We've reached one of the slow points of the NFL off-season - that time between the end of the big free agency push and the last few days prior to the NFL Draft, when news trickles in, conversation stagnates a bit and time seems to crawl - so I'm taking fan questions for story ideas any time I get them. (Tweet us or email me if you have something you'd like to see covered.)
Our first question comes from reader Tom P, who sent this to me via email: "Brian - just for fun, who do you think are the three most overrated and three most underrated players on the Bills?"
It's a good question, and one that I took a few days to ponder. Here's where I landed; feel free to use the opinions as conversation-starters in the comments section.
Overrated: Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle. Dareus is already one of the better pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL, even if he's not yet reached his full potential in that area. It's against the run where Dareus needs to improve; the folks at Pro Football Focus ranked Dareus No. 78 among 4-3 defensive tackles against the run in 2012. Too often he is handled by inferior talents and is made a non-factor against the run. The quickest way for the Bills to change their fortunes against the run is for Dareus to do a 180 in this department.
Underrated: Kyle Williams, defensive tackle. There has been rhetoric lately that Williams might not fit Mike Pettine's choice defense - perpetuated largely by this link, and not incorrectly through the lens of a traditional 3-4 defense. It's caused fans to once again overlook that Williams is one of the NFL's best defensive linemen, and is by far and wide the Bills' best front seven defender. (Seriously, it's not even close.) Read this for a much clearer understanding of 3-4 concepts, follow it up with this article on the template for successful defense in a passing league, and then understand this: Williams isn't going anywhere (Pettine will adjust his defense accordingly), and he'll continue to perform at a high level flipping between one- and three-technique for the foreseeable future.
Overrated: Stephon Gilmore, cornerback. Purely from a coverage standpoint, Gilmore handled a ton of responsibility about as well as any rookie could be expected to. He won't reach his full potential, however, if he can't clean up his sloppy play - which led to a ton of penalties - and perhaps even more importantly, he needs to improve against the run and as a fundamental tackler. There's no question that Gilmore is Buffalo's top cornerback, but he's nowhere near franchise-caliber at this juncture.
Underrated: Chris Hairston, right tackle. When people discuss Hairston, the conversation generally focuses on his limited athletic upside (and therefore his limited pass-protection upside) and his worrisome track record in the durability department. Those are concerns, to be sure (and his health is especially worrisome), but Hairston is also a very smart player and a high-quality run blocker. I'm very curious to see how he transitions into a more traditional offense, where his athletic limitations may not be so blatantly obvious. This guy should open camp as the starting right tackle this summer.
Overrated: Eric Wood, center. Much like Hairston, I'm curious to see how Wood transitions into a more traditional offense, because as fans have rationalized letting Andy Levitre walk under the guise of saving money to retain Wood next off-season, I haven't bought that talk. Wood has well-documented health concerns, and though I thought he'd turned a corner in 2011 as a full-time center, I also thought he regressed last season, particularly as a run blocker. I like the way Wood carries himself and he's good in pass protection, but I'm not certain he's worthy of the contract many think he is.
Underrated: Bryan Scott, nickel linebacker. We all know Scott's limitations, which prohibit him from being anything other than a specialist. Here's the thing, though - Scott is really good at that specialty. PFF ranked Scott fourth in the NFL among 4-3 outside linebackers in pass coverage last season. The Bills have been re-signing Scott to cheap one-year deals over the past few seasons to play that one specific role, and Scott has done nothing but produce within it. People really underrate his value to a team as a role player.
Who do you consider overrated and/or underrated, Bills fans?