As we discussed right after the 2013 NFL Draft concluded, the Buffalo Bills are in a situation where many young players at key positions will be under pressure to perform at a high level if the team is going to contend this fall. I thought that debating which of the many players on that list is under the most pressure this season would be a good way to shake off the cobwebs of a long weekend.
The easy answer here, of course, is rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. It's not even really debatable that he's under the most pressure to perform over the long haul, but the question contains the words "this fall" - and as Manuel may not even be the starting quarterback (right away), it brings other candidates into the conversation. Use the comments section below to pick the player that you think could make or break the Bills' playoff chances in 2013.
I'll start the conversation off by saying that I don't think it's Manuel; I believe Marcell Dareus is under the most pressure to perform at a high level this season. He's entering his third year at the NFL level, which is a time when many picks are expected to blossom into stars. He's also the only player within the top seven picks of the 2011 NFL Draft that has yet to make a Pro Bowl appearance; Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones and Aldon Smith are all considered elite young players in the league, while Dareus still toils in anonymity.
Most importantly, Dareus looks like the player that will be counted on to anchor a run defense that hasn't finished in the Top 20 in league rankings for eight consecutive seasons. The last time that happened was in 2004, when the team made a playoff push under Mike Mularkey and held opponents to 100.2 rushing yards per game, the seventh-best average in the league. Since then, they haven't ranked higher than No. 22 or allowed fewer than 121.6 rushing yards per game in a given season; in the two years Dareus has been on the team, the Bills have allowed an abysmal 142.4 rushing yards per contest. They'll struggle to contend if they can't make huge gains in defending the run, and that process starts with Dareus elevating his level of play.
But that's just my opinion. What's yours?