Let's not make the mistake of trying to claim that someone other than Kyle Williams is the best football player employed by the Buffalo Bills. That has been the case for four years now.
A fifth-round draft pick out of LSU in 2006, Williams did well enough early in his career simply to walk into the Bills' starting lineup as a little-discussed, mid-round rookie. For three years, he produced well enough to stay in the starting lineup, and started to come into his own in 2009, when he picked up three sacks in the final month of the season. A 2010 switch to a 3-4 defense, however, was supposed to bring Williams' usefulness in Buffalo to an end.
Instead, 2010 was the season that Williams emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL, putting together a 76-tackle, six-sack campaign en route to his first Pro Bowl. He did it on bad ankles, which cost him most of the 2011 season and ultimately led to multiple surgeries to correct damage done by bone spurs. Williams was back to his usual self in 2012, however, earning another Pro Bowl nod with five more sacks, and in 2013, at the age of 30, he put up the best season of his career, making his third trip to Hawaii with 68 tackles and 10.5 sacks on his CV.
Williams' importance to the Bills extends well beyond the notion that he just might be the best player on the team, or that he seems to be improving with age. As one of only four players over the age of 30 on the roster, he is also an elder statesmen among his peers. Williams enters this season as a nine-year starter in the NFL; other than end Mario Williams, a fellow 2006 draftee that is only in his third year with the Bills, no projected starting defender is as experienced or respected for his longevity in Buffalo than Kyle. (The closest on defense? Leodis McKelvin. The only other Bills with comparable longevity? Brian Moorman and Fred Jackson.)
That makes Williams not only the best player on a good defense, but the galvanizing force for unit cohesion. He is not the most physically gifted athlete on the defense, nor the one with the most upside, but he is the best football player right now. Ideally, that last will change; it might even be a prerequisite to the Bills ending their 14-year playoff drought. But there's no question that Williams is of vital importance to that effort - and among the veteran Bills on this roster, few deserve to taste the postseason more than No. 95.
This post continues a series in which we'll discuss the ten most important Bills players entering the new season. We'll update this list each time a new entry in the series posts.