Buffalo Bills special teams 2013: rep counts, value discussion

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills want to improve their special teams personnel this offseason. Let's take stock, then, of where they stand following the 2013 season.

We have finally crunched the numbers on Buffalo Bills special teams reps from the 2013 season - we'll be updating our rep counts page when we find more time - but for now, it's worthwhile to spend some time with these numbers and flesh out where the Bills stand on teams heading into the 2014 offseason.

Bills head coach Doug Marrone told reporters after the season concluded that the team needs more core special teams players for embattled coordinator Danny Crossman, and it's not difficult to see that this will be a point of emphasis for the Bills over the next few months.

"Core" specialists

After the first five names on the Bills' rep count list in this phase, there was a steep drop-off in terms of total reps from the next group on the list. We'll therefore cut off the requirement for "core" specialists at these five names (and it's worth noting that Jamaal Westerman, the linebacker released with four weeks remaining in the season, also played 45 percent of the team's snaps, even with those four missed games).

WR Marcus Easley: The one player that Marrone repeatedly emphasized as a special teams strength all season, Easley led the Bills with 348 special teams snaps in 2013, coming in at 68.6 percent participation.

ILB Nigel Bradham: Not only did Bradham see increased reps on defense late in the year, acquitting himself fairly well, but he was also one of the team's most-used specialists (301 snaps, 59.4 percent of total).

S Duke Williams: The rookie fourth-round pick didn't emerge as a factor on defense like some expected, but he still played 16 healthy games as a key member of the special teams (289 snaps, 57 percent of total).

S Jim Leonhard: Used a ton on defense thanks to injuries and the Jairus Byrd situation, Leonhard was the most-used "starter" (for lack of a better term) on teams. He finished the year with 245 snaps, or 48.3 percent of the team's total.

WR Chris Hogan: He had several standout moments on kick coverage, and given that he was healthy all season, it shouldn't be terribly surprising that Hogan makes the cut for this list, as well (240 snaps, 47.3 percent of total).

Specialists with upside

Sometimes, key specialists get hurt and miss large chunks of the season, leading to dips in their total snap counts. The Bills also did a lot of tinkering with the back end of their roster this past year, leading to some late arrivals that made a positive impression on teams.

CB Ron Brooks: He lost his nickel corner job thanks to an early injury, but had he not missed five games, he would have been up in the "core" group, as he played on 34.5 percent of total special teams snaps with that five-game gap factored in.

FB Evan Rodriguez: Appearing in the team's final seven games of the season, Rodriguez played 130 special teams snaps in that time frame. His average of 18.6 teams snaps per game rivals that of Easley's (21.8) over a full season.

S Jonathan Meeks: The rookie safety was playing even more than Williams early in the season, but ended up missing most of his rookie season on IR/Designated to Return. He averaged 16 teams snaps per game in his eight healthy contests.

ILB Ty Powell: Mentioned by name by Marrone at the aforementioned year-end presser, Powell averaged 20.4 special teams snaps per game in his five appearances with the Bills this season.

"Starters" on special teams

It's always interesting to note the number of players that contribute both on offense or defense and on teams. These players are hugely valuable to teams, and the Bills have a healthy number of them. (We randomly picked contributing thresholds of 30 percent of snaps on offense or defense and 20 percent of snaps on teams to generate this list.)

S Jim Leonhard: We mentioned Leonhard above, who played a much larger dual role than anyone else on this list (53.5 percent of snaps on defense, 48.3 percent of snaps on special teams).

S Da'Norris Searcy: A key role player in Mike Pettine's defense as an in-the-box safety, Searcy played 63.7 percent of defensive snaps and 34.1 percent of special teams snaps.

TE Lee Smith: When you're a blocking specialist, you'd better be able to play teams too, regardless of how well you block. Smith played 33.1 percent of special teams snaps, and 36.9 percent of snaps on offense.

CB Leodis McKelvin: Boosted by his role as the team's primary punt returner, McKelvin played just over a quarter of the team's special teams snaps, and was their most-used cornerback - largely due to injury - in the 2013 season.

OLB Jerry Hughes: The former first-round pick enjoyed a break-out year as a situational pass rusher with 10 sacks, and also contributed 113 snaps (22.3 percent of total) on special teams.

OLB Manny Lawson: Lawson was one of the team's key run-down defenders in Pettine's first year on the job, and his 111 special teams snaps largely went unnoticed by fans, as well.

DL Alan Branch: Snuck in at 20.7 percent of special teams played snaps, mostly on kick block units, as he carved out a run-down role on defense (and earned a three-year contract extension in doing so).

S Aaron Williams: Had Williams not been forced to flip between safety and corner due to early-season injuries, his special teams participation (20.7 percent of total snaps) may have been higher, even as he spent most of the season above the 90 percent threshold on defense.

Notables with no impact

Sometimes, the value of players that play a lot on offense or defense can be deflated a bit when taking their special teams value into account. The Bills have two players from the 2013 season that fit that description.

WR T.J. Graham: It's worth pointing out that Graham, who will be the easiest of Buffalo's oft-used receivers to replace by far this offseason, played just two special teams snaps in 2013. That just makes him even easier to replace.

CB Nickell Robey: For as much utility as the Bills found in Brooks on special teams, the opposite was true of everyone's favorite rookie nickel cornerback, who only played 40 snaps on special teams in his 16-game rookie season. Robey had a great rookie season, but if he were ever to fall beyond his current role on the depth chart, it's fair to wonder how useful he'd be on game days as a deep reserve.

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