We’ve just completed a series here at BLD breaking down the Bills’ roster position-by-position. If you missed any of the positions or want to refresh your memory, here’s each article: QB, RB, FB, WR, TE, OT,G/C, DL, OLB, ILB, CB, S, ST).
So, what did we learn from this?
Sadly, one of the major things I got out really breaking down the roster is that the Bills still just aren’t very good yet. There’s a few positions of strength, some real weaknesses, and a lot of mediocrity. It’s going to be tough to push past the talent-loaded Patriots and Jets without some more talent upgrades.
“But Brad, is the talent really that poor?” Oh, yeah. Let’s take a look at each positional group, and place each group in one of three categories based on the talent and production level: Strong, Decent, and Poor/Unproven. (A few groups might turn out to be better than poor, but we don’t know that yet.)
Wide Receiver: Probably the strongest position on the team, or at least the deepest. Stevie Johnson had a great 2010. Lee Evans did not, but if he’s your #2 receiver, you’re not doing too badly. Roscoe Parrish was having a great year out of the slot before an injury stopped him. David Nelson and Donald Jones made the team as undrafted rookies last season and played well. 2010 draft pick Marcus Easley, who missed his whole rookie season with an injury, has big potential. All in all, this is a deep, young group of talent that seems to work well with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Safety: This is assuming Donte Whitner returns. If he can be re-signed, Whitner and Jairus Byrd are a very talented duo that compliment each other well. Hopefully Byrd can bounce back from a poor 2010. George Wilson and Bryan Scott are very good backups. Rookie Da’Norris Searcy is strong in coverage and could find a role.
Running Back: I might be reaching a bit here, but if C.J. Spiller comes around and rookie Johnny White doesn’t dissapoint, this could be among the better running back stables in the league. Fred Jackson isn’t an elite back, but he’s very solid and will be productive. Spiller’s talent is immense, and hopefully another year of seasoning does him good. I’m bullish on White’s potential, and he could find a role as special teams ace and third down back in his rookie season.
Quarterback: As fun as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 2010 season was to watch, I’ll need a little more from him in 2011 before I’m ready to hand him the keys to the franchise. Let’s see him cut down on the interceptions as well. The only depth here currently is 2010 7th-round pick Levi Brown. There’s no doubt the Bills will bring in at least one or two free agents once the lockout ends.
Guard/Center: I considered putting this group in the “strong” section, but I’m not quite ready to go that far given the uncertainty of the lineup right now. Eric Wood is going to be an NFL starter for the next decade. Will it be at center or guard? Center seems like his natural postion, and don’t be surprised to see the Bills put him there in 2011. Andy Levitre is solid at left guard. The question is: Who plays right guard? Geoff Hangartner is tough and smart, but a natural center. Kraig Urbik and Chad Rinehart are both big, strong maulers, but unproven. If one of that trio steps up and plays well, this could be a very strong interior.
Defensive Line: Not really sure what to make of this group. As individuals, this line looks pretty good. Kyle Williams is awesome. Rookie Marcell Dareus could be awesome and should at least help the run defense. Dwan Edwards is solid. Spencer Johnson is a solid rotational guy. Second-year guys Torell Troup and Alex Carrington didn’t have great rookie seasons but have potential. Rookie Michael Jasper is freaking huge. But the production wasn’t there from anyone not named Kyle Williams in 2010. Will anyone stop the run or rush the passer in 2011?
Cornerback: Another group that’s not as good as the individual pieces would suggest. Leodis McKelvin has never really lived up to his promise and seems a long way from being a shutdown corner. Terrence McGee is getting old, but can still cover when he’s healthy. Reggie Corner is what he is: an undersized but decent dimeback. I’m not sure if anything about those three is going to change in 2011. However, there could be a boost from three sources: a re-signing of the solid Drayton Florence or some production from rookies Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers.
Fullback: Not much to report here. The Bills don’t use a fullback often, and when they do, Corey McIntyre is serviceable. He’s also an important part of the special teams units.
Special Teams: Sadly, this unit fell off from its “elite” perch in 2010. The coverage units weren’t as good as previous seasons, Rian Lindell missed some kicks, and Brian Moorman was not his usual spectacular self. Let’s hope for a big bounceback in 2011.
Inside Linebacker: This goes double if Paul Posluszny doesn’t come back. This wasn’t a really productive group in 2010 aside from him. Hopefully rookies Kelvin Sheppard and Chris White can step in and help.
Outside Linebacker: Chris Kelsay is going to be a starter. That should tell you all you need to know about this group. Kelsay is very ill-suited to be a 3-4 outside lineback in the NFL, and yet that ‘s where he’ll be for Buffalo in 2011. Yikes. In other news, Shawne Merriman is penciled in as the other starter. Can he play anymore? Even if he can, can he stay healthy? Second-year pros Arthur Moats and Danny Batten will hopefully provide a pass rush.
Offensive Tackle: A perpetual position of weakness in recent years, there is some hope here. Demetrius Bell was okay last year at left tackle even though an injury prevented him from working out or practicing at full speed all season. Hopefully with a full offseason to recover he’ll improve even more in 2011. Right tackle, however, is a mess. The uninspiring trio of Mansfield Wrotto, Erik Pears, and rookie Chris Hairston will battle for the spot. Don’t be surprised at all if the Bills bring in a free agent here.
Tight End: Ouch. This is almost certainly the worst group in the league. Shawn Nelson has never really been productive and coming off an injury-plagued season. No one else here has much pass-catching potential. Another place where the Bills will desperately try to upgrade via free agency.