The 2018 Buffalo Bills had a very different offense than the 2017 Buffalo Bills. Part of that difference was due to changes at the quarterback position, with rookie Josh Allen replacing departed veteran Tyrod Taylor as the primary signal caller; however, another big part of that difference came with the offensive line.
Buffalo’s starting offensive line for the first week in 2017, from left to right, included Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, Vladimir Ducasse, and Jordan Mills. In 2018, the same unit was manned by almost entirely different personnel, with Dion Dawkins, Ducasse, Russell Bodine, John Miller, and Mills beginning the season in the starting lineup.
After watching the team allow 41 sacks in 2018 while also struggling to clear lanes for running backs (when excluding quarterback scrambles, Bills rushers averaged only 3.6 yards per carry), it’s clear that the offensive line is a problem in Buffalo. However, it isn’t the only personnel grouping in need of improvement.
If I were Brandon Beane, this is how I would rank Buffalo’s needs heading into 2019.
I don’t even want to break this down into separate positions, because I think the team needs to look into improvements along the entire stretch of the line. Dawkins had a rough sophomore year, but he has shown himself to be an adequate tackle. Rookie Wyatt Teller stepped in to replace Ducasse at left guard, and while he flashed well at times, he struggled with consistency, which is to be expected for young players. As for the right side, both Jordan Mills and John Miller are unrestricted free agents, and the Bills should consider allowing both men to walk, replacing them either in free agency or the draft (or even both). Center Russell Bodine is under contract for another season, and his is another position where an upgrade would benefit the team.
Another deficient group overall was the receiving corps. Give Beane credit here—he tried to build a certain type of receiver group, realized it didn’t work, and then changed gears as the season wore on, finding some younger, faster players to fit the team’s needs. We could argue that he should have realized Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes were not fits far sooner than he did, and he very well should have known it earlier. However, he did not double-down on his mistakes, instead moving on from the veterans and adding speedy players like Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie to revitalize a slow, stagnant receiver group that struggled to gain separation.
This crew is by no means a finished product, as its leader, Zay Jones, is probably best used as a second or third option in most solid passing attacks. If Buffalo wants a blueprint on how to help a young quarterback, they should look no further than the Los Angeles Rams. After trotting out a receiving corps headed by Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin in 2016, the team added to its grouping through the draft (selecting Cooper Kupp in round three of the 2016 NFL Draft), free agency (signing Robert Woods in 2017), and via trade (sending a first-round pick to the New England Patriots for Brandin Cooks and a fourth-round choice). These additions all helped to make Jared Goff look far better than he did as a rookie.
If Buffalo wants to help Josh Allen in his development, they will have to add to the stable of skill players at his disposal in a similar manner.
See above. The Rams also drafted Gerald Everett in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, giving Goff another solid weapon to utilize. While the Bills have some talented players at the position, it’s clear that Charles Clay is either not a fit in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system or chronic knee injuries have begun to take a toll on his performance. Undrafted free agent Jason Croom is an athletic vertical threat, but he does not have a long track record of success. Trying to find a pass-catching tight end this off-season will help Allen to continue to grow.
After losing stalwart veteran Kyle Williams to retirement, the Bills need to replace their heart and soul on the defensive side of the ball. While his presence in the locker room is irreplaceable, the Bills have to find someone to replace him on the field. They have two defensive tackles under contract in Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips who each function best as space-eaters; now, they need to find a player to penetrate gaps in the way Williams did for 13 seasons.
I almost want to rank this higher, as the team’s punting situation was atrocious at times last season. However, they have some young players in Corey Bojorquez and Cory Carter who are capable of competing for the gig. While the Bills should by no means be satisfied with just those two, it’s not a bad pair with regard to overall leg strength.
Yes, the Bills have Tre’Davious White, one of the league’s best young corners. And yes, they saw two rookies, Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson, perform very well in their first season in the league. However, in a league increasingly reliant on passing, you can never have enough in the defensive secondary. I also am not sold on Wallace’s overall game, for as well as he played in coverage, he was absolutely a liability in run support—showing little in the way of tackling ability throughout the season’s final month. Adding someone here, whether a low-cost veteran free agent who plans on playing more than one half of football this year or a mid-round draft choice, would help to shore up an already solid unit.
Jerry Hughes enters the final year of his contract, and Shaq Lawson is in year four of his rookie deal, so if the team doesn’t pick up his fifth-year option, it’s the final year of that deal, too. Add in Trent Murphy’s injury history, and you have a position that has surface-level depth, but is actually a sneaky need in terms of long-term positional need. The free-agent market is full of pass rushers, and the NFL Draft has some solid options, as well. Look for the Bills to invest a day two or day three choice here.
Yes, the Bills have a pair of young studs in 20-year old Tremaine Edmunds and 24-year old Matt Milano, and they also have a strong veteran in Lorenzo Alexander to round out a very good trio. Alexander will turn 36 in May, and he has indicated that 2019 will probably be his final season. Drafting a young player to learn from the classy veteran could help to ease the transition next year when Alexander is gone, and it could also provide insurance if he is injured or struggles in his 15th NFL season.
The Bills needs are many, and there are multiple ways that the team can build the roster in order to better position themselves for contention in 2019 and beyond. Have a different view of the Bills’ needs? Tell us about it in the comments below.