Buffalo Bills: Stat Projections for the Team's Most Vital Players in 2012
Instead of speculating on the types of years we could see from the most critical Buffalo Bills based solely on gut feeling, let's use math, past production and a sprinkle of speculation to generate more astute stat projections.
Due to what has been characterized as an impressive offseason for the Bills, in Buffalo, a football-crazed city starved to call a playoff-caliber team its own, expectations in 2012 have been dramatically heightened.
16-game average based on 29 games as Bills starter: 335 completions, 557 attempts, 60.1% completion percentage, 3,769 yards, 25.9 TD, 20.9 INT
Fitzpatrick's attempts jumped from 441 in 13 games in 2010 to a whopping 569 in 2011. It's true Chan Gailey loves calling pass plays, but part of the reason why there was such a considerable spike in attempts for Fitz was due to the fact that the Bills were frequently playing from behind, especially late last season.
One would have to imagine his offseason work with quarterback coach David Lee will contribute to better accuracy, but it's hard to predict much higher than the 62 percent completion percentage he managed in 2011.
It's also difficult to imagine Fitzpatrick tossing 30 touchdowns, especially with a somewhat unproven receiving contingent.
He had a handful of bad interceptions last season, but, in all fairness, many caromed off receivers' hands into the hands of defenders, too.
Playing as a hybrid, gun-slinging game manager, Fitzpatrick's stats will look like this when the 2012 regular season is in the books:
Final stat projection: 330 completions, 520 attempts, 3,800 yards, 24 TD, 17 INT
16-game averages based on last 42 games with Bills: 239 carries, 1,113.5 yards, 4.65 yards per carry, 4.9 TD, 44 catches, 391 receiving yards
He's as versatile as they come despite not being the fastest, most agile or most fleet-footed, and he has an unique ability to evade defenders at the line or scrimmage or in the open field.
Gailey will likely lean on the one-two punch of his running game, and Jackson will receive the lion's share of the carries this year.
He was on pace for 272 carries last season, but there's no way the Bills' coaching staff allows him to take that much of a beating at 31 years old in 2012. Much of his production will hinge on the health of team's offense line; if the starters stay on the field as cohesive unit, Gailey will find ways to creatively incorporate Jackson (actually, both backs) into the game plan and keep their yards-per-carry averages relatively high.
Final stat projection: 257 carries, 1,234 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 7 TD, 50 catches, 450 yards, 2 TD
16-game averages based on 30 games with Bills: 96.5 carries, 450 yards, 4.66 yards per carry, 2.13 TD, 33.6 catches, 227.2 receiving yards
Spiller has slowly acclimated to the NFL game, finding it quite the task to have the patience needed to become a consistent runner at the professional ranks.
Not often do running backs struggle early in their careers then blossom into stars, but Spiller was tremendous in Buffalo's last five games of 2011 against solid run defenses.
The Clemson legend was more patient the moment he received the ball and seemingly understood how to set up blocks and cut off them when offensive linemen paved running lanes in front of him. He was also a steady pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Spiller averaged 6.6 carries per game last season, and although Jackson should receive the bulk of the carries in 2012, Spiller will have more rushing attempts than he did in 2011. With more attempts and the beneficial experience he gained last year under his belt, he'll be a useful and dynamic aspect of the Bills' offense in the foreseeable future.
Chances are, at some point this summer, reports will surface that Spiller could potentially supplant Jackson as the team's "feature" back, but Gailey isn't that foolish. Although the Bills' coach would love to see his first draft pick emerge as a home run-hitting star, Jackson will be the main running back option in Buffalo and Spiller will be the secondary threat.
However, expect the third-year scat back to set a career high in carries and yards in 2012.
A poor man's Reggie Bush of sorts.
Final stat projection: 130 carries, 595 yards, 3 TD, 35 catches, 260 yards 2 TD
16-game averages based on last 32 games with Bills: 79 catches, 1,038.5 yards, 13.1 yards per catch, 8.5 TD
Johnson is the most misunderstood player on the Bills. Period. His social media savvy, relatability, hip personality and recent productivity that's unparalleled in team history have vaulted him into the spotlight in Buffalo.
They wouldn't be totally incorrect giving Johnson that distinction, as he was the team's leader in catches and receiving yards the last two seasons, but he's not a conventional No. 1 wideout. He's a possession guy, one that's amazing beating press coverage. He's a player that occasionally stretches the field, but is far from a burner.
Just look at the stats.
Because he's somewhat of an enigma, it's hard pegging what kind of season he'll have in 2012.
Regardless of whether you think he's a superstar or not, he'll be a key cog in Gailey's quick passing attack this year.
Final stat projection: 75 catches, 1,040 yards, 7 TD
16-game averages based on last 31 games with Bills: 47.5 catches, 521.8 yards, 10.9 yards per catch, 4.13 TD
He'll never be an 80- or 90-catch receiver, but at 6'5'' with soft hands, he's a menacing slot option who will move the chains on a consistent basis.
Nelson's a favorite of Gailey's with good reason.
If he stays healthy, his numbers are fairly predictable.
Final stat projection: 55 catches, 650 yards, 4 TD
16-game averages based on last 34 games with Texans: 31.2 tackles, 10.6 sacks, 1.9 forced fumbles
However, in the last two years, he's dealt with injuries, none of the severe variety.
His 16-game average of 31 tackles is far too low, as he should see a considerable amount of time on the field in 2012, and he's not a liability against the run. In fact, he thrives against the run.
On Buffalo's defensive line that already features the imposing and ridiculously promising Marcell Dareus and former Pro Bowler Kyle Williams (who's returning from a foot injury), in the 4-3 alignment, Mario has a prime opportunity to return to "Super Mario" status.
There's a bit more speculation when it comes to Williams, but here's a reasonable prediction.
Final stat projection: 50 tackles, 10 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
2011 stat line: 43 tackles, 32 solo, 5.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Dareus was an absolute force in his rookie season and was only afforded the luxury of playing alongside Kyle Williams for a mere five games.
Will Marcell Dareus make the Pro Bowl in 2012?
With Kyle and Mario playing with him, Dareus has a legitimate chance to explode in his second NFL season.
The only aspect that's difficult to predict about Dareus 2012 season is this: Will offensive lines double-team him, Kyle Williams or Mario Williams?
Final stat projection: 55 tackles, 39 solo, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
2011 stat line: 70 tackles, 46 solo, 1 fumble recovery
Sheppard was solid yet rather unspectacular in 2011. He'll be more comfortable manning the middle of the 4-3 defense, and the year of experience he gained last season was valuable. The defensive line in front of him will significantly help his progression, it's just tough to predict him making a major leap in his second season.
No, Sheppard wasn't as disappointing as Poz turned out to be in Buffalo, but an unremarkable season is somewhat acceptable as a rookie.
In the 4-3 defense under Dave Wannstedt, playing alongside Nick Barnett and Kirk Morrison in his second professional year in the NFL, it'd be surprising if Sheppard didn't make a sufficient stride in 2012.
Final stat projection: 85 tackles, 50 solo
16-game averages based on last 20 games with Bills and Packers: 123.2 tackles, 2.4 sacks, 2.4 INT
At 31, Barnett still has the quicks to get sideline-to-sideline to track running backs and has fine instincts on the outside in any defense.
In Wannstedt's 4-3, the former Green Bay Packer has a superb opportunity to show he's still a capable linebacker in his 10th season.
Final stat projection: 115 tackles, 84 solo 2 sacks, 1 INT
16-game averages based on last 32 games with Bills: 93.5 tackles, 1 sack, 3 forced fumbles, 2 INT, 5 PD
Then, he was a pure center fielder that couldn't contribute much more to Buffalo's defense. In 2011, he was arguably the team's most dependable defensive asset.
He's a heady run defender that doesn't shy away from laying the lumber to opposing backs and is an intuitive coverage man who's slowly but surely improved his skills against the pass.
Byrd and George Wilson, the most underrated safety tandem in the AFC.
It'll be fascinating to see the progress he makes in his fourth professional season, a contract year, with the revamped defensive line in front of him.
Final stat projection: 90 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 3 INT, 7 PD
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