Buffalo Bills pass rushers overview: 'tweeners galore

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Mario Williams sticks out like a sore thumb among the Buffalo Bills' current group of pass rushers, for more than one reason. Here's our overview of the position.

Within just the last two calendar years, the Buffalo Bills have dramatically changed their group of pass rushers. The team spent major free agent dollars on the position in March of 2012, then Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman both retired following the 2012 season. One of those free agents signed, Mark Anderson, was unceremoniously released last summer after the team acquired two more pass rushers and switched to a new defensive scheme.

Now, the Bills are changing defensive schemes again - Jim Schwartz is the new defensive coordinator this year - and it has put Buffalo's group of edge rushers into a state of flux again. What kind of system will Schwartz employ to best utilize this group's skill talents? And, more importantly, will the Bills see fit to change the look and feel of the group one more time to adapt to the new scheme?

Mario Williams

  • Age: 29
  • Contract: Signed through the 2017 season. Scheduled to make $1.9 million in base salary in 2014. Due a $10.6 million roster bonus at the start of the new league year (4PM ET, March 11).
Reps % Solo Ast Tot Sk FF FR PD
999 87.2 28 10 38 13.0 1 0 4

Still the highest-paid defender in NFL history, Williams is coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he amassed 13 sacks - 11 of which came in the team's first eight games. Williams still disappears for stretches, but had more dominant performances in his second season with the Bills. Buffalo may think twice about paying him his $10.6 million roster bonus a month from today, but they likely won't think on it for long.

Manny Lawson

  • Age: 29 (30 on 7/13)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2016 season. Scheduled to make $1.8 million in base salary in 2014. Due a $500,000 roster bonus at the start of the new league year (4PM ET, March 11).
Reps % Solo Ast Tot Sk FF FR PD
706 61.7 52 21 73 4.0 1 1 1

Signed to play strong-side linebacker in departed defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's defense, Lawson spent most of his season in that role, and lined up as a true linebacker in certain passing situations. (He also played quite well in stretches.) That type of hybrid defense is perfectly suited to Lawson's skill set, as he trends much more toward linebacker than defensive end. How he fits into the Schwartz defense - whatever that may be - remains to be seen, but strong-side linebacker remains the starting point of the conversation.

Jerry Hughes

  • Age: 25 (26 on 8/13)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $3.995 million in base salary in the final year of his rookie deal.
Reps % Solo Ast Tot Sk FF FR PD
604 52.8 32 14 46 10.0 2 0 3

Coming out of Indianapolis, where he played in a Tampa 2 style 4-3 defense for the first two years of his career, Hughes thrived in the switch to a more outside linebacker-flavored playing style. He earned a massive bump in his base salary with a 10-sack season, and was often the Bills' best pass rusher on the field in 2013. Again, how he projects into a new defense is something of a mystery, but he has more utility as a pure pass rusher than does Lawson.

Jacquies Smith

  • Age: 23 (24 on 3/18)
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future deal in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

Smith, a former defensive end at Missouri, spent the 2013 season on the Bills' practice squad, and was retained via a reserve/future deal. He's another edge 'tweener that probably trends more toward linebacker at the pro level.

Kourtnei Brown

  • Age: 25 (26 on 4/17)
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future deal in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

A summer injury prevented Brown from making the Bills' roster after a strong training camp showing, but the team brought him back in January for another look this summer. The former Clemson defensive end is yet another edge rusher that would fit better in a 3-4.

Willie Jefferson

  • Age: 23
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future deal in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

Nathan Williams

  • Age: 24 (25 on 10/16)
  • Contract: Signed a reserve/future deal in January, keeping him under contract through the 2014 season.

Here, again, we have the Bills bringing in two edge players, between 240-250 pounds, that fit better as stand-up edge rushers than 4-3 ends. Jefferson has spent time with Houston (under former coordinator Wade Phillips), while Williams was with Minnesota for a time.

Three Os

Opinion: Buffalo needs another player that can be a base end in a 4-3. The closest they have to that right now is Alex Carrington, who is not only a free agent, but is better suited to play inside in an even front. Out of the group above, Mario Williams is the only player that can capably play with his hand routinely in the dirt. Schwartz has favored a four-man line for the past decade or so, and while he'll likely adapt that a bit in Buffalo to suit the talent on hand, the team could also find him a player that will allow him more flexibility than this current group does.

Observation: Mario Williams sticks out like a sore thumb in this group. Weighing in at 292 pounds (as listed by the team), Williams is far bigger than the rest of the players on this list, who all fall between 240 pounds (Lawson) and 260 (Smith). It's hard to imagine Schwartz looking at this group of edge players and feeling comfortable about any of them, aside from Mario, playing 4-3 end consistently.

Outlook: Right now, the Bills have three players with tremendous utility among their group of edge rushers (not to mention two guys with double-digit sack totals), though only two of them are pure pass rushers; Lawson's skill set is more about matchup coverage, contain run defense and blitzing. This is a versatile group, and if Schwartz has the defensive chops he's billed to have, he'll run a defense that takes advantage of the various skills this group offers, rather than forcing them to play in scheme-specific roles. If the Bills go out and get a 4-3 end prospect this spring, it may be a signal that Schwartz is planning to do very different things with his edge rushers than his predecessor did.

Three Qs

No. 1: Do you think there's a good argument to be made for the Bills not paying Mario Williams his $10.6 million roster bonus?

No. 2: If the Bills are planning on running more four-man fronts under Schwartz, how urgent do you believe their need is for a more traditional defensive end?

No. 3: Should the Bills begin the process of trying to re-sign Hughes as soon as possible, or wait to see how he adjusts to another new defense?

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Buffalo Rumblings

You must be a member of Buffalo Rumblings to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Buffalo Rumblings. You should read them.

Join Buffalo Rumblings

You must be a member of Buffalo Rumblings to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Buffalo Rumblings. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker