In preparation for the draft tonight I am rehashing some of the Bills needs, team goals and draft goals. The Draft Countdown Series has so far covered the following articles:
Talented rookies can only do so much; even the best take time to develop their potential. We have certainly witnessed that with the likes of our rookies and some develop faster than others… What makes teams successful is being able to mix rookie talents with their veterans. We’ve seen the Bills make some big additions (and losses) over the past few seasons especially this off-season. Between the players that they’ve drafted in the last few years and some big signings, we have a decent pool of talent.
Honorable mentions for my list include LB Brandon Spikes, and WR Mike Williams. Both are expected to be playmakers, but while they each have their flaws or have yet to reach their peak, there are five more that will either will be playing more, or have more to prove. Here are my top 5 veterans that will determine the 2014 season.
THE FIVE VETS TO DECIDE
5. CB Stephon Gilmore: Buffalo’s top corner is still scratching his potential. An injury knocked him out of first half the season (including playing with his clubbed hand), but by the end of the year was regaining his form. Gilmore has decent speed and man coverage ability, but needs to be a little more consistent as the Bills top corner after a relapse coming off a wrist injury. The Bills go up against Brady, Rodgers, and Megatron (oh my!) and will need Gilmore to keep top receivers a non-factor in this pass-happy league.
4. DE Mario Williams: Mario started off last season with double digit sacks in the first half of the season, but mellowed out in the second half. Part of that was the emergence of Jerry Hughes, part of teams doubling blockers on him, but also part of that is on Mario. Don’t get me wrong, Mario is a great addition worth his contract and playing alongside Dareus and Kyle forms a deadly trio (possibly a quartet?). My concern lies in maintaining our sack success with fewer blitzes; that onus lies largely with our defensive line and our premiere pass rusher.
3. RB C.J. Spiller: Bills fans have been on a roller coaster with Spiller. The highly touted first rounder may be in his last season with the Bills and we have seen the good and bad with his production. What the Bills really need from Spiller is good consistency. Two seasons ago, he finally learned to take advantage of holes and streak through, but struggled to duplicate that success last season. A better invested O-Line should help, but Spiller has to lessen the negative plays and become a bigger factor, both in the run and pass game.
2. DT Marcell Dareus: Dareus started showing his full potential in the 2013 wherein he earned his first Pro-Bowl nod. However at the same time he got disciplined by the team twice for not showing up to meetings on time. Furthermore and more of concern is the fact that he just got arrested for carrying drugs, something Roger Goodell will possibly crackdown on. Dareus started slowly and it's important that he continues to grow and act maturely heading into the 2014 season.
1. QB E.J. Manuel: It goes without saying the success of the franchise depends on the success of its quarterback. The NFL was spoiled by the success of Luck, RG III and Wilson in 2012… rarely do rookie QBs pan out that early in their career. Even then, they still have their ups and downs. The Bills knew taking Manuel that they were taking a project QB, hence why they traded down 8 spots in the first round instead of taking E.J. eighth overall.
These 5 players are those whom I feel will need to step it up this season to help out the team the most. They have potential (showing it at times), but we need them to have great seasons in order to have a winning record. At the same time, there are four spots on our depth chart wherein it is uncertain who will be starting… these areas will also factor significantly in our team’s success.