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Thoughts on the Buffalo Bills’ offseason process to date

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Whether you asked for them or not, here are my opinions on the off-season roster building the Bills have accomplished so far

The Buffalo Bills have had an interesting offseason already and we haven’t even hit the 2018 NFL Draft. A slew of departures and signings have considerably altered last year’s roster so let’s recap some of these moves and be judgmental. I’ll lean heavily on our projected depth chart so you’d be well off having that open in another tab for reference.

Defense

Defensive Backs

E.J. Gaines was the big question mark coming out of the gates, ultimately leaving for the Cleveland Browns. The Bills signed Vontae Davis who provides more upside potential. Despite his own injury history, I think it’s likely Davis can match Gaines’ 60% of playing time from last year. The Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde duo is incredible. Rafael Bush was added to help out the depth behind them. Leonard Johnson could have already been re-signed for their nickel/slot job and that’s the biggest blemish in this group. The front office’s patience has paid off several times already and they seem to have a knack with these guys.

Overall grade: A-

Linebackers

I’m probably higher on this group than many. Matt Milano and Ramon Humber are a decent foundation to work from. There’s a lot of concern with Lorenzo Alexander but I think other moves on the line make him a solid fit for the Bills still. I anticipate Alexander will be able to focus on run support and cleaning up the mess created by the big guys up front and will function more like a true SAM backer. Preston Brown’s departure isn’t as surprising as how little he stands to collect from the Cincinnati Bengals. I wouldn’t have been upset to keep him at that price by any means. Depth is a bit worrisome even with the Julian Stanford addition. I like this group to look a lot better behind a revamped line but I understand the worries people have seeing this group on paper.

Overall grade: C

Defensive line

This group easily gets the award for “Most Improved” on the entire team. I noted in reviews of Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams that they were still doing their jobs at a high level. But with only half the line going to town, opponents had an easy time negating the dynamic duo. Marcell Dareus’ extended audition with Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier earned his trade. The money hurts and I wish him the best but Dareus needed a change of scenery. Star Lotulelei is a safe bet as an upgrade and will at bare minimum open things up for the linebackers to clean up. Trent Murphy’s floor is likely to exceed Shaq Lawson’s performance to this point in his career. Murphy adds some range in passing situations as well as improving the run defense and pass rush. Look for the LBs to get some help from here as well. Depth should be about the same as last season and if anyone doesn’t make the roster it’s from adding talent to the top.

Overall grade: B-

Offense

Offensive Line

The Bills return the left side “as is” from the 2017 season. As this was the clear strength of the unit, that’s the good news. I would have been happy keeping Cordy Glenn, but I can’t knock the deal that was worked out either. Especially with Dion Dawkins playing well. Ryan Groy looks to be able to take over at a similar level to the gone too soon Eric Wood. The right side is as iffy as it was last year. Scheme changes away from what Dennison wanted will likely help but that side could use some more talent. The additions of Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse will probably end up as depth signings, with an off chance they push for starting time. Speaking of depth, Newhouse provides a tremendous amount of versatility and makes the second string a lot stronger.

Overall grade: C-

Running backs

We’ve got LeSean McCoy still so this group retains it’s spot as the most lethal skill position. Chris Ivory should provide a better number two than last year. The depth behind these two is the same as last year.

Overall grade: A-

Wide receivers

Yikes! I like Kelvin Benjamin and the potential of Zay Jones. Neither are currently superstars and that’s what it’d take to make the group as whole grade well. Rod Streater, Andre Holmes and Brandon Reilly don’t inspire the most confidence, especially without a big time player to take the heat off. The front office liked Deonte Thompson but not enough to outbid the Dallas Cowboys. This position has been sorely neglected and right now we’re at the “pray they have a plan” point.

Overall grade: D-

Tight ends

Basically there’s no movement here. Charles Clay could benefit this year with the QB change and is a solid to really good player. Nick O’Leary continues to improve and was already decent. Logan Thomas has his moments and has plenty of room to improve after converting from QB.

Overall grade: C+

Quarterbacks

I’ll go on record right now and say that there’s nothing AJ McCarron has shown me to make me declare that he’s inherently better than Tyrod Taylor. Both are in the large gray area of quarterbacking where a team needs to individualize their plan to get the most out of that position. With that said then, McCarron should represent an upgrade no matter what. It’s a safe bet he matches the team vision better and that’s already several steps in the right direction. If Brian Daboll is the real deal, this could become a huge upgrade. Depth remains the same as last year, but hopefully has aged like wine rather than bread. The expectation is that the Bills are maneuvering in the draft to get a franchise guy and are in good shape to get one of the top few guys if that’s the plan. Since that hasn’t happened yet though...

Overall grade: C

Special teams

The only change here is adding the question mark of returns with Brandon Tate not currently on the team. The Bills return game wasn’t great last year and it’d be hard to take a step backward. Stephen Hauschka and Colton Schmidt return with Reid Ferguson long snapping. The Bills shouldn’t need many moves here.

Overall grade: B-

Overall

The Bills’ only pattern so far is making a move when they’re darn good and ready. Vontae Davis and Trent Murphy are good examples of going out and getting a guy. AJ McCarron represents the exact opposite of taking a wait-and-see approach. Similarly, trading with the Cincinnati Bengals was very proactive, while they have been very conservative by all accounts in moving any higher.

The Bills deserve a feather in their cap for contracts this offseason. There’s a couple arguments for slight overpays, but the overall outcomes have been very team-friendly with creative uses of escalators and incentives.

The Bills approach the 2018 draft with plenty of capital to move around and/or fill a good number of spots. A few position groups are worrisome as they stand today with depth a fairly global problem. The Bills find themselves in a precarious spot where only a few bad moves could be catastrophic. The measured approach seems to be making small steps forward and creating reasons for optimism. Overall I like what the team has done this offseason.