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.
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.
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.