it was when Nix took over.
DB: Nix started with a depressingly bad set of DBs. Move any sharp objects away from your immediate vicinity and check out this list: McGee, McKelvin, Youboty, Lankster, Florence, Corner, Cary Harris, Sargeant, Whitner, Wilson, Wendling, Todd Johnson and, finally a saving grace, the recently franchised Jairus Byrd. Of that list only the recently overpaid McKelvin and Byrd remain. Nix added the miscast (at best) Aaron Williams, Brooks, Butler, Rogers, Silva, a couple of guys most of us are unaware exist and, lastly, first round selection Gilmore. Nix doesn't get credit for Byrd unless you're feeling generous-he didn't pick him and hasn't re-signed him. Nix now is directly responsible for McKelvin as he made the decision to re-sign him. Nix did have McGee before he was McGimpy but even at his best Gilmore has to get at least a slight edge.
Judgement: You can make the case that the DBs are somewhat better than at the end of the 2009 season. Or you might be so appalled that McKelvin is apparently being given another starting opportunity that you can't see straight and think it's a push.
QB: Not improved
TE: Slightly improved
WR: Not improved
LB: Not improved
DB: Slightly improved
So, a little over 3 years into Nix's tenure, he's clearly improved 3 units (RB, OL, DL), made some improvement in 2 units (TE, DB) and not improve 3 units (QB, WR, LB). Do you think that the roster is all that much better now than when Nix took over? Having walked through this I can see that it is somewhat better. I can't see that it is dramatically better, so much so that quite a few people take up the mantra that Nix has really made the team better.
Nix took over a team with little talent; I think almost everyone would agree with that assessment. With such a low bar, shouldn't the talent level be higher pretty much across the board if he's going to be given credit for making a vast improvement? I'll conclude with a poll question.