Playoff-ready Tyrod Taylor, Bills earn B+ in PFF offseason grades
The Buffalo Bills have likely found their franchise quarterback, with Tyrod Taylor putting together an impressive debut season as an NFL starter in 2015. After finishing back-to-back seasons with a .500 or better record — and with Taylor in place — the Bills will look to make their first playoff appearance since 1999.
Below is a compilation of the Buffalo Bills’ 2016 offseason transactions, including free-agency moves and draft picks:
Offseason grade: B+
Free agency and trades
New arrivals: TE Jim Dray, C Fernando Velasco, LB Zach Brown, LB Lorenzo Alexander, CB Sterling Moore, CB Corey White, S Robert Blanton, and S Colt Anderson
Re-signings: RB Mike Gillislee, WR Greg Salas, WR Leonard Hankerson, OT Cordy Glenn, OT Jordan Mills, OG Richie Incognito, DL Corbin Bryant, CB Mario Butler, and P Colton Schmidt
Departures: QB Josh Johnson, RB Anthony Dixon, RB Cierre Wood, WR Chris Hogan, TE MarQueis Gray, OG Kraig Urbik, DE Mario Williams, DL Alex Carrington, DL Stefan Charles, LB Nigel Bradham, LB Ty Powell, CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Ron Brooks, and S Bacarri Rambo
Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito formed one of the best LT/LG tandems in 2015, combining for a +49.4 cumulative overall grade (0.0 is considered average on PFF’s cumulative grading scale). RT Jordan Mills is back with the expectation that he will be the day-one starter; he graded 47th among 76 tackles last season.
Buffalo lost three starters from last season’s defense with the departures of Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham, and Bacarri Rambo, though all three graded negatively last year (Williams was 96th out of 101 edge defenders; Bradham 79th of 94 linebackers; Rambo 56th of 88 safeties). TE Jim Dray owns a very negative career run-blocking grade, but he’s shown some ability as a pass-blocker (he was middle of the pack for 2015, but ranked second at the position in 2014).
C Fernando Velasco has graded out as average — or slightly above — for three of the last four years, and provides some necessary depth. LB Zach Brown has a slightly negative grade against the run for his career, but has graded well in pass-rushing and coverage. Sterling Moore has an overall positive career grade, and should compete with Nickell Robey for the nickel corner spot. Robert Blanton didn’t see the field much in 2015, but in a full-time role in 2014, he was graded 17th out of 181 at the position, fourth against the run.
2016 NFL draft
- Round 1 (pick No. 19) Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
- Round 2 (pick No. 41 from CHI) Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
- Round 3 (pick No. 80) Adolphus Washington, DT Ohio State
- Round 4 (pick No. 139, compensatory selection) Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
- Round 5 (pick No. 156) Jonathan Williams, RB Arkansas
- Round 6 (pick No. 192) Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU
- Round 6 (pick No. 218, compensatory selection) Kevin Seymour, CB, USC
Senior Analyst Steve Palazzolo had this to say of Shaq Lawson in the PFF’s draft grades article:
“Buffalo gets a stout run defender in Lawson (No. 2 run grade among edge defenders in the class), who also showed the ability to get after the quarterback (No. 9 pass-rush grade at +25.9).”
Lawson (if he is able to return from shoulder surgery by the beginning of the season; no official timetable yet released at the time of publication of this article) could step in and replace Mario Williams opposite Jerry Hughes. Reggie Ragland also figures to be a day-one starter; his +32.7 overall grade last season was the third-highest among LBs in the class, and he finished with a +7.7 or better grade in all three of these aspects: pass-rushing, coverage and run defense. Washington posted the third-highest pass-rush grade among the draft’s interior defensive linemen in 2015, and should also mix in heavy with Rex Ryan’s defensive-line rotation right from the start.
Cardale Jones is a project quarterback who has quite a bit of work to do when it comes to throwing the ball between the numbers.
Cardale Jones’ passes by direction in 2015:
Jonathan Williams missed 2015, but he posted the fifth-highest elusive rating (101.9) in FBS in 2014. Listenbee may have been the fastest player in the draft, and has shown some good downfield skills (936 yards on deep passes over the last two seasons) and Kevin Seymour produced well for USC in 2014 (+6.2 overall grade) before taking a step back in 2015 (+1.7).
Buffalo has spent most of this offseason trying to build off the momentum they gained with Tyrod Taylor running the offense, while seeking out defensive players who can mesh with Rex Ryan after he spent much of last year trying to force some square pegs through circular holes.
On the offensive line, Buffalo couldn’t really have afforded to lose both Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito, and ended up re-signing both. They could have benefitted from upgrading either the right guard or right tackle positions, but at least they didn’t stand idle there and let either Glenn and/or Incognito walk. They also gained some desperately-needed depth with Velasco, who has primarily been a center but also has experience at both guard spots.
When it comes to their wide receivers, the depth chart gets quite thin behind Sammy Watkins (expected to be ready for camp following a broken foot). Robert Woods finished 2015 with a negative overall grade, ranking 117th out of 119 wide receivers, and no other WR on the depth chart played more than 60 snaps last season. It would have been nice to see them use their fourth-round pick on another WR to help out Taylor, rather than drafting a developmental quarterback (if Taylor were to get injured at some point midseason in 2016, E.J. Manuel is still the likely replacement), especially with how many receivers were still available who were high up on PFF’s overall draft board.
On the defensive side of the football, they replaced two players whose production dropped off drastically under Rex Ryan—Williams went from a +19.6 overall grade in 2014 to -13.2 in 2015, while Bradham went from +3.6 in 2014 to -15.9 in 2015—with two dynamic rookies (Lawson and Ragland) who appear to be perfect fits for Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 scheme. They also added valuable depth, with players like Washington, Brown, Moore, and Blanton.
Bills’ fans are starved for a playoff berth, and Buffalo’s 19-17 record over the past two seasons would indicate that they might be right on the cusp of getting there. If Taylor is able to maintain — or even improve on — the level of play he demonstrated last season for a full 16 games, coupled with the moves they made this offseason, there’s a good chance that 2016 is the year the infamous playoff drought ends.
Buffalo Bills’ projected base defense in 2016:
Buffalo Bills’ projected base offense in 2016: