Ten Buffalo Bills to decide 2013, No. 7: Kyle Williams

Matt Sullivan

Can the well-regarded two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle continue his stellar play into his thirties, and within a new defense?

"It wasn't as extensive as the last one. But there was a bone spur that's been there and it got to the point where it needed to be taken care of and we took care of it... We should be good for training camp." - Kyle Williams, to beat reporters in May.

ProFootballFocus.com loves Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams. The analytical site grades the two-time Pro Bowl lineman as the fifth-best defensive tackle in the NFL over past five seasons, pointing to a dominant 2010 campaign as his crowning achievement to date.

Over the past two seasons, however, things have quieted down for Williams - and yes, that's perhaps a relative term here, considering Williams played in last year's Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. He missed most of the 2011 season with a bone spur that frayed an Achilles, requiring surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process. Then he played most of the 2012 season with the same condition in the other foot, which again required off-season surgery. Despite being hobbled, he earned that reserve trip to Honolulu and recorded five sacks in another strong campaign.

Williams, however, is the type of player that seems to have to answer questions after every new off-season, despite his consistently high level of performance. We've lost count of the number of times well-meaning Bills fans have asked if the team should trade Williams because he doesn't fit into the defensive scheme du jour. Note: we're pretty sure that Williams will be just fine playing in Mike Pettine's hybrid defense, because that defense is specifically designed to revolve around the strengths of good football players. Pettine will make great use of Williams.

Still, there is a fairly legitimate question for Williams to answer this season, and it deals entirely with his career trajectory: can Williams, who recently turned 30, continue to play at a high level coming off of back-to-back seasons with significant Achilles-related surgeries?

Williams will soon be three years into a massive six-year contract extension he signed in August of 2011. In an ideal world, his chief running mate, third-year pro Marcell Dareus, will surpass Williams as the team's best interior defensive lineman; that is, after all, what a No. 3 overall pick is expected to do. Should that happen - and it's not out of the realm of possibility, despite recent rhetoric surrounding Dareus - the Bills will need to exercise a fifth-year option on Dareus' rookie contract next off-season, when Williams will be 31 and due to make almost $5 million. It'd be great if the Bills ended up with two elite defensive linemen next off-season, but Dareus' contract situation could play into Williams' future with the team, particularly if age and surgeries start to take their toll.

But those what-ifs are quite a ways into the future, and may not even come to fruition. Today, Williams is still the anchor of the Bills' defense - not to mention arguably its best player - and if the team is going to turn around its fortunes on that side of the ball, it's a safe bet that No. 95 will be making more than his fair share of plays during the resurgence. Look for him to register more snaps than any other defensive lineman on the team yet again (aside from a more positionally-diverse player like Mario Williams), flipping between one-technique, three-technique and the occasional nose guard snap, as always. Despite the new defense, 2013 should be business as usual for Williams - if his ankles hold up.

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