Anyone talking or thinking objectively about the Buffalo Bills offensively heading into the 2015 season is not approaching their task with much optimism. The reasons are well-established and viable: the Bills have solid talent at running back, wide receiver, fullback, and even tight end, but there are serious question marks within the foundation of the system at quarterback and along the offensive line.
To illustrate this, let's take a look at the play-time percentage breakdowns at each offensive positional group for the San Francisco 49ers from 2012-14. Why the 49ers? Because new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman ran the 49ers' offense for those three seasons, and the below data provides the best framework possible for the shape of the Bills' offense this coming season.
The percentages below come from the sum total of all snaps played by players at that position, divided by the total number of snaps played by the offense, as opposed to the total number of individual snaps (which explains why the total of those percentages is 1,100; more on that in a moment).
- QB: 100.4% (3,057 snaps)
- RB: 99.0% (3,012)
- FB: 47.7% (1,453)
- WR: 199.6% (6,075)
- TE: 143.0% (4,351)
- OL: 510.3% (15,532)
To briefly explain that data: each one-hundred percent is the equivalent of one player on the field. Along the offensive line, then, the 49ers had five linemen in on every play, and an additional lineman or two on a healthy chunk of plays beyond that (roughly 10 percent). They had a quarterback on the field every play, and added a second on a very small quantity of plays (back when Colin Kaepernick was not the starter, but was used in specially-designed packages).
Other positions are a bit trickier to figure out. Tight end is a good example of this: 143 percent would seem to indicate that a starting tight end was on the field constantly, and reserves were used an additional 43 percent of the time. But in reality, Vernon Davis played 84 percent of plays, meaning that the amount of time dedicated to reserves was actually 59 percent. The same is true at running back, where Frank Gore ate up just under 70 percent of carries, leaving nearly 30 percent for his backups.
Using this data, we can attempt to sketch out a rough estimate of playing time for specific roles in Roman's Bills offense for the 2015 season. There will be some tweaks - the Bills have better depth at receiver than the 49ers did, for starters, and they will almost certainly use that depth more often than San Francisco did - but by and large, a scheme is a scheme, and Roman's Bills offense should mimic what we saw in San Francisco pretty closely.
Here is my best guess at what the breakdown could look like. Any role that is currently open to competition is denoted as such. Percentage ranges are used in place of harder guesses for obvious reasons, the foremost of which is that game plans vary on a week to week basis.
|QB||100%||Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor|
|LT||100%||Cordy Glenn, Seantrel Henderson|
|LG||100%||Richie Incognito, John Miller|
|RG||100%||John Miller, Richie Incognito|
|RT||100%||Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio|
|TE2||(25-30%)||Nick O'Leary, MarQueis Gray, Chris Gragg|
|TE3||(20-25%)||MarQueis Gray, Chris Gragg, Clay Burton|
|OL6||(5-10%)||Kraig Urbik, Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson|
|RB3||(0-10%)||Anthony Dixon, Karlos Williams, Bryce Brown|
|WR4||(0-5%)||Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin, Dezmin Lewis|
It's worth mentioning, of course, that the above projection does not take injuries into consideration. There will inevitably be games missed by key players that skew some percentages here and there, and affect game plans so that compensatory moves must be made (using an extra receiver or lineman if a backup tight end is injured, for instance). I'm not super into the idea of predicting injuries for my favorite football team, though, so we'll stick to the non-injury rule here.
So much of what you see in that chart is up to competition right now - especially in the more constant areas at quarterback and up front - that it's painfully easy to see why optimism is tempered, at best, about Buffalo's offense. Can anyone make any reasonable arguments for certain players above seeing more playing time than anticipated, aside from injury?