Last offseason, several Buffalo Rumblings writers and Tim Graham of The Buffalo News came together for a special exercise: a "fantasy draft" of great players from Bills history, creating rosters that featured the greatest seasons the franchise has seen. The draft resulted in a number of dream teams: Bruce Smith, Jerry Hughes, Pat Williams, and Ron Edwards on the same defensive line, O.J. Simpson and Travis Henry in the same backfield, Doug Flutie throwing to Sammy Watkins, and Jim Braxton blocking for Thurman Thomas.
While each team featured Hall of Famers and All-Pros, there were areas where the positional depth was not very strong, even with over fifty years of franchise history to pull from. Take tight end, for instance, where teams were choosing between Lonnie Johnson and Robert Royal in the last few rounds. Or offensive line, where names like Langston Walker, Garrison Sanborn, Jonas Jennings, and Mike Williams made their way onto the rosters.
Looking back at the just-finished 2015 season, which players made a case to appear on the next all-time Bills roster?
Taylor finished his inaugural season starting with the Buffalo Bills, and earned Pro Bowl alternate status following the completion. Taylor finished with the second highest single-season passer rating in franchise history, throwing for 20 touchdowns with only six interceptions, and also set the franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He also finished with a 7-6 record as a starter, and missed out on a few late comeback opportunities. Was that performance enough to unseat, say, Reich, Flutie, or Fitzpatrick?
Incognito has a strong case for inclusion on a roster, as an interior offensive lineman who made the Pro Bowl. He earned accolades all season for strong play after returning to the league, and the road grader gave Buffalo some sorely needed performance not seen since Andy Levitre's departure.
The star running back had a solid debut with the Bills, but injuries may have marred his first attempt to make this list. The Bills have no shortage of excellent running backs in their history, and while McCoy could make a case that he's more talented than Marshawn Lynch or Fred Jackson, his 1187 combined yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns probably can't unseat Lynch's rookie season or Jackson's all-purpose 2009 from the rankings. He'll have to wait another year to earn his spot.
Clay is another player who automatically qualifies for this honor simply because of the position he plays. Still, though, was Clay's season truly that special in Bills history? Among tight end seasons, Clay's ranks eighth in receiving yards (behind seven players; Scott Chandler beat him twice). He ranks fourth in receptions and ties for thirteenth with his three touchdown receptions. Coming off of 77 targets, Clay's season ranks a modest 21st in yards per target among modern Bills tight ends (the target stat was first enumerated in 1992).
And yet, Clay is a tight end, and he's not Robert Royal. Does that automatically earn him a spot?
Darby's rookie season showcased his tremendous potential, even as he hit the rookie wall and started battling injuries at the tail end of the season. Darby didn't make the Pro Bowl and probably won't win Rookie of the Year, although he made a strong push for both accolades. Is this season good enough to rank on the list? Maybe he can outrank 2014 Leodis McKelvin, or 2008 Jabari Greer. Or maybe we'll have to wait for him to continue to grow into his potential.
There are, of course, players who made the cut last year who had better seasons this year. Sammy Watkins reached the thousand yard milestone after a torrid second half to the season. Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn both arguably turned in career years, as did Stephon Gilmore. While they already earned accolades in their careers, these players should be acknowledged for their improved play in 2015.