The Buffalo Bills allowed 41 sacks in 2018, and the ground game faltered, too, averaging only 3.6 yards per rush on non-Josh Allen running plays.
A big reason for those terrible numbers was the poor play of Buffalo’s offensive line, a unit that lost three starters—C Eric Wood, LT Cordy Glenn, and LG Richie Incognito — and never recovered.
One of only two returners on the line from the 2017 playoff team was right tackle Jordan Mills, a three-year starter with Buffalo who has not missed a game since the 2015 season. While it’s great that Mills has been reliable and always available for Buffalo, his performance on the field leaves a lot to be desired.
An unrestricted free agent this offseason, Miller received an “average” grade of 56 from Pro Football Focus, which ranks him as the 70th-best tackle in the league after a 2018 campaign that saw him commit seven penalties and allow 6.5 sacks. Over the last three seasons, Mills has allowed opposing pass rushers to pressure the quarterback a league-high 122 times.
It’s clear that at this stage in his career, while Miller can play a role on an NFL team, he is nothing more than a spot starter, and certainly shouldn’t be relied on starting at right tackle for the Bills in 2019.
Does Buffalo have anyone in-house who could replace Mills? The answer is yes...potentially. Dion Dawkins, who just completed an uninspiring 2018 season as Buffalo’s starting left tackle, could move back to the right side, a position Dawkins is quite familiar with.
Last year, Dawkins allowed eight sacks and committed 11 penalties while grading out at 69.5 according to PFF, good for 39th among all tackles. The second-round selection in 2017 out of Temple took a major step backwards in both his run blocking and pass protection, although Dawkins vows to return to his rookie season form next year.
However, moving Dawkins would add even more instability to an already unstable situation. For the record, general manager Brandon Beane would not rule out a position change for Dawkins, who has served as the blind-side protector of an astonishing five different starting quarterbacks in 32 career games in Western New York.
The other tackle options currently under contract are all less-than-inspiring choices in Conor McDermott, Ike Boettger, and Jeremiah Sirles.
McDermott has proven himself to be a decent swing tackle option after coming over from the New England Patriots. Last year, McDermott saw action in five games for the Bills (22 snaps), allowing one sack. He seems to be just a backup option at this juncture, but he does offer Buffalo positional versatility along the line.
Boettger, an undrafted rookie free agent, played in four games (76 total snaps) at both guard and tackle, including seeing some action with the first-team in the regular-season finale squishing of the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field. He didn’t allow any sacks or commit any penalties in 2018, and Boettger is someone who could, with a solid training camp and preseason, play his way into more reps in 2019. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 313 pounds, Boettger flashed some raw talent, and with his strength and ability to play multiple spots along the line, he will also serve as depth this year.
Sirles, who inked a one-year deal with the Bills this offseason, saw action in 12 games (five starts), committing only one penalty while allowing a half sack in 138 total offensive snaps. He is another one of those versatile lineman who can play tackle, center, or guard, and Sirles often served as the Bills’ most frequent “tackle-eligible” option during the 2018 season.
Bills fans had better hope the team does a lot to address this unit heading into next year instead of hoping swing guys like McDermott, Boettger, and Sirles take major leaps forward in their development.
In my opinion, while Dawkins could slide over to right tackle, it would just create another void on the line. Instead, keep Dawkins at left tackle and hope he returns to his fine rookie-year form while bringing in a quality free agent or draft a replacement.