clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bills need more than Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams at defensive tackle

The Buffalo Bills are in good hands with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams spearheading their defensive line, but the team also has a clearly-defined need for better run-stuffing depth heading into 2015.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past five years, Buffalo Bills fans have dedicated a lot of their discussion time in the offseason to the topic of whether or not specific defensive linemen fit the team's plans on defense. That is bound to happen when a team has five different defensive coordinators in five consecutive seasons.

In recent years, however, considerably less time has been spent on that topic, for one very important reason: Buffalo's defensive line is arguably the best in the league now, and they have proven that in two wildly different systems (philosophically speaking) over the past two seasons. Instead of wondering if players fit what coaches are doing now, fans are talking about new coaches ensuring that the team's inherent talent keep producing at a high level. Which is as it should be.

Even though the Bills have an excellent defensive line, however, a scheme change will always necessitate small tweaks and the need for different role players - and that is precisely the case for the Bills' defensive line heading into their first season with Rex Ryan at the helm.

Current personnel

Marcell Dareus

  • Age: 24 (25 on March 13)
  • 2015 cap #: $8.06M
  • 2014 snaps: 678 (62.4 percent of total)

A 10-sack season played a large role in Dareus being named a first team All-Pro in 2014 (he also made his second consecutive Pro Bowl), but make no mistake about it: Dareus is at his best as a run stopper. Consider that among all 4-3 ends, 3-4 ends, and the "DT/NT" categories that Pro Football Focus uses to split up defensive linemen in their rankings, no single player graded higher against the run than Dareus last season. Zero. PFF considered Dareus the best individual run-stopping defensive lineman in the NFL last year. He is already dominant at his position, and the dude isn't even in his prime yet.

Kyle Williams

  • Age: 31 (32 on June 10)
  • 2015 cap #: $4.9M
  • 2014 snaps: 718 (66.1 percent)

While Dareus is the Bills' best run defender, Williams is the far superior pass rusher, despite the fact that Dareus nearly doubled up Williams' sack total last season. While Dareus produced 19 quarterback hurries and three hits (per PFF), Williams contributed 29 hurries and a team-leading 12 hits. Now firmly established as one of the best and most consistently disruptive defensive tackles in football - Pro Bowl bids in four out of the last five seasons spell that out - Williams is the perfect complement to Dareus inside. He might also end up being the cheapest player on the Bills' starting defensive line next season, which is sort of crazy to think about.

Stefan Charles

  • Age: 26 (27 on June 9)
  • 2015 cap #: $585K
  • 2014 snaps: 337 (31.0 percent)

Three sacks in part-time duty for an athletic former undrafted free agent out of Canada seems like a pretty cool story, and on the surface, it is. When you get down to brass tacks, however, Charles leaves a lot to be desired in the role of the third defensive lineman, particularly as a run defender. The Bills had issues defending the run when their top two defensive tackles were off the field last season, and that had a lot to do with the level of play from their backups. Charles is absolutely worth another look next year; it's just highly doubtful that Ryan will consider him a suitable run-down defender as part of his first-unit base defense.

Corbin Bryant

  • Age: 27
  • 2015 cap #: exclusive rights free agent
  • 2014 snaps: 353 (32.5 percent)

Bryant is in a similar situation to Charles - he's below-average as a pass rusher and well below-average as a run defender - with the added problem of being a pending free agent. He improved from 2013 to 2014 with an extended role, but shouldn't be considered anything more than a reserve. The fact that he serves as a lead blocker on the Bills' kick return unit is, at least, something to consider as the team builds its 2015 opening day roster this coming fall.

Jarius Wynn

  • Age: 28 (29 on August 29)
  • 2015 cap #: unrestricted free agent
  • 2014 snaps: 311 (28.6 percent)

A scheme change on defense usually means worse things for a team's role players than it does for its stars, and that is certainly the case for Wynn on the Bills' defensive line. As a 4-3 end, Wynn had stretches of surprisingly effective play for the Bills in 2014, and might have been a no-brainer to re-sign had the coaching situation not gone nuclear, and if Wynn hadn't injured his knee and missed five games. In Ryan's 4-3 Under base, Wynn does not have a role to play - the closest he'd come is as a five-technique end, and he's a bit too small to handle that - and with reduced utility, it does not seem likely that he'll be retained.

Other personnel

The team brought practice squad member Jeremy Towns (6'4", 290 pounds) back on a reserve/future deal in late December. He'll face a steep uphill climb to the active roster during training camp this summer.

Offseason needs

In Ryan's base defense, the Bills will be fielding a third "interior" defensive lineman, flanked by Mario Williams and a strong-side linebacker in what many will continue to misconstrue as a 3-4 alignment. Thanks to playing a different scheme last season, the team did not suffer too badly in not replacing Alan Branch, who earned a three-year contract extension coming out of the 2013 season for his work as a part-time run defender in Ryan's defense (run at the time by Mike Pettine). Now that Ryan is in charge, the team will need to replace Branch, filling that pivotal run defender role.

Which is to say, while Dareus and Williams are excellent and will continue to be lynchpins in what the Bills try to accomplish defensively, the team must also supplement their stars with better run-stuffers as depth. That is a clearly-defined need for Buffalo heading into the offseason.