Coming off consecutive AFC East division championships, the Buffalo Bills have Super Bowl aspirations. For the team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, a perfect mixture of talent, ability, luck, and health must rise above every other NFL franchise. It’s a given the Bills would be staring at a potentially disastrous season without Josh Allen. However, he’s not the only player the team has invested a lot of hope, expectation, and resources in to help the franchise bring home its first Super Bowl championship to Western New York.
The Bills were mere seconds away from making back-to-back trips to the AFC Championship game last season. For the team to take the next step in 2022, it will require talent, and also some luck in the injury department. While the Bills have been incredibly healthy over the last two seasons, last season saw them lose the indispensable Tre’Davious White on Thanksgiving. White suffered an ACL tear and missed the final six regular-season games and both playoff games.
White’s absence was sorely felt in the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round, when Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill marched up and down the field against Buffalo’s top-ranked defense to the tune of 42 points and 378 passing yards.
Heading into a year filled with expectations, let’s take a look at which members of the Bills—excluding Pro Bowl quarterback Josh Allen—are the most indispensable for the 2022 season. These are the players whose absence would hurt the Bills the most during this pivotal upcoming season.
Below are the two offensive and two defensive players the Bills can least afford to lose if they want to bring home that coveted Super Bowl championship, along with a few honorable mentions. If you want more on this topic, Buffalo Rumblings covered this extensively on this week’s episode of the Billieve Podcast.
Offense: WR Stefon Diggs and LT Dion Dawkins
Stefon Diggs went from a good wideout with the Minnesota Vikings to one of the NFL’s best in Buffalo. There isn’t anything Diggs doesn’t do well. He is a terrific route runner who still has the wheels to burn past opposing cornerbacks. What really sets Diggs apart is his ability to win off the line of scrimmage, and with his quick breaks on his routes. Diggs is an excellent pass catcher who just doesn’t drop passes, and his numbers have been simply incredible since coming to Buffalo.
- In two seasons with the Bills, Diggs has caught 230 passes for 2,760 yards with 18 touchdowns.
- He is averaging 115 receptions, 1,380 receiving yards and nine touchdowns per season.
- He is as consistent a wide receiver as there is, posting games with six or more catches in ten of 17 regular season games.
- He has 80 or more receiving yards and has been targeted ten or more times in 17 of 33 regular-season games as a Bill.
- He has shown good durability, missing just four games due to injury over the last five seasons.
Teams have to focus so much of their attention and energy on slowing down Diggs that it allows his teammates to find success downfield. Think of Gabriel Davis’s four touchdown, 200-yard output in last year’s AFC Divisional Round game vs. the Chiefs. Davis doesn’t have that kind of success without the respect Diggs commands from opposing cornerbacks, and if something were to happen to Diggs, the Bills would be hard-pressed to make up for his absence, no matter how big of a leap forward Davis, Jamison Crowder, Isaiah McKenzie, Khalil Shakir and the rest of Buffalo’s wideouts make. Allen has also credited Diggs with helping him stay poised in the biggest moments. Diggs is by far the most indispensable player on the Bills.
Dion Dawkins has proven himself to be everything the Bills wanted out of Josh Allen’s blindside protector, and it’s scary to think of the state of the offensive line if Dawkins were to miss any time.
Dawkins is only one of five tackles with a pass-blocking grade of 75 or higher the last five seasons, according to Pro Football Focus’s metrics. Fresh off a Pro Bowl season in 2021, Dawkins has been able to steadily improve his game every year in the league.
A vocal leader on and off the field, Dawkins’s play and his voice would be sorely missed if he were sidelined. Tommy Doyle might yet have a bright future in the league, and David Quessenberry has made his fair share of starts, but the drop off from Dawkins to Quessenberry or Doyle would be steep. This would especially be true come playoff football, when Allen could be forced to scramble more behind a patchwork offensive line.
Honorable mentions: TE Dawson Knox and C Mitch Morse
Dawson Knox broke out in his third season. He finished the year with career highs in receptions (49), receiving yards (587) and touchdowns (9). Knox’s rapport with Allen is strong, and he established himself as a more well-rounded tight end. His nine touchdowns set a franchise mark for a tight end in a single season and trailed only Diggs, who had ten.
Knox is someone Allen looks to in the red zone and whenever he is under duress, and Knox has also evolved as a run blocker. The Bills did sign former first-round pick O.J. Howard this offseason during free agency. While Howard has the physical talents to step in, and while the Bills are excited about the flexibility Howard provides when it comes to using different personnel groupings, there’s no question the offense would miss a beat with Knox sidelined.
Mitch Morse has proven to be a terrific signing since coming to Buffalo from Kansas City. Last year, he played in and started all 17 regular-season games and both playoff games. He provided Buffalo with stability during a time when the offensive line was in flux, and he’s a great communicator from the center spot.
The issue with Morse is the depth behind him. Up until last year, Ryan Bates was always the backup center, but Bates is now slotted in at left guard. Both Bates and Greg Mantz have experience at center, but if Bates switches to center, that takes away from another position, and Buffalo’s guard play would suffer. Do you really want to see Mantz, Greg Van Roten, or Cody Ford on the field in January as the Bills are vying for a title? It’s one reason why Bills fans need to hope Morse remains a consistent presence on the field.
DEFENSE: DE Von Miller and CB Tre’Davious White
Make no mistake about it. If anything happens to Von Miller, Buffalo’s Super Bowl chances take a major hit. While the Bills’ defense finished the regular season as the league’s No. 1 unit last year, there were always questions about Buffalo’s ability to get after the quarterback. Especially vs. Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs, where, time and time again, the Bills failed to generate enough pressure on Mahomes, much less successfully sack him.
Miller is the answer as Buffalo’s missing piece to the Super Bowl puzzle. Miller enters 2022 with 115.5 sacks, which ranks No. 1 among active NFL players and is tied for 31st since 1960. Miller had 9.5 sacks in the regular season in 2021, and in four playoff games for the Los Angeles Rams, he had four sacks. He had a league-high 22 pressures in the playoffs, according to Pro Football Focus. That included two sacks and four other hurries in the win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.
For most of Miller’s career, he has played a high rate of snaps, but the Bills prefer to rotate their defensive linemen, which should reduce Miller’s chances of getting hurt. Buffalo spent more than $20 million a year for Miller to be on the field when the game is on the line, and last year, Miller was the second-highest graded pass rusher in the NFL in the fourth quarter and overtime. If Miller were to miss time, the Bills would be banking on Greg Rousseau, who had his moments as a rookie, Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa to carry the pass-rushing duties, along with Shaq Lawson. While each of those players is capable of generating pressure on the quarterback in spurts, no one can produce like Miller can. That would be a major blow to their championship dreams.
While it’s true that Buffalo’s secondary held its own during the regular season once White went down, the same can’t be said for how the cornerbacks fared in the most important game of their season against the Chiefs. White’s presence is just as important as Miller’s to Buffalo’s hopes of winning it all, and while all reports indicate White is on schedule to return in time for the season opener, the Bills would be wise to ease their All-Pro cornerback into action.
Like Miller, the Bills want White to be on the field when it matters most, especially in the playoffs. White has earned a reputation as a stingy cover corner, ranking third among qualifying cornerbacks in yards per coverage snap allowed since entering the NFL in 2017 (0.87). White can get overly physical from time to time, but he consistently sticks to the opposing wide receiver and doesn’t often let up easy completions. Thanks to his savvy play, his solid ball skills, and his high football IQ, White is able to prevail in even the toughest matchups. Last year, in limited time he allowed a 51.6% completion rate against him and a 59.9 passer rating while not surrendering a touchdown all season.
Were White to miss time again this year, it would leave them with a relatively inexperienced secondary: Dane Jackson, a 2020 seventh-round draft pick, has just ten career starts under his belt, while Taron Johnson is best deployed in the slot. Behind them is Cam Lewis, 2022 sixth-rounder Christian Benford (who could play at cornerback or safety) and former undrafted free agents Nick McCloud (whose play stood out during offseason workouts) and Olaijah Griffin. Not exactly a recipe for slowing down opposing aerial attacks.
Honorable Mentions: S Jordan Poyer and DT Ed Oliver
Jordan Poyer is coming off his best season as a pro—93 tackles (eight for a loss), five interceptions, nine pass breakups, and three sacks—and the reigning First-Team All-Pro allowed a completion rate of 55% to go with a 42.2 passer rating against. Poyer has been remarkably reliable during his five seasons in Buffalo, recording at least 90 tackles to go with two interceptions and one sack in every season. The fact that Poyer is a box safety who can cover tight ends, stay with speedy wideouts and stuff the run makes him an invaluable safety blanket in the back end of the defense.
Ed Oliver took another step forward in 2021, and seems to have locked down the three-technique spot. Oliver finished last year ranking third among Buffalo’s defensive linemen with 41 tackles, and was second on the team in sacks with four. The athletic Oliver also broke up three passes, forced a fumble, and led Buffalo with 14 QB hits. Oliver was on the field for 57.79% of the team’s defensive snaps, leading all defensive lineman, and while the Bills have brought in other defensive tackles this offseason, none can match Oliver’s production.
Now it’s your turn: besides Josh Allen, who do you think are the most indispensable members of the 2022 Bills?