The Buffalo Bills kicked off their 2010s by dramatically announcing a switch to a 3-4 defense. Despite the resources thrown into the effort, by 2012 the team was back in a 4-3. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and head coach Rex Ryan ran their own hybrid systems, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz ran an attacking 4-3, and current head coach Sean McDermott emphasized gap integrity with his take on the 4-3.
All of that to say that the Bills’ roster of the 2010s doesn’t have any clear shape. To go through this roster we’ll start with the givens: Two safeties, two cornerbacks, two linebackers, two edge rushers, and two defensive linemen. We’ll reserve one flex role for a standout player, allowing this defense to fit into a traditional 4-3, 3-4, or nickel fashion.
To begin with, we’ll walk through the top defensive linemen of the decade. This covers both interior rushers and nose tackles, so remember: Pick the best of their craft!
That said, I think I know the favorite here.
This man needs no introduction. Appearing in six Pro Bowls and playing in nine seasons during the decade, Williams started 121 games for the Bills in the 2010s. He’s on the shortlist for the player of the decade. With 40.5 sacks in that span, only Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes had more. He thrived as a nose tackle and as a three technique. Williams set an example on and off the field, as a longtime team captain and community figure.
Williams retired after the 2018 season, having finally experienced the joy of a playoff berth in 2017.
Overall stats: 121 games started, 394 tackles, 71 TFLs, 40.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 11 passes defended, 1 interception
After the Bills finished 2010 with a 4-12 record, third overall pick Marcell Dareus was the consolation prize. The massive, athletic Alabama tackle had an immediate impact, but really came into his own in year three. In 2013, Dareus was selected to the Pro Bowl after a season with 7.5 sacks. He upped the ante in 2014, earning All-Pro recognition with a ten-sack performance. The Bills rewarded Dareus with a massive contract extension after that year, but his production dropped off a cliff thereafter. He didn’t mesh at all with Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defense, and was suspended four games in 2016 by the NFL.
After Sean McDermott joined the Bills, Dareus was on thin ice—and the team traded him to the Jacksonville Jaguars midway through the 2017 season. He’s played there since, but never reached the heights of his lofty early career success.
Overall stats: 85 games started, 296 tackles, 46 TFLs, 35.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 13 passes defended
With Williams and Dareus holding down the fort during much of the decade, Lotulelei was the next generation in the clubhouse. The Bills signed him to a five-year contract in free agency, and he became the team’s starting nose tackle. Over two years, he’s had the important (and unsexy) role of taking on linemen and sealing gaps so the team’s back-seven defenders could clean things up.
It definitely hasn’t resulted in any stats to highlight. Lotulelei only has 36 combined tackles in the past two years, and went the entire 2018 season without a sack. But his value can be measured by all of his prolific teammates.
Overall stats: 32 games started, 36 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 2 passes defended, 1 interception
Just missing the cut are Jordan Phillips and Ed Oliver, who both played well in 2019 (but not enough to outshine the top contenders here).
Now, vote! Pick the first defensive lineman for our roster!
Buffalo Bills 2010s All-Decade team: Defensive lineman 1
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