The Buffalo Bills were a playoff team in 2017, earning that distinction for the first time since the 1999 NFL season. Even though the 2017 vintage will forever be known as the group that broke The Drought, there are plenty of areas in need of upgrading as the team looks to 2018 and beyond.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bills will probably undergo major changes. A new offensive scheme under Brian Daboll will thankfully replace the Rick Dennison offense of 2017, and with that should come various changes in personnel, as well. Which groups are most in need of improvement? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there is at least an obvious place to start.
Unpopular opinion alert: Tyrod Taylor is not the weakest link on the Bills’ offense. Why, then, would I suggest that he be replaced? His position is so important that an upgrade at it can mask many of the other warts a team has. One need not look any further than the San Francisco 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo to see the impact a quarterback can have on a moribund offense.
The problem with Buffalo’s quarterbacking situation is less about Taylor’s overall talent level and more about his inconsistency. For as many plays that Taylor makes that look like no other quarterback in the league can make them, he makes just as many that no other starting quarterback in the league should make on the negative end of the spectrum. A new scheme that accentuates his strengths (deep concepts, moving outside of the pocket) with a more versatile corps of receivers could mask some of his deficiencies, but the quickest fix would be add a quarterback who can carry the team himself.
Of course, therein lies the problem. Talking about adding a franchise quarterback is far easier than actually finding one. The Bills will need to invest serious capital, whether in actual financials or in the 2018 NFL Draft, in order to replace Taylor with a legitimate upgrade. At the most important position in the game, though, it’s worth it to try, and the Bills are in prime position to grab “their guy.”
Head coach Sean McDermott mentioned numerous times in a January press conference that the team needs to score more points. Adding a difference-maker at the quarterback position is the fastest way to achieve that goal.
The Bills currently have a receiving corps that is incredibly “one-note,” for lack of a better phrase. The receivers who remain under contract for 2018 all have size (Brandon Reilly and Zay Jones are the shortest, standing at 6’2”), but they all lack the speed necessary to create separation deep. It’s the exact opposite problem that the receiving corps had in 2015 and 2016—Tyrod Taylor could throw deep to Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Marquise Goodwin, but none of those players stood above 6’2”, so they were often overmatched against bigger corners in tight situations.
What Buffalo needs is someone who can give the Bills an option deep down the field, or “take the top off the defense,” as the saying goes. Without it, the Bills have a top-three (Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, and Andre Holmes) consisting of guys who struggle to create separation on their own—a recipe for disaster in an NFL predicated on spacing, speed, and more speed.
Regardless of who suits up at quarterback next season for the Bills, adding a speedy wide receiver should be an offseason priority. Retaining someone like Deonte Thompson, who is an unrestricted free agent, could help, but the Bills would be wise to add someone younger and potentially more talented than the soon-to-be 29 year-old veteran.
This may even be a more important need than wide receiver, but I’m putting it lower because it’s possible that the solution is already on the roster. With the Bills set to return to a blocking scheme predicated on power running, starter-turned-backup John Miller is an upgrade over veteran Vlad Ducasse.
While Miller was awful as a rookie in 2015, he was above-average as a second-year player in 2016, earning praise for his improvement from Pro Football Focus. His overall grade from the organization was the most improved of any second-year player in the NFL from 2015 to 2016, as he jumped from a 38.7 in 2015 to a 77.8 in 2016.
Miller was bad once again in 2017, and he was benched after 4 forgettable starts. Ducasse was an improvement in Rick Dennison’s zone-based scheme, but he was not a world-beater by any means. It’s likely that he will be replaced this season, although it’s more likely that the replacement will come in the form of a draft pick than a benching for the player whose job he took in 2017. If the Bills don’t want to invest the draft capital here, however, they may already be covered with Miller in a more comfortable and familiar blocking scheme.
I would argue that Jordan Mills is the weakest starting player on the Buffalo Bills’ offense; however, very few teams failed to score more points because of below-average play from their right tackle, hence the lower placement on this list. Besides, the Bills have two very strong tackles on the roster already in Cordy Glenn and Dion Dawkins. Yes, they both play left tackle, but an entire offseason working out on the opposite side of the line should be enough to prepare either Glenn or Dawkins for life on the right side of the line.
Of course, if the Bills decide to part ways with Glenn, then the team would be left without a replacement option for Mills on the current roster. While this is a possibility, it would be a hard sell to move on from a player like Glenn who, when healthy, has been among the better tackles in the game. His health is the number one issue, of course, as he’s missed half of Buffalo’s games since the start of the 2016 NFL season. Look for the Bills to add competition for this spot regardless of what they decide with Glenn.
A complementary piece for Shady
The Bills simply cannot go into 2018 with someone like Mike Tolbert as the backup to stud running back LeSean McCoy. The Bills also cannot afford to allow a 30 year-old to touch the football 346 times like they did in 2017. Acquiring help for McCoy is definitely a top-line priority. The only reason it isn’t higher on this list is that the player acquired won’t start...at least right away.
Using a mid-round draft choice on a dynamic running back would set the Bills up for 2018, but it would also help the team to prepare for the end of McCoy’s career, whenever that may come. If the Bills want to keep Tolbert around as a special teams player, that’s fine, but keeping him as the second runner on the depth chart would not be a wise move.
What Bills’ offensive position/positional group is most in need of an upgrade in 2018?
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Backup Running Back
Other (Comment Below)