PFF Preview 2011 – Buffalo Bills

| August 16, 2011

Sometimes you know something that nobody else knows or cares about. It’s kind of like a guilty secret. You might try telling people about it, but you know they won’t listen.
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Well, confession time – the Bills were my guilty secret.
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Sure they finished tied with the second-worst record in the league, but at times the Bills played pretty well, and they have some talented players who have been fun to watch.
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So there’s a little bit to cheer, but there’s still plenty to jeer as we preview the Bills forthcoming NFL season.
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Five Reasons to be Confident
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1. They Call Him Kyle Williams

If you’ve read me before you know I am not averse to singing the praises of Kyle Williams. I had him as my third-ranked player of 2010. He was our choice for the Pro Football Focus defensive player of the year. I even wrote this piece to tell you again just how good he is. Essentially, “Meatball” is superb. He may not be a household name just yet but he just makes plays, and with the Bills looking like they’ll be running a hybrid front it’s hard to not see that continuing. Williams was our top-ranked defensive tackle last year by some distance. He’s a star, get used to it.
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2. A Dependable Fred

While CJ Spiller gets more of the attention, the stud in this backfield remains Fred Jackson. Over the past three years he has the seventh highest grade of all running backs, being one of the most consistent backs in that period. What makes Jackson so great is how versatile he is. He’s a proven commodity catching passes (even if he dropped too many last year) and is extremely elusive as shown in this study. Furthermore, Jackson improved his pass protection significantly this year which is huge for a team that threatens to run a plethora of three- and four-receiver sets.
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3. Lose a Good One, Gain a Better One

It hurt the Bills to lose Paul Posluszny. But Posluszny is a middle linebacker, and the Bills plan wasn’t going to treat him as one. So instead they went out and got a cheaper replacement who is actually a more proven player in the hybrid scheme it seems they’re going to use. Nick Barnett may have missed most of last year, but was our second-ranked inside linebacker (3-4) in 2009. Or to compare that to the 2010 version of Posluszny, one (Barnett) scored a +27.7 and the other scored a -2.7. There are injury concerns with Barnett, but he’s a better fit for Buffalo.
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4. ‘Lights Out’ Has His Light Switching On?

Let’s be completely honest. The last three years have been terrible for Shawne Merriman. But, at the same time, we have to recognize that the man does have talent. He may never reach the level he did when leading the NFL in sacks, but if he can dig up a part of what he had, then suddenly the Bills may have found themselves some outside pass rush. It’s too early to tell but Merriman is a low risk proposition for Buffalo.
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5. Reintroducing George Wilson

The Bills seemed determined to try and get something out of Donte Whitner last year, and while they got a lot of tackles downfield, it was at the expense of a superior player. I christened him a secret superstar earlier in the year, and we had him ranked as our third ranked safety in 2009. He makes plays in all regards and has a great feel for the game. This is a case of addition by subtraction.
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Five Reasons to be Concerned
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1. A Quarterback Who Will Only Take You So Far

There are a lot of things to like about Ryan Fitzpatrick: he’s not afraid to make the tough throws, he seems to inspire confidence, and perhaps most importantly (for Bills fans at least), he’s not Trent Edwards. But he has a very clear ceiling and struggled in a number of elements we broke down last year.

He had trouble when under pressure, had a lower grade when blitzed than Jason Campbell and had accuracy issues when throwing deep. He’s very much a rough-with-the-smooth kind of guy, and there’s a lot of rough in a man who grows a beard like that.
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2. An Offensive, Offensive Line

Put it this way, every single starter on the Bills offensive line who played at least 250 snaps had a negative grade last year. Factor in that they haven’t really made any moves to upgrade a unit that ranked 24th last year and they’re left counting on development to get them up to scratch. That’s always an iffy strategy that can sometimes come about as a result of not being able to get the guys (such as Tyson Clabo) they wanted to.
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3. A Good Guy Not Necessarily A Good Player

You can’t ever fault Chris Kelsay for effort. Production however is a completely different matter. The Bills seem intent on using him as an every down player, which as you can tell by him being in this category, isn’t a good thing. Kelsay limits their ability to run 3-4 looks (the 120 snaps he managed in coverage earned him a -4.7 grade) and he’s not much better at rushing the passer. Since 2008, only three edge rushers have been less productive than Kelsay on a snap-by-snap basis. Says it all really.
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4. AFC Beast

Perhaps the harshest thing about the Bills is if you put them in the NFC West (or even the AFC West) they could very well be playoff contenders. But instead, they’re in a division with the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins. Three teams that have deep rosters and two of which are genuine Super Bowl contenders. The Bills may improve as a team but still find themselves rooted at the bottom of the AFC East. That’s disheartening and can impact the shelf life of a head coach.
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5. Unlucky #11

So yesterday they finally said goodbye to one former 11th overall pick, and now the focus needs to shift to another. Leodis McKelvin has been nowhere near the bust that Aaron Maybin was, but neither has he been the kind of success the Bills had hoped he’d be. He flashed talent as a rookie (though he generally struggled) then saw his 2009 season end early. So last year he gets a bit of a pass as a ”getting back to form” year. But the signs were not great, and he needs to step up before he becomes an afterthought in a crowded defensive backfield devoid of top end talent.
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I’m fortunate enough to manage the schedule for who reviews which games and I tell you this now, I’ll be watching a lot of the Bills. They have the potential to be one of the most interesting offenses in the NFL, and they have more talent on defense than people credit them with. But it is still very much a rebuilding job, and those take time. So expect little but don’t be shocked to see this team surprise a few people.
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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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