Earlier this month, we took a look back at the woeful sack production that the Buffalo Bills have put forth over the past two seasons. When that piece aired, many of you astutely pointed out that the Bills' defensive issues extend beyond the ability to tackle opposing quarterbacks; the issues, instead, lie in the team's general inability to apply any sort of consistent pressure to make things happen defensively. The best defenses in the NFL make things happen via pressure, and Buffalo's defense has been woefully inadequate in that department for the past 32 games.
Penn State DE Aaron Maybin was drafted by the Bills for a reason. He's here to fix that problem.
For a rookie carrying as much burden as Maybin is (seriously, how many rookie defensive ends are counted on to revive an entire pass rush for a team with playoff aspirations?), he's in as solid a situation as possible given the team he was drafted to. He won't have to start. The Bills have three solid veterans to surround Maybin with. But that's where the comfort level for Maybin ends. Without an above-average rookie contribution from Maybin, not a whole lot will change for the better on the defensive side of the ball in Buffalo, and the team could very well be staring a full decade of playoff-less football in the face.
Just as a rookie defensive end playing in a 4-3 scheme, Maybin is already facing an uphill battle toward instant impact. Eight players were drafted into similar situations from 2006 through 2008, and their rookie sack totals were less than stellar on most counts. Combined, a group consisting of Mathias Kiwanuka, Jarvis Moss, Tamba Hali, Jamaal Anderson, Gaines Adams, Chris Long, Derrick Harvey and Lawrence Jackson have averaged just 3.5 sacks in year one.
One further point to make about rookie defensive ends - only Adams (6) and Hali (8) had more than four sacks in their first NFL season. Moss represents the low end of the spectrum, with just one rookie-season sack.
Clearly, Maybin's value won't be limited to one statistic next season. Perhaps his least-talked about virtue is what his presence means for the ends already on the roster, particularly Aaron Schobel - he's no longer going it alone. That helps the Bills' pass rush situation just as much as Maybin's potential stat line itself. But that value isn't tangible enough to judge whether or not Maybin will have had a successful rookie season.
It's tough to include a rookie on this list simply because we have very little idea just how good or bad he'll be in 2009. That's doubly true in Maybin's case, as he has just one year of (tremendous) college production under his belt. But it's no secret that the Bills need a productive year from Maybin, particularly in the intangible parts of the game, to make good on their playoff aspirations. He's on this list for that reason. Maybin's got a lot of talent, but if he can give the front four a playmaker and make the rest of his linemates better, that's enough to be getting on with.