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Mystery Man: DT McCargo outshone, outplayed in Bills exhibition season

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McCargo currently the #4 DT in rotation (Photo Source)

Back in early March, mere hours after the Bills had made a splash by securing a trade for former Jaguars Pro Bowl DT Marcus Stroud, the Buffalo Bills appeared to have it made at the defensive tackle position.  Experts drooled at the potential that Stroud - along with free agent addition Spencer Johnson, imported on the same day - brought to a position that was a prominent weak point defensively in 2007.  Stroud would surely speed the development of the young man he'd be starting next to - 2006 first-round pick John McCargo, and the pair would surely work themselves into one of the better interior duos in the league.

Flash forward to less than two weeks prior to the start of the 2008 NFL regular season, and McCargo has quickly become a non-factor in Buffalo's defensive tackle rotation.  Sure, he's played a lot of snaps, and it's hard to say his play has been bad - we just can't be sure it's been good, either.  The young, developing talent that flashed big potential during the 2007 season has quickly fallen to fourth on the depth chart at his position.

The Oddity Of It All
What's strange about McCargo's absence from the defense - and yes, we're calling it an absence, because one solo tackle and two assists in three pre-season games is hardly an impact - is that the Bills' run defense has been superb to date.  In fact, Buffalo's first team defense, on the whole, has looked very good (dare we say "playoff caliber"?) in the short amount of time they've been on the field together.  Buffalo is producing defensively without much help from McCargo, who was expected to be a key cog in his third season.

Kyle Williams - drafted four rounds after McCargo in 2006 - and Johnson are competing for the starting spot that many assumed would be McCargo's.  Meanwhile, 97 barely shows up on game film.  If you explicitly pay attention to the tackle, you see the athleticism that made him a first round pick.  Yet despite playing well into the second half in each pre-season game this season, his presence has been negligible.  He's the Invisible Man amongst Buffalo's suddenly very good defensive tackle corps.

Too early for the "B" word?
Many might read this and hastily jump to the conclusion that McCargo was a wasted first round pick in 2006.  Some might even speak/type the feared "b-word" that has come to be associated with high draft picks who haven't turned themselves into serviceable NFL players.  I'm of the belief that such talk is premature.  McCargo's inconspicuous absence is slightly disconcerting, of course, but it's not a huge problem for the team until something happens with Stroud, Williams or Johnson.

My theory: McCargo has simply not found his role yet.  We know what we're getting out of the team's top three tackles: Stroud is the run stuffer; Williams is the hustler; Johnson is the versatile swing tackle.  Where does McCargo fit in?  Pass rush specialist?  Stroud's shoe-cleaner?  He has no distinctive niche yet.  When he finds that niche - and this goes with any NFL player - his play will elevate.  Until that time arrives, however, McCargo will remain Buffalo's very own Mystery Man.  (Or, more specifically, he would had Jason Peters not voluntarily joined the Witness Protection Program.)