When a team signs an entirely new offensive line in a single offseason (and we haven’t even hit the draft yet) it’s a good sign they’re looking to upgrade. For the Buffalo Bills, the sheer volume of new blood should be encouraging, as should some of the new talent. But beyond that, there’s plenty to suggest that 2019 will be a better year along the line. Let’s (over)analyze a bit, shall we?
If you’ve been following along the last year or so, we covered every prominent lineman from 2018. Summaries from yours truly never condemned one of those players and that’s not just because I’m a nice guy. Every one had plenty of positives to discuss. So why did they look so bad at times? Here’s a chart.
Buffalo Bills 2018 Offensive Line
I’ve described the offensive line like an attempt to put together a puzzle. This is in large part thanks to the offensive line requiring a higher degree of cohesiveness than most other position groups. Above we have the condensed version of analysis for each 2018 player with approximate “grades” in three key areas: Anchor, move blocking, ability to defend finesse techniques. There’s a lot more nuance but this is good enough to make a few points. Please note, the “grades” are not inclusive of any other players than you see in the charts. They’re strictly to compare the group in this article.
A quick glance shows that for every lineman, there should be match-ups they would consistently do well against and some they’d struggle against. For example, Jordan Mills would hold up better against a Mario Williams than he would a Jerry Hughes. Ryan Groy would likely see opposite results.
You probably see the issue. It wasn’t too long ago that the Buffalo Bills flourished with a power running style with many of the same pieces that “under-performed” last year. Vlad Ducasse, John Miller, and Jordan Mills are all pretty well-suited for a power game. One or two pieces that can play similarly (Cordy Glenn, Eric Wood) or thrive (Richie Incognito) and the line is humming. Using the group above, Dion Dawkins is alright but Ryan Groy and/or Russell Bodine struggle. And if they’re struggling, they can’t exactly help out Ducasse, Wyatt Teller or John Miller.
What if you elect to run zone blocking and get your linemen on the move a bit more? Dawkins is still not holding you back and your center position suddenly looks good. Miller can do well but is inconsistent. Ducasse, Teller and Mills become liabilities. No matter the scheme, there are significant weak points—which can spell disaster.
Buffalo Bills (potential) 2019 Offensive Line
Take a good look at the wording used. In some specific ways, you can actually consider some of the new blood as downgrades. Star addition Mitch Morse is almost universally regarded as an upgrade at center. When it comes to a couple traits though, Groy and Bodine might actually have an edge. When it comes to anchoring, Spencer Long falls short of Ducasse and Miller. Against pure strength even Quinton Spain might not match Ducasse.
What hopefully jumps out, though, is that most of the new Buffalo Bills are more well rounded. Sure, Ty Nsekhe might have some anchor issues because of his height. And it might even end up that he’s not quite as good as Jordan Mills against some power moves. However, if Nsekhe can replicate his success in limited action, the ability to better handle speed rushers and finesse moves will translate to better overall success. Many of the new players have similar arguments to be made.
Better-rounded players also leads to a more versatile unit. In 2018, plays using a power-based style left a couple spots in rough shape. And for zone-blocking snaps, a large chunk of the line struggled. In 2019, there’s no reason to think that there won’t be five players who are able to run a richer variety of successful plays. As an example, Spencer Long would be the “weak link” for anchoring in this chart but is still alright at it.
There’s plenty of reason for optimism this coming season. If you listen to my ramblings (not sure why you would, but here we are) the 2018 line had five players that really weren’t bad. Using the puzzle analogy though, it doesn’t matter if you have five decent pieces if they don’t belong to the same picture.
The players acquired so far for the 2019 season aren’t massive upgrades on a case-by-case basis. However, there’s a good case to be made that they all belong to the same puzzle. The coherent puzzle pieces should make a much nicer picture when they’re done.