Offseason to-do list for the Buffalo Bills

John Breitenbach breaks down the top offseason needs for the Buffalo Bills, and provides some possible solutions.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Offseason to-do list for the Buffalo Bills


2015, Rex Ryan’s first year as head coach in Buffalo, was a mixed season for the Bills. Ultimately though, they seem to have found a QB whom they can build around in Tyrod Taylor. Taylor finished as our 10th overall QB this year, with an 81.7 overall grade. While he only finished as our 15th highest-graded passer (79.0 grade), Taylor is far from a one-dimensional QB. He’s one of the most aggressive deep passer in the league, with 19 percent of targets aimed 20+ yards downfield, and also amongst the most effective. Taylor has been accurate on 46.3 percent of deep passes, with 12 TDs and three interceptions on such throws.

For the first time in awhile, the Bills are set at the most important position in football, and can therefore focus on adding talent across the roster. Here are three areas of need, along with some potential solutions.

Lack of talent at linebacker

Problem: Rex Ryan’s New York defenses were never devoid of talent at the inside linebacker position, with David Harris manning the spot throughout his tenure. Harris was never really an elite player, but the Bills lack even an adequate starter. MLB Preston Brown finished as our lowest graded linebacker in 2015. He was dead last, at 92nd out of 92 at the position. Brown’s biggest issue was run defense. He recorded our second-worst grade (23.0) in that facet of play at the position, making just 24 stops and missing seven tackles. Alongside him, Nigel Bradham (40.0) also played poorly before going down with injury. He ended the year as our 75th-ranked linebacker overall, made just 14 stops, and missed five tackles. Bradham also allowed a QB rating of 98.4.

Solution: Upcoming free agents include Indianapolis’ Jerrell Freeman, whose excellent form shows no sign of abating. He’s improved to fifth-overall in our inside linebacker rankings, with a 90.1 grade. Against the run, Freeman is the only linebacker with a better grade than Luke Kuechly (98.8). The Broncos’ Danny Trevathan (90.0), a player who’s impressive season we outlined after his performance on Monday Night Football, is also hitting the free agent market, along with his teammate Brandon Marshall (85.9).

If the Bills are sitting on the board at 15, they might believe Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland is the best player available. He’s our fourth-highest graded inside linebacker in college football this season; Ragland has 46 stops, and is allowing a QB rating of just 76.1 (prior to the start of the College Football Playoff).

Pass rush priority

Problem: Jerry Hughes was cast as a bust after a few inconsistent seasons in Indianapolis, but he’s developed into a fine player. Although Hughes doesn’t generate many big plays (10 combined knockdowns) he’s consistently winning off the edge. His 46 QB hurries are third-most amongst 4-3 DEs, and he’s our 19th overall edge defender, with an 83.0 grade. All-too-often, Hughes has been alone in collapsing the pocket, however, with Mario Williams (42.9) struggling in particular (according to the Associated Press, the Bills plan to cut Williams after this season). He’s our lowest graded pass rusher amongst even front defensive ends, with a 42.9 grade due to picking up just 34 combined pressures from 469 snaps.

Solution: Rex Ryan might want to rekindle his relationship with Muhammad Wilkerson, but he’s likely to command significant investment and mostly plays inside. If the Bills are committed to the 4-3, then St. Louis’ Williams Hayes (85.1) makes for an attractive proposition. He’s our 12th overall edge defender, with grades of at least 81 as both a pass rusher and run defender. Hayes leads all players at his position in run stop percentage with 22 tackles around the line of scrimmage, and just one miss from 208 snaps. No other 4-3 DE averages better than a stop every 12 snaps, while Hayes is making one about every nine. The options at 15 might be limited in the draft, considering the premium placed on pass rushers, but Oklahoma’s Eric Striker is flying somewhat under the radar; he’s recorded the fifth-best past rush grade in college football this season.

Perimeter playmakers

Problem: Sammy Watkins is on the verge of entering elite territory. His 87.2 overall grade is 12th among WRs, and he ranks only just outside the top 10 in receiving grade alone (86.7). Watkins is the most-targeted receiver in the league on deep passes, with 44.7 percent of targets 20 or more yards downfield. He’s converted 34 targets into a league-leading eight scores, 16 receptions, 606 yards, and just one drop on deep passes. The Bills lack an intermediate threat opposite him, however. Robert Woods has struggled this year with a grade of 51.7, which places him 105th in our WR rankings. Despite taking the field for 791 snaps, he has 550 yards from 47 catches, three scores, four drops, and a pair of fumbles.

Solution: If the Bills wanted to complement Watkins’ speed with some size, then they’re in business with this crop of 2015 free agents. Arizona’s Michael Floyd has an impressive 85.1 receiving grade, despite missing part of the season through injury. He’s actually recorded 2.23 yards per route run, which is better than teammate Larry Fitzgerald. In 374 snaps, Floyd has 833 yards from 51 catches for six TDs and just a pair of drops. Alternatively, the Bills might prefer to inject some youth into the group. Buffalo couldn’t go wrong with either Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepherd or TCUs Josh Doctson, both of whom look like first-round talents.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Anytime a franchise has new ownership there will be a period of adjustment but the Bills looked poised to make progress at this point.

    • Mark Schaffer

      Really – the QB wasn’t the #1 guy until camp was over and it was his first year as a starter, the defense was learning a new system and lacked a good signal caller and defensive captain that understood the nuances.

      They dealt with a lot of injuries and finished with 18 players on IR – they played the last game missing 9 starters.

      I would say overall that 8-8 wasn’t a bad record if you take all this into consideration.

      I look for them to acquire some better linebackers and retool the defense and feed Taylor more of the playbook and open up the passing game next season.

  • The Mysteries of Bob

    And nothing will matter until they fire that fraud who coaches them.

    The Jets had a good start this season but a midseason slump that left them at 5-5, instead of winning5 straight, they would have imploded to 6-10 with week 17 win under the fraud.

    • Sam Doohan

      Rex has had his ups and downs but he’s far from a fraud. At his best he’s an excellent coach, the only reason he isn’t an elite guy is because he’s kinda inconsistent. His teams play best when he really gets them up for the game and that’s good but it also means when they aren’t into it they don’t play as well; contrast to the Pats who have a very professional mentality where they focus on making every game a strong performance.

      Now that certainly makes Rex a frustrating coach if you’re a fan. Rex’s teams have a habit of thinking certain games aren’t important and so they drop wins to bad teams. The coach definitely should be criticized for those. But that’s part of his personality. And, honestly, if Rex had the kind of talent that the Pats or Cards or Steelers have, where a bad game for them can still beat most mediocre teams then his push in important games would likely take them over the top.

      It wasn’t so long ago that the Jets beat the Pats in the playoffs to make the AFC title game, all under his tenure. The Jets have had problems (so what’s new?) since then but don’t for a second think that the only difference between the 2015 Jets and the 2014 Rex-Jets is the coach. Rex was forced to spend two seasons trying form a team around Geno Smith who just sucks. The 2015 Jets picked up a few extra pieces too and have a reasonable, if unexciting, QB and the results are a much better season. If Rex had those pieces you better believe the Jets would be playing as well.

      The Bills should be really optimistic. Taylor is a good QB, a guy to build around. Just a few more pieces will have them in championship shape and Rex is going to be the guy who takes them to a championship game in 2016 or 2017.

      • Phil

        Rex got his team over-emotional and they were spent the following week. Check how many 2+ game winning streaks he’s had. His inability to keep his mouth to the locker room is another big X against Rex. how many times did he give the opponent something to play for w/ all the bs he talked? every little bit helps in this league. He has a terrible feel for crunch time and no feel for offense. how many times did his play calling lead to TD’s allowed in the final 2 minutes of both halves? how many games were lost when they’re giving up 13 pts or less all game and then last possession with under 5 to play and up a score they give up the lead….and the game. im also a huge rex fan and was hoping for 2 years theyd hire him before they did (thinking the jets D would play like the ravens D) but after 5 years of him unable to learn from his mistakes and not improving in any facet (other than aesthetical) i think rex needs to go back to being a coordinator to be really successful again. i also hope bills hire rob to run D as maybe, just maybe at that point rex will think about offense

  • portsports
    • maxxx

      Yeah whats up with that? John Breitenbach try watching the games bud they’re a 3-4 defense

  • Aaron McFarland

    I am surprised not more was said about Mario Williams in this article, being the Bills will be taking 7 million dollar hit in dead money cutting him, but I guess that is better than paying him nearly 20 million for the production this year. Also, According to they are in the red for salary cap space.