We started counting down my list of the ten most important Buffalo Bills players heading into the 2011 season yesterday. I want to make it very clear from the top that in Stevie Johnson and Kyle Williams, I've put arguably the team's two best players at the bottom of my list.
There's no question that Williams is not only Buffalo's best player, but one of the best in-his-prime defensive tackles currently playing professional football. He's emerged over the last two seasons, racking up 142 tackles and 10 sacks throughout 30 games in that time frame. A year ago, he ranged between good and fantastic, made his first Pro Bowl appearance, and became the unquestioned anchor of the team's defense moving forward.
Why, then, does the team's best and most consistent player rank so low on my list? The answer is not simple to explain, but it's still fairly self-explanatory: I'm not sure how much better Williams is going to get, if at all.
Williams is about to enter his sixth season in the NFL. He's spent all of them as a starter, and is one of Buffalo's most experienced defenders. He turned 28 years old last month, putting him smack dab in the middle of the so-called prime of his career. Revered by many as one of the league's best, the only fair expectation to place on Williams at this point is to ask him to keep doing what he's been doing for as long as he can. Players always look to get better, but if Williams achieves that goal, it's likely to only be negligibly evident to fans. There's nothing wrong with that, either.
Also, if the last two seasons have been any indication, Buffalo's defense is still plenty capable of playing horrific football even as Williams is borderline dominant. If I'm right about Williams reaching his plateau - and again, that's a hell of a plateau to reach if that's what goes down - it'll take improvement from the other 10 guys on the field for the Bills to improve defensively. Williams is currently doing all he can to make the Bills competitively defensively, and often, it worked. That makes him critical to the team's success, but not to the point that I'd rank him much higher on this list.
Already, we have Buffalo's two most statistically accomplished players from a year ago on our list. Moving forward, we're leaving the realm of production for a land largely comprised of what-if scenarios and emphasis on positional importance and on-field impact. Here's your clue for No. 8, which will publish Monday: he's been nearly three times as productive as a certain former Top 10 pick in one key, lump-sum statistic - in less than half of the playing time.
Ten Bills To Decide 2011
9. DT Kyle Williams
10. WR Stevie Johnson