This has been an off-season in Buffalo where the Bills decided to focus its energies on improving the offensive line. The signings of Derrick Dockery, Langston Walker and Jason Whittle went a long way toward achieving that goal. Obviously those signings came at the expense of some of Buffalo's biggest players; namely Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Willis McGahee. Many great NFL teams have been built in a similar fashion (from the lines out), so it's hard to argue with this logic. Yet many experts question these signings, especially when it comes to Langston Walker.
A closer look at Walker's situation, his statistics and how he'll be utilized in Buffalo indicates that any criticism he's received may not have substance to it. Here's a closer look at Langston Walker and his true value to the Buffalo Bills:
An Unfair Situation in Oakland
Most critics of the 6'8", 366-pound Walker point to last year's "offense" in Oakland as the main reason that the Bills should not have spent $25 million to acquire his services. The latest critic of Walker is Connor Byrne, who says that the 10.75 sacks Walker allowed does nothing to help shore up Buffalo's pass protection. Walker was a part of an absolutely atrocious unit in Oakland that surrendered more than 70 sacks last season in what was a historically bad year for Oakland. But that does not come close to telling the whole story.
Walker was part of an offensive unit that was dominant in the early part of this decade, when the Raiders were an AFC power. Walker even has a Super Bowl under his belt, where his Raiders lost to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII. Since those "glory" years, the Raiders' offense has steadily gotten worse. Kerry Collins could not help the situation, nor could the additions of Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan. It got so bad last year that Oakland was by leaps and bounds the worst offense in the league - yet Walker's play hasn't deteriorated much.
Walker is blamed for a lot of the sacking problems in Oakland last year, but a lot of that issue goes both ways. Quarterback Andrew Walter is among the worst in the league both overall and when it comes to avoiding the pass rush and holding onto the ball too long. This is a problem for both parties, as it makes holding off a pass rush virtually impossible. Walker enters an offense in Buffalo where the name of the game is getting the ball out quick. While J.P. Losman is still susceptible to holding onto the ball too long occasionally, he's nowhere near as bad as Walter was about it.
Keep in mind also that Walker was not forced out of Oakland because of his poor play; a clause in his contract was exercised by Walker himself, releasing him from the final year of his Raiders contract. It's likely that had he not chosen to do this, he'd still be the starting right tackle in Oakland. That speaks a little bit to how the Raiders viewed him, despite his "poor" reputation.
A Dominant Run Blocker
As I mentioned in this post a month ago today, statistics provided by Football Outsiders indicate that Walker was one of the best run blockers in the NFL last season, despite Oakland's offensive blunders. The Raiders were the 29th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL last season, gaining just 94.9 yards per game (as compared to Buffalo's 97 yards per game). Yet on runs to the right side (again according to Football Outsiders), the Raiders ranked ninth in the league, far ahead of the Bills' ranking of 27. Oakland's rush problems came on runs up the middle, where they ranked 30th in the league. Their run problems correspond directly to play calling: the Raiders ran up the middle 46% of the time, while running behind Walker to right tackle just 16% of the time. Walker isn't to blame for Oakland's anemic rush offense; he was, in fact, the lone bright spot.
Loads of Potential
By no means is Langston Walker an elite offensive lineman. He has a lot of question marks, specifically in pass protection, where he has taken on a bad reputation but is still largely unproven. He also is sort of the "odd man out" on Buffalo's line, where he is by far the biggest player and seems a questionable-at-best fit for Jim McNally's zone blocking scheme that requires athleticism more than size.
But to claim that Walker was an overrated, overpaid addition based simply on his years in Oakland is a terrible and unfair misconception. Langston Walker was, in fact, one of the bright spots on an otherwise dull offense last season. He enjoyed a successful career with the Raiders and was part of a Super Bowl squad. He has what it takes to be an above-average starter in this league. A coaching staff change, a change of scenery and a much better supporting cast will help Walker go a long way toward proving his doubters wrong.