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State of the Bills Roster: Defensive End

Now that the 2009 NFL Draft is in the books and off-season player acquisition will crawl at a snail's pace, Buffalo Rumblings has begun re-examining the Buffalo Bills' revamped roster.  We continue off our 'State of the Roster' series this morning with a look at the defensive end position.  Previous installments: QB.

Bills fans are smart.  Way back on January 22, well over a month prior to the start of the NFL's 2009 free agent signing period, the Buffalo Rumblings community identified a pass-rushing defensive end as Buffalo's most dire positional need.  You are more than welcome to dock kudos based on the level to which you believe that decision was painfully easy to make.

Give credit to the Bills where credit is due - the team addressed their most critical need when they drafted speedy Penn State DE Aaron Maybin (pictured top right) in the first round of last weekend's NFL Draft.  Again, feel free to dock kudos based on the mediocre sack production the team has had for the past two seasons.

Maybin diversifies Buffalo's talent at this position - and more importantly, it gives the Bills excellent depth.  If Maybin can contribute a playmaking presence while keeping Buffalo's veteran rushers fresher than they've been in recent memory, the top pick will be considered a win regardless of gaudy production.  Here's a closer look at Buffalo's defensive end position.

STARTER: Aaron Schobel
Don't call this guy injury-prone.  Prior to last season, when Schobel missed essentially twelve games with a foot injury, the wily veteran hadn't missed a single game through his first seven NFL seasons.  The fact of the matter, however, is that Schobel may have lost a step - even before the aforementioned foot injury.  In his last 21 games, Schobel has just 7.5 sacks.  Granted, he's been working with little to no help; that's why Maybin was brought in.  If he's fully recovered from the foot ding, he'll return to his old, consistent self.  A bigger if - if Maybin has the impact the team needs him to have, Schobel could approach Pro Bowl status once again.

Aaron Maybin
Initially, I liked Buffalo's selection of Maybin because of the type of player he is - i.e. completely different than any other defensive end on the roster.  He's fast, he's explosive, he's got elite potential.  Then I heard the young man speak, and read his story, and it dawned on me that they'd taken a humble, driven person in the first round of the draft as well.  There's a solid amount of pressure on this kid's shoulders, fair on unfair; he's certainly got a lot of work to do.  I think he's got the mental make-up to handle it.

STARTER: Chris Kelsay
This guy is much-maligned in these parts.  That's fine - every blogger every fan Kurupt is entitled to his opinions.  I submit, however, that Kelsay is going to be a vital part of Buffalo's defense next season.  Why?  Because he won't be asked to be something he's not - a prominent defensive end.  Sure, he's paid like one, but that's irrelevant at this point - as long as he's helping the defense out, who cares?  He'll teach Maybin how to prepare like a pro; he'll cede a strong percentage of his reps to the rook; he'll be a starter only in name.  Kelsay is now a role player, folks - and he's perfectly cut out for that niche.

Ryan Denney
Very similar to Kelsay in that he'll now be a situational role player - probably on run downs - that offers versatility in that he can play inside or at either end.  It never hurts to have a veteran reserve at end, and Denney is one of Buffalo's better defensive linemen against the run.  He'll help next season as well.

Chris Ellis
The 2008 third-round draft pick wasn't close to being a factor last season even though he had ample opportunity to play due to injuries; he ended the season on IR.  He spent the year in Buffalo's weight program bulking up, and ideally, he'll play bookend to Maybin on the left side at some glorious point in the future.  But this kid's got a lot to prove, particularly in training camp this July.

Copeland Bryan
Honestly, I thought Bryan was an underrated force last season as a pass rusher.  He'll never be anything more than a role player in this league, but I like his energy and his speed.  He still has room to get better, and he has a knack for making things happen.  He's got a large task ahead of him just to make the the roster, however.

Contract situations: Schobel, Maybin and Ellis are tied up for the foreseeable future.  Bryan is on a one-year RFA tender.  Denney is entering the final year of a four-year contract he signed prior to the 2006 season.  Depending on how quickly Maybin develops, Kelsay might not make it through the end of his current (semi-expensive) deal, which runs through the close of the 2010 season.

Bottom Line
There is talent to work with here.  The team has two pass-rushing threats in Schobel and Maybin.  They've got heady veteran depth in Denney and Kelsay.  They've even got another developmental prospect (Ellis) and a speedy hustler with some untapped potential (Bryan).  Things are looking up for a position that hasn't changed much, but is different enough to work.  But we're talking 'on paper' again.  The only thing that matters is results.

At this point in time, Buffalo has done its job - all they can do this time of the year is improve their team 'on paper'.  They've done that at DE.  Unfortunately, the key to improvement at this position is the young, raw Maybin; without even an average rookie season from him, things will be par for the course (read: unimpressive) from this unit.  It's a scary proposition - but the gamble is the best the Bills could do considering what was available to them this off-season.