With the 2014 Buffalo Bills season officially in the books, we now have time to crunch some numbers to get a better feel for the 9-7 outfit, how they're built, and where they need to improve moving forward. We'll do so, to start, in the most basic way possible: breaking down snap counts. Let's go. (Players in italics are either already gone, or are scheduled for free agency.)
DE: 2,221 snaps (2.04 per play)
|Mario Williams||DE||788||72.5%||42 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 2 FF|
|Jerry Hughes||DE||782||71.9%||53 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3 FF|
|Manny Lawson||DE||340||31.3%||20 tackles, 1.5 sacks|
|Jarius Wynn||DE||311||28.6%||18 tackles, 2.5 sacks|
This was a solid group on the whole, and one of the league's best in the starting lineup. Hughes' pending free agency is the top headline heading into the offseason on this side of the ball; whether or not he can be retained will impact both Wynn and Lawson. Hughes is on the cusp of stardom, and must be retained.
DT: 2,086 snaps (1.92 per play)
|Kyle Williams||DT||718||66.1%||42 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT|
|Marcell Dareus||DT||678||62.4%||48 tackles, 10 sacks, 1 FF|
|Corbin Bryant||DT||353||32.5%||14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF|
|Stefan Charles||DT||337||31.0%||23 tackles, 3 sacks|
There isn't much of a secret about this position: the starters are outstanding, and the backups are useful as pass rushers but are a dramatic step backward against the run. Better depth is needed, and long-term, the team needs to start setting aside funds to re-sign Dareus long-term.
LB: 2,568 snaps (2.36 per play)
|Preston Brown||LB||1,020||93.8%||109 tackles, 1 INT|
|Nigel Bradham||LB||806||74.1%||104 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 INT|
|Brandon Spikes||LB||504||46.4%||54 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF|
|Keith Rivers||LB||186||17.1%||16 tackles|
|Ty Powell||LB||44||4.0%||14 tackles, 1 sack|
|Larry Dean||LB||8||0.7%||10 tackles|
The pending return of Kiko Alonso does two things: it gives the Bills, potentially, the best young linebacking trio in football (with Alonso and Bradham flanking Brown), and it renders Spikes obsolete, at least in his one-dimensional 2014 role. This position improved by leaps and bounds in 2014.
DB: 5,080 snaps (4.67 per play)
|Aaron Williams||S||903||83.1%||76 tackles, 1 INT|
|Stephon Gilmore||CB||838||77.1%||46 tackles, 1 FF, 3 INT|
|Corey Graham||DB||778||71.6%||84 tackles, 2 INT|
|Da'Norris Searcy||S||648||59.6%||65 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 FF, 3 INT|
|Nickell Robey||CB||640||58.9%||46 tackles, 1 sack|
|Leodis McKelvin||CB||534||49.1%||48 tackles, 1 FF, 4 INT|
|Duke Williams||S||528||48.6%||53 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT|
|Ron Brooks||CB||145||13.3%||34 tackles|
|Bacarri Rambo||S||55||5.1%||2 tackles, 2 INT|
|Ross Cockrell||CB||11||1.0%||1 tackle|
We're combining corners and safeties into one group here largely because of Graham, who spent a large chunk of time at both positions. Due to injuries at various points in the season, the Bills used seven defensive backs at a high rate: three corners, three safeties, and Graham, the ultra-useful swing guy. The beauty of this group is its depth, and that should continue heading into 2015 - especially if the team can retain the underrated Searcy at a reasonable rate.