What makes a successful NFL team? If that question were easy to answer, there wouldn't be any suspense to a given NFL season. There isn't one correct answer, either. "Defense wins championships". "Run and stop the run". These are all mantras that gained repute for a reason - they've worked. You might hear good coaching, a franchise quarterback or others topping the list.
My theory is slightly different. Good teams don't necessarily have good head coaches - the Jets are a good example, where they made the playoffs more than once with Herm Edwards "leading" the way. (For the record, I like Herm, but I think he's a tad overrated.) Last I checked, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl in Baltimore, so scratch the QB debate. And you cannot possibly make the argument that the Colts' defense won them the championship last season. None of those theories occur consistently enough to be 100% true. But I believe this one is - you know what all great NFL teams have? Outstanding role players. Kick returners (Jermaine Lewis), reserve defensive backs (Larry Brown, Kelvin Hayden) and out-of-nowhere performances (Dexter Jackson) win championships. Role players define the best teams in the league.
That's good news for the Bills, who have five such role players who could be huge-impact players this year. The group is largely unproven, but the talent amongst these individuals is well above average, and they will be given every opportunity to make an impact. Even if they're not starting.
WR Roscoe Parrish may be the most explosive name in the group. Parrish has two roles - slot receiver and punt returner. He's already established himself as one of the most dangerous returners in the game, and should only get better with another year under his belt. But this year (his third in the league) may be the year he makes a big impact at receiver. Look for J.P. Losman to utilize Parrish on underneath throws and bubble screens, where Parrish's short-yardage acceleration will make him very irritating to cover for opposing defenses.
DT John McCargo is, at this point, the most counted-on role player currently on the Bills' roster. With a depleted defensive end corps and continued problems stopping the run, McCargo may be a leading candidate to see plenty of time at both defensive tackle and defensive end early on this season. Big John had an impressive pre-season (when he was healthy) and as the most talented defensive lineman on the roster, it is imperative for him to step up and become a force in his second NFL season. This defense needs McCargo healthy and effective if they hope to stop anyone this season.
DE Anthony Hargrove currently resides in the doghouse after receiving a four-game suspension by the NFL. Once he returns, though, Hargrove has a major opportunity to redeem himself. With Ryan Denney on the shelf with a broken foot, Hargrove becomes the team's third defensive end and has a chance to make an impact as a pass rusher. This defense needs to be able to get after the quarterback consistently, and outside of Aaron Schobel, Hargrove is our best bet. If Hargrove can accrue 5-7 sacks in the 12 games he's eligible to play, he'll have done exactly what he needs to do for this defense.
LB Coy Wire has a unique role on this squad - he's the top reserve linebacker and the best special teams player we've got. Wire will be starting the season at weakside linebacker as Keith Ellison recovers from a high ankle sprain. If Coy can prove to be as aggressive against the run as he was in the pre-season, he may not give up that starting role. Many Bills fans don't realize Wire's importance to this club - if he goes down, we're out a versatile reserve linebacker and a special teams enforcer. Wire is a hugely important part of this team.
CB Ashton Youboty hasn't even cracked the nickel package yet, but that doesn't mean he won't get the opportunity. Youboty had a strong pre-season and it's pretty clear that the coaching staff would like to get him a more prominent role in the defense as soon as possible. Once he does, look out - he may end up being the physical presence at corner that the club desperately needs. He could be a very valuable addition to our starting unit by season's end.
Rest assured that if these five guys don't develop into playmakers for this club, we'll have trouble finding guys who will. Parrish has a chance to establish himself as one of the most dangerous weapons in the game. Hargrove has a chance to redeem himself and earn a new contract as a reserve DE here; McCargo can prove his doubters wrong and show he was worth a first-round selection. Wire can shed his "specialist" label and become a force in this defense; Youboty can claim the post that's rightfully his - heir to Nate Clements. These five players are not starters, but their above-average talent will really help this team out no matter the role they're given.
These are the types of players that win championships. Buffalo's not close to that level yet. But if these five players perform the way they can, the Bills will be far more competitive than many people currently believe they'll be. Bank on that.