[Chart last updated: 6/30/14… See update notes from 6/30/14]
• We like C.J. Spiller a lot so perhaps you need to excuse us for giving him something of a mulligan on his most recent, injury-plagued, season. It doesn’t take a lot of recall to bring back many of the 66 missed tackles he forced both running and receiving in 2012.
• In one of the few instances you’ll see in this series we have a higher-graded Evan Rodriguez behind Frank Summers at fullback. The problem with the ex-Bear fourth-rounder isn’t what he does on the field but how he behaves off it. If he can get his life in order he has the skills to be one of the better players at his position in the league.
• The Bills have done a lot right recently but don’t count us as Buffalo sycophants. The move getting Chris Williams to fill the void at left guard (and more particularly, the guaranteed $5.5M) left us slack-jawed. He does have OK games, so maybe in the days of subset scouting they saw his Weeks 2, 5, 8 and 13 games which netted him a +6.7 grade and not the Weeks 1, 9, 14 and 17 outings which amassed a ridiculous -22.1 mark.
• There’s no question Jerry Hughes had a sensational year in 2013 (grabbing our Pass Rushing Productivity title in the process) so why an average grade? Well, his role was situational and we’ve seen many such players decline markedly in a full-time role. When you add in his lack of impact in Indianapolis it’s not unreasonable to ask for another year of quality production before we go higher.
• We debated the Kyle Williams “elite” grade for a few minutes but realized pretty quickly what an outstanding football player he is. Barring his injury-wrecked 2011 season he’s never been out of the Top-3-ranked players at his position (whatever that may have been) and has a fantastic balance of run defense and pass rush ability. In our view, one of the most underrated players of the last few years.
1. Right Tackle
Erik Pears isn’t the worst tackle in the league but his average pass protection isn’t enough to make up for his consistently lesser ability as a run blocker. Given E.J. Manuel is hardly the complete quarterback, an upgraded running game would be helpful and Buffalo has a lot of pieces with which to try and make it happen. Based on his second round draft status, Cyrus Kouandjio is the favourite, but don’t count out decent (but oft injured) Chris Hairston or, indeed, seventh-rounder Seantrel Henderson.
2. Slot Cornerback
It was a little strange given just how well Nickell Robey played in his rookie season that Buffalo should target Corey Graham in free agency. That said, looking at it logically, it’s hard to criticize. Graham is a fine player in his own right and maybe only three games over the last 37 away from a higher grade, but can you ever have too many good corners? He can play outside too, so maybe it’s the team’s simmering dissatisfaction with Leodis McKelvin that’s more in play here. McKelvin also had a fine year so it’s hoped they can get them all enough snaps to make it pay.
When you expend a draft pick on a kicker (even in the sixth round as here) you usually expect them to play and that’s what was anticipated when rookie Dustin Hopkins won the starting job over Rian Lindell in training camp last year. However, a groin injury then materialized and Dan Carpenter was signed to kick. He did a good job on field goals missing only two 50+ yarders and a 42-yard attempt (all wide right as it would happen). In a fair world that’s at least good enough to get a shot this year but his lacklustre kickoffs may weigh against him given Hopkins’ stronger leg.
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