At the start of every season, Buffalo Bills fans everywhere scan the roster for weaknesses. Some areas have great depth, while others have a starter and not much else. There are always a few players that serve as centerpieces to what a team does, and losing those players will always lead to a drop in performance.
With that in mind, we decided to borrow an idea from SB Nation’s home of Dallas Cowboys talk, Blogging the Boys, to discuss whose absence on game day would cause the Bills’ Jenga tower to collapse.
Following along with the parameters set forth in Cowboys’ blog, Tyrod Taylor will not be discussed in this article. Starting quarterbacks are too obvious, so we’ll save discussion of Buffalo’s quarterback for another time.
Admittedly, I was never a great Jenga player (no patience), but I can say with conviction that removing the following players from action would lead to a serious drop-off in play from our Bills.
Micah Hyde, S
It seems crazy to call a player who has never suited up for the Bills a vital piece of the defensive unit, but in this case, the shoe most definitely fits. I think Hyde is the key to the whole secondary, both in terms of his overall versatility and his primary position (safety) being one of the biggest overall question marks on the team. With Jordan Poyer, another free agent acquisition this offseason, slated to start at the other safety spot, Hyde’s good health and solid performance is essential to 2017 success for the Bills’ defense.
Hyde’s versatility is also a plus, allowing him to play nickel corner, as well, during his tenure with the Green Bay Packers. It’s safe to say that head coach Sean McDermott anticipates Hyde being on the field for most of the Bills’ defensive snaps this season, as evidenced by the 5 year, 30.5 million dollar contract given to him by the team in March. If Hyde were to go down, the next man up on Buffalo’s safety depth chart would come from a list that includes Colt Anderson, Trae Elston, Shamiel Gary, Joe Powell, and B.T. Sanders. In other words, the Bills would almost certainly need help from outside the organization in the event of an injury.
Sammy Watkins, WR
This one is fairly obvious. After allowing Robert Woods to leave via free agency, the Bills will count on their best receiver to produce even more than they have in the last few years. The most important factor with Watkins, as has been discussed repeatedly, is his ability (or lack thereof) to stay healthy. In his brief NFL career, Watkins has played in 37 out of a possible 48 games. He missed 8 games last season due to a foot injury that lingered from the season prior, and he had a second surgery on that foot earlier this offseason.
If Watkins is healthy and in the lineup, he makes everyone around him better. Tyrod Taylor stands to benefit the most from a healthy Watkins, but it can be argued that Zay Jones will benefit tremendously, as well. If Watkins is there to absorb double-teams, Jones can spend his rookie season finding holes in single coverage; if Watkins is injured, Jones becomes the de facto number one receiver on the club.
Wide receiver is another position where the Bills’ depth is considered to be full of “projects” at best, and at worst is merely inadequate. Without Watkins, the top receivers on the team are likely to include Jones, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Corey Brown, and Walt Powell (once he returns from his four-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use). That’s not a group that inspires much confidence, especially in what is surely a make or break year for the Bills’ 27 year-old quarterback.
LeSean McCoy, RB
I won’t apologize for bringing up two obvious names back-to-back. When LeSean McCoy plays, the Bills have a lethal running attack. When he doesn’t? Well, it isn’t pretty. Even when Mike Gillislee was on the team, he was better in small doses than he was as a primary ball carrier. McCoy is the man in Buffalo’s offense, and the correlation between his good health and the team’s potential for success is obvious.
Without McCoy, the Bills would need Mike Tolbert and/or Jonathan Williams to pick up the slack. McCoy is so dynamic, however, that his skill set is hard to replace. Only David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals (71) and Jay Ajayi of the Miami Dolphins (63) forced more missed tackles last season than McCoy (61), according to Pro Football Focus.
Losing McCoy and his 4.7 yards per carry average over his career would be a devastating blow. For his career, Tolbert averages 3.8 yards per carry, while Jonathan Williams averaged 3.5 in a very small sample size during his rookie season.
Cordy Glenn, LT
This feels a little like cheating, too. Most teams who lose their quarterback’s blindside protector would struggle, but Buffalo’s reserve options inspire very little confidence. After releasing Cyrus Kouandjio, who filled in admirably for Glenn when he was injured last season, Buffalo’s other tackles are the weakest links along an otherwise strong offensive line.
Jordan Mills, last season’s right tackle, was re-signed this offseason, but he’ll be in a fight for his starting job with second round draft pick Dion Dawkins. Seantrel Henderson is in good shape, according to reports, but he won’t be able to suit up until after the team’s bye week. Michael Ola rounds out the Bills’ uninspiring tackle brigade.
Glenn is the most irreplaceable of Buffalo’s offensive lineman by a long shot. If any of the interior contingent of Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, or John Miller were to suffer an injury, the versatile Ryan Groy could replace them. Groy stepped in for Wood last season and was beyond adequate. Dawkins is versatile enough where he could also fill in along the interior line. Losing Glenn, however, would serve as the biggest blow to one of Buffalo’s strongest overall units.
Ronald Darby, CB
I admit it...I waffled on this one a bit.
I was torn between the very sudden “elder statesman” of Buffalo’s corner contingent, and their massive defensive tackle with the massive contract. Dan’s article convinced me—Darby is the more important piece.
If the Bills were to lose Marcell Dareus, their depth along the interior defensive line would be able to absorb the blow. Jerel Worthy and Adolphus Washington both have the ability to explode and penetrate into the offensive backfield quite well, and they would be fine if asked to replace Dareus. Of course, a 4-man rotation headed by Kyle Williams and Dareus with Washington and worthy backing up looks much better than that same contingent without number 99, but the structure would still stand.
Ronald Darby, on the other hand, suddenly finds himself in position to become “the guy” in Buffalo’s secondary after losing his former field-mate Stephon Gilmore to the New England Patriots.
Darby will be counted on to play alongside first round draft pick Tre’Davious White throughout the season. Take Darby out of the equation, and the Bills’ secondary will include a rookie and one of a group of players (Kevon Seymour, Shareece Wright, Leonard Johnson) who are much better suited for sub-package work than they are starting roles.
Jerry Hughes, DE
Yes, the article title said five...but the Cowboys’ blog gave more, so I figured that a bonus couldn’t hurt!
Buffalo’s paper-thin depth at defensive end makes it incredibly important that both Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson make it through the season unscathed. Hughes is the one who the Bills will rely upon most. The veteran pass rusher will look to return to the same form that earned him acclaim when the Bills first acquired him in a swap of former draft “busts” with the Indianapolis Colts. Hughes totaled 20 sacks in his first two seasons with the Bills, but only totaled 11 over the last two seasons in Rex Ryan’s defense.
If the Bills were to lose Hughes, veteran Ryan Davis would likely be the next man up, but he has notched 11 sacks in his five-year career, so the downgrade would be substantial. The team could use a player like Lorenzo Alexander at end in obvious passing situations, but Hughes is still the best option.
Who else might serve as some of Buffalo’s Jenga pieces, Rumblers?