Despite a disappointing 6-10 record, the Buffalo Bills fielded a lot of productive players at very low salaries. These players, most of them playing under their rookie contracts, made a big impact on both sides of the ball.
I hope you'll notice a trend that Buffalo Rumblings contributor Jason Pieri has brought up relentlessly: Buffalo's defense was incredibly young in 2012, and they certainly took their lumps. But eight of the top ten value players on the roster were on that defense, with six of those eight on their rookie deals.
Players on the list are rated based on their contributions on the field in relation to their salary. They are outperforming their contracts, and some will need new ones pronto. For comparison's sake, we will use each player's cap hit for the season using information from Spotrac.com.
HM. Ron Brooks ($490,000): Placed on injured reserve at the beginning of the season, Brooks was designated to return. He became the team's nickel corner and even started two games at the end of the year after injuries to Aaron Williams, Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin. He finished with 12 tackles and four defended passes in nine games, but was picked on by opposing quarterbacks, hopefully earning his stripes for the future.
10. Kyle Moore ($615,000): A 2009 fourth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Moore found a home in Buffalo in 2011 and made such an impact in training camp that the Bills parted ways (briefly) with Shawne Merriman. He had three sacks and 14 tackles while starting seven games in place of injured veterans Mark Anderson and Chris Kelsay, providing an adequate pass rush during his playing time. He did, however, struggle against the run.
9. Da'Norris Searcy ($586,000): Searcy's playing time continually escalated throughout the year until his groin injury in the penultimate game ended his season. His numbers were meager for a strong safety - 22 tackles, two forced fumbles and a defended pass in 15 games - but he played 253 special teams snaps to go with his 272 defensive plays.
8. Kelvin Sheppard ($683,000): Buffalo's starting middle linebacker should have been higher on the list, but he recorded ho-hum numbers across the board (two sacks and 53 tackles while knocking one pass down). He was tied for third on the team in tackles despite seeing significantly fewer snaps than those ahead of him, but that number was 113th in the NFL - and he was pulled off the field on passing downs for a reason. (For the record, Paul Posluszny doubled him up with 106 tackles for fifth, while James Laurinaitis led the league at 117.)
7. Justin Rogers ($481,000): While Sheppard had more starts than Rogers, the cornerback gets the higher spot in our rankings. He played more snaps than Sheppard and knocked down five passes, intercepted one throw and was eighth on the team in tackles. He wasn't necessarily better than Sheppard, but at a $200,000 discount, he was more valuable.
6. Chris Hairston ($568,977): Hairston appeared in 12 games and started eight while starters Erik Pears and Cordy Glenn dealt with injuries. Eventually, Hairston himself succumbed to injury, but his play was steady as a second-year player.
5. Nigel Bradham ($506,000): Bradham stepped into the strong-side linebacker role when Arthur Moats proved he wasn't up to the task. He played 395 snaps mainly as a run down defender - ceding his spot to Bryan Scott frequently in the team's nickel look - and finished the season with 28 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass defended. He also contributed the third-most special teams snaps on the team with 297.
4. Bryan Scott ($540,000): The Bills re-signed Scott last March and had no problem calling him a starter in their nickel package. He played 590 defensive snaps - second most among Bills linebackers by a considerable margin. He beats out Bradham based on better tackle and big play numbers - a forced fumble and two recovered, plus four interceptions with one returned for a touchdown in the season finale.
3. Cordy Glenn ($885,000): Glenn started 13 games for the Bills in 2012, missing three to injury. After being selected by Buffalo in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, he was handed the keys to Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side; espite some rookie mistakes he played played well, recording the second-most snaps of any offensive lineman on the team.
2. Andy Levitre ($965,000): Levitre hasn't missed a start since he was drafted by the Bills four years ago, and hasn't missed a snap in over two years. Playing guard, it's harder for him to be as noticeable as our number one player - but that's a good thing. He made just $615,000 in base salary; compare that to the NFL's highest-paid guard, Davin Joseph, who earned $9.5 million
1. Jairus Byrd ($1.07 million): Byrd repeats as the top value on the Bills in both 2011 and 2012. It will be his last appearance on the list as he enters free agency, and is in line for either a monster deal or a franchise tag salary. Byrd led the team with five interceptions, four forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles this season. He also was third with 53 tackles. Ed Reed led all safeties with a $7.2M base salary, while Byrd made a measly $615,000.