One month from today, folks, the Buffalo Bills will open 2009 training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, NY. One month. Hang in there. Until that glorious day, however, we'll continue to give you plenty to ponder - not just in relation to the fantastic historical content that the staff has been pumping out recently, but in terms of the Bills team we have yet to watch, the 2009 version.
This is the start of a series in which we will examine the ten most important Bills players heading into the season. The idea is a simple one: single out ten players that will have the most impact in deciding whether or not Buffalo can end their nine-year playoff drought this season. We'll end the exposition here and dive right into the list. First up - RB Marshawn Lynch.
What happens post-suspension?
Lynch, as I'm sure y'all are well aware, has been suspended by the NFL for the first three games of the season due to his gun-related off-season arrest. Marshawn appealed the suspension on May 14, but all indications are that league commissioner Roger Goodell is leaning toward upholding Lynch's suspension. Expect Lynch to miss the first three games of the season; it'll be surprising if that number is reduced.
Despite the suspension - and despite Buffalo's excellent depth at running back, which includes fan favorite Fred Jackson and recently signed veteran Dominic Rhodes - Lynch remains one of Buffalo's most vital offensive cogs.
Don't let the presence of Jackson and the signing of Rhodes delude you; Lynch is still the workhorse in Buffalo. He'll only play 13 games next season if he stays healthy, but he'll still approach 300 touches. Why? He alone among Bills backs has the ability to break a game open based on skill alone.
Any player touching the ball roughly 300 times per season is clearly going to be important to your offense. What increases Lynch's value to the team is his nose for the end zone; the third-year running back has scored 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons. For perspective: no other non-quarterback on Buffalo's roster has more than 8 scores in that same time frame (WR Lee Evans). Marshawn is our finisher.
Still, there is untapped potential with Lynch - and it is essential that the Bills find a way to tap into that unexplored talent, as Lynch is by far the most talented back on the roster, and is the lone home run threat among the group. On an offense starved for playmakers, Lynch has stood alone in his first two seasons as the one player that can be relied upon on a week-to-week basis. He's been our workhorse, but Buffalo needs to find a way to turn him into more than that. He can be a game-breaker. With enviable depth at the position, the Bills have a chance to put Lynch in better situations to make big plays - that's something they need to take advantage of.
It's tough not to put a player as consistent, reliable and talented as Lynch higher up on this list. The truth of the matter is that while Lynch is tremendously important to the team's success, he's just a running back. Teams win games with average running back play all the time. Add in the aforementioned depth, and Lynch's value (and perhaps even his overall touches) decreases. Lynch makes this list, however, because Buffalo's offense - like any good offense - needs a finisher. A closer to get the ball in the paint. That's Lynch's job, and if the shiny new offensive addition(s) pays off, Lynch should do a lot more finishing in 2009.