Buffalo Bills mailbag: how much was Andy Levitre missed?

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills fans have a lot on their mind this week, starting with a way to quantify just how much the team missed former starting left guard Andy Levitre in 2013.

It's Tuesday, which means that it's time for another edition of our weekly Buffalo Bills mailbag. We're always looking for new great questions to answer, so if you have something on your mind that's been bugging you and you'd like to talk about it a bit more, shoot us an email. We're very appreciative of everyone that's submitted questions so far.

Here's what y'all were wondering about this past week.

Should the Bills treat 2014 as a learning year for EJ Manuel, or try to win a Super Bowl?

Every year should be a learning year for a quarterback. Doug Marrone, Nathaniel Hackett and the coaching staff do not have the luxury of laying off the gas pedal in any way, knowing that they're only reasonably assured of three years to develop a winning product. Speaking philosophically, the obvious answer is that the Bills should try to win every game possible - that's what they were brought here and paid to do, right? - and they're not likely going to do that if they continue to tinker with Manuel's proverbial training wheels.

Thanks to podunkowego for submitting this question.

What do you think the odds are that the Bills draft LB, OL, OL, TE, WR in that order?

Something very close to zero. We're still over 16 weeks away from the start of the 2014 NFL Draft; you might have better luck trying to predict what the weather will look like in Western New York that weekend. Remember: keep an open mind this draft season. It's far more practical to consider most of the Bills' positional needs equally this time of year.

One thing I don't think the Bills will do is draft two offensive linemen within the first three rounds. They've done it before, but based on how their current group was assembled, the MO of the front office and the offensive line focus for Marrone, the Bills may very well believe that they don't need to spend premium picks on that spot - particularly at guard. It would be less surprising if they took a tackle that early.

Thanks to SClemy for submitting this question.

How much did the Bills actually miss Andy Levitre?

In the vacuum of that left guard position, it's very clear that the Bills got worse when Levitre left town. Colin Brown was an unmitigated disaster early in the season, and Doug Legursky was not able to provide much in the way of stability when he took over (though he certainly did improve the spot from where Brown left it).

Looking at the offense as a whole, however, it's tough to say that the Bills weren't justified in not paying top dollar for their left guard. There are fancier metrics to use than the league's antiquated method for ranking offenses - you can be reasonably sure that some of our readers will supply them in the comments section below - but the numbers below still tell a story about the direction of the offense.

Year Total YPG Rushing YPG Passing YPG
2012 342.9 138.6 204.3
2013 338.1 144.2 193.9

In short: plenty changed (the quarterback, the left guard, the system), but the end result was roughly the same offense. The Bills need to get better at left guard, but they don't need to make a Levitre-sized investment to do it.

Thanks to reader Luis for submitting this question.

What is your take on Khalil Mack as an NFL athlete, and how much of a chance do you think there is that the Bills draft him?

There are much more qualified people out there to discuss Mack's merits as a pro athlete; suffice it to say, he is ranked highly by pretty much anyone that obsesses over the draft on a year-round basis, and hopefully for good reason. I, personally, have only seen him play once, and it was hard not to be impressed by what he did against Ohio State this past season.

Without having studied his game at all, it's tough to try to project him into Mike Pettine's defense. From what little I have seen and gleaned, he sounds like a 3-4 outside linebacker that, in Pettine's hybrid scheme, would be a best fit as a strong-side linebacker. That's where the Bills have Manny Lawson under contract for three more years, and where Jerry Hughes is used frequently as a situational pass rusher. Mack may not be the snuggest fit - don't take that as a final judgment, because again, there's plenty of time to study him - but right now, it's looking like he'd be solid (if not great) value in the Top 10.

What the Bills really need is a second linebacker that can cover. Mack was a fantastic college player and can rush off the edge; his coverage ability should be the deciding factor between his being great value, and his being a great fit. Buffalo has three quality edge rushers. They need a guy that can line up next to Kiko Alonso and make some plays in coverage.

Thanks to Bills Backer Bob for submitting this question.

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