Identifying Potential Breakout Players for the Buffalo Bills' 2012 Season
If the Buffalo Bills can get a breakout season from a few key players, they can finish what they started last season and what has continued into the offseason.
They were a breakout team in 2011 until a rash of injuries and a confluence of other circumstances led to a 1-8 finish to their season.
Staying healthy will be a good start. Although adding Mario Williams was a means to an end defensively, he can't do it alone. It'll really help if they get more out of a few other guys on the roster.
Here are some potential breakout candidates for the Bills this season.
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It wasn't a brilliant rookie year for Chris Hairston, but the Bills think he can be a solid left tackle.
General manager Buddy Nix said as much in an interview posted on BuffaloBills.com:
Chris Hairston, I think, can be a really good left tackle. He's a rookie, it's going to take him a little bit, and he got some good experience this year.
I think with his length and all that, Chris Hairston is a smart guy [and] can be a left tackle and play over there and be serviceable for us.
Hairston gave up four sacks in 475 snaps according to Pro Football Focus, while also giving up six pressures and nine hits.
The Bills lacked depth at tackle last year, and losing Demetress Bell to the Eagles in free agency didn't help, either (as often as he's been injured, he's talented).
That the Bills elected to draft a pair of tackles in Cordy Glenn and Zebrie Sanders shouldn't reflect poorly on Hairston but rather on their depth at the position.
If the Bills offense is to get going, Hairston could be a big part of that. The best way to make a name for himself, though, is to make sure his name doesn't get mentioned. Such is the unglamorous life of a left tackle.
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Williams was one of very few reliable cornerbacks on the Bills' roster last season.
He had his share of struggles, but taking away two big games from Tom Brady in which Williams gave up 10 receptions on 11 targets, Williams gave up just 12 receptions on 26 targets for 161 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, according to Pro Football Focus.
That being said, he'll have to go up against Brady twice a year until he's no longer a Bill, so he'll have to play a bit better when those games come around.
The improved pass rush should really help in that regard, so it will be up to Williams to hold up his end of the bargain by holding up in coverage.
Like with Hairston, selecting two cornerbacks wasn't so much a vote against Williams as it was against Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee, who carry significant question marks coming off tough outings in 2011.
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Chandler was well on his way to a breakout season in 2011, catching four touchdown passes in the first three games of the season.
The rest of the way, though, he only caught two more, and they both came in the same game.
He was really only a threat in the red zone last season, and he had just 15 receptions by the time he logged his sixth receiving touchdown of the season.
He missed Weeks 14 and 15 last season, but according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, tight end coach Pete Metzelaars thinks Chandler could evolve into a three-down player.
If Chandler can earn more time on the field and become a target outside of the red zone, he can truly break out in 2012. With more opportunities, that should only increase his chances of doing just that.
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Yes, Fitzpatrick is a candidate for this list.
Up until this point, he hasn't proven that he can sustain success for the duration of a 16-game season. In 2012, he'll have another shot at it.
There are only two things holding Fitzpatrick back: the receivers and himself.
The Bills lacked an explosive threat in the passing game last season, and though they're hoping to get that from wide receiver T.J. Graham, what to expect remains a mystery.
As for Fitzpatrick, his career has always been up and down, but perhaps never more than last year, when Fitzpatrick threw for a 97.8 passer rating in the first seven games of the season and a 66.4 in the final nine.
The flashes he showed early in 2011 are enough to have confidence in him as a potential breakout candidate, but he has struggled to play consistently for long stretches in the past.
A breakout season for Fitzpatrick would mean the Bills' QB playing consistently for the duration of the season.