The Bills are Very Strong at Running Back
The Buffalo Bills 53-man roster has been set. There will probably be a few tweaks to the roster before all is said and done, but let's analyze the Bills roster and how they grade out. Below is how the grading works out:
A: Elite (A+) to Top Eight (A-)
B: Above Average
C: Middle of the Pack
D: Below Average
I'll grade each individual player and then average the position out. It should be noted that the grades of the starters will be weighted heavily toward the positions' final grade.
Which Ryan Fitzpatrick will the Bills get in 2012?
Ryan Fitzpatrick: B
Tarvaris Jackson: C+
Brad Smith: C-
Tyler Thigpen: F
I struggled to give Ryan Fitzpatrick a "B" grade as an NFL quarterback. Is he really an above-average quarterback in the NFL? Personally, I'm not so sure.
I decided that using statistics from the 2011 season would be the best indicator in terms of where certain players belonged, and the stats backed up Fitzpatrick as a solid quarterback in 2011. Here is a run down of the stats and where Fitzpatrick ranked in each category:
Yards: 3,832 (11th)
Completion Percentage: 62 percent (9th)
Touchdowns: 24 (10th)
QB Rating: 72.1 (22nd)
Interceptions: 23 (1st)
Credit: NFL.com stats
The Bills are coming off a disappointing 6-10 campaign after starting the season 5-2. The season changed for the Bills while collecting their fifth win of the season against the Washington Redskins.
During the game, Fitzpatrick took a shot from London Fletcher that resulted in a rib injury for the Bills' signal-caller. After that hit, Fitzpatrick didn't play consistently for the rest of the year.
After the Redskins game, Fitzpatrick's touchdown-to-interception ratio was 2:1. He had thrown for 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions in that span of time. However, the injury took its toll on Fitzpatrick. He finished the season throwing only 10 more touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Fitzpatrick's quarterback ranking after the Redskins game was 98.4. After suffering the cracked ribs, his average plummeted to 65.2.
It truly was a tale of two seasons for Fitzpatrick, but I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and focus more on his early season numbers.
As for the other quarterbacks, the Bills have a quality backup in Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson is coming off of a 2011 campaign where he started 14 games for the Seattle Seahawks. Jackson's stats aren't overly impressive, but it should be stated that he took the second-most sacks in the league last season.
Part of his was due to the Seahawks offense and their offensive line. Jackson also tried to do too much at times. That said, Jackson threw the ball for over 3,000 yards, and his starting experience from a season ago benefits the Bills greatly.
It's safe to say that everyone knows Brad Smith isn't a true quarterback. He is simply the Bills' Wildcat quarterback. In his first year with the Bills, he didn't make much of an impact with the Bills.
This year, the Bills say that Smith will have bigger impact with the team, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. I'm not so sure that the Wildcat is still effective in 2012, but I'll give Smith and the Bills the benefit of the doubt.
Tyler Thigpen shouldn't have made the 53-man roster, but lady luck was apparently on his side. In Vince Young's third preseason game, he seemed to have the backup job locked up. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off, and the Bills felt that Young was not a good fit in Buffalo if Fitzpatrick were to go down to injury.
This led to the Bills trading a late pick to the Seahawks for Jackson. Until Jackson has a grasp of the playbook, Thigpen will remain with the Bills.
Overall, the Bills are far from elite at the quarterback position, but if Fitzpatrick's play resembles his start to the 2011 season, then the team is in very good hands.
The 2012 Bills Should Rely heavily on Jackson and Spiller.
Fred Jackson: A
C.J. Spiller: B+
Tashard Choice: C
Fred Jackson was a top-five running back in the NFL in 2011 before breaking a bone in his lower right leg in Week 10. Through the 10 games, Jackson had 1,376 all-purpose yards, second in the league behind Chicago's Matt Forte.
Jackson is still not a household name in the NFL, but Bills fans know that with Jackson healthy, anything is possible. The Bills also know how much Jackson means to the team, and they gave him a two-year extension in the offseason.
C.J. Spiller, the Bills' first-round pick of the 2010 NFL draft, was given his chance to step up when Jackson broke his leg. Spiller made the most of his opportunity, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in the 2011 season.
He also brought in 39 receptions for 269 yards during the regular season. There aren't many teams in the NFL who have a second running back as talented as C.J. Spiller.
Tashard Choice was signed by the Bills after Jackson suffered his leg injury. His 2011 campaign was disappointing, but he didn't receive much time to learn the playbook. This preseason, Choice looks like a different running back. He's been patient and showing good burst. Choice finished the 2012 preseason with 32 rushes for 108 yards.
It's safe to say that the running back position is one of the Bills' strongest units.
McIntyre is looking to sink his teeth into the 2012 season.
Corey McIntyre: C+
Dorin Dickerson: C+
Fullbacks are the endangered species of the NFL. Every team has a fullback, but most teams do not use them other than to block and an occasional handoff. The Buffalo Bills were very guilty of not using the fullback position in 2011.
Corey McIntyre, the team's starter, finished the season with one reception for four yards. Seriously. This season, the Bills say that they will use McIntyre more, especially in the passing game, according to BuffaloBills.com. McIntyre has proven to be a solid blocker, and I expect him to make the most of his new responsibilities this year.
Dorin Dickerson is probably the best athlete the Bills have had at fullback since Larry Centers. Centers had a brilliant career, so please don't think I'm saying Dickerson will come close to matching his stats.
Dickerson ran the 40-meter dash in 4.4 seconds at the 2010 NFL combine, a number that is unbelievable for a fullback. Look for Dickerson to get many opportunities in the passing game as the Bills are currently carrying four wide receivers.
The Bills are currently carrying four wide receivers.
Stevie Johnson: B
Donald Jones: D
David Nelson: B-
T.J. Graham: C
In 2011, Stevie Johnson became the first Buffalo Bills receiver to ever have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Johnson finished the 2011 season ranked near the top 20 in yards (19th), receptions (18th) and touchdowns (21st).
Johnson struggled with a groin injury in 2011, and he admits that it is still nagging him heading into the season, according to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550. For the Bills to be successful in 2011, Johnson will have to play a full season as he is our only proven outside wide receiver.
Donald Jones won the job as second wide receiver for the Bills in 2011. He played in seven games and finished with 23 receptions, 231 yards and one touchdown. Jones only had one game where he eclipsed the 100-yard mark, a Week 3 victory over the New England Patriots.
Jones lacked consistency during his injury-shortened season and had questionable hands. In 2012, Jones needs to show vast improvement at a position where the Bills are lacking.
David Nelson was a pleasant surprise for the Bills in 2011. In his second season with the team, Nelson caught 61 passes for 658 yards. Nelson is a very good slot receiver but struggled when he had to play outside due to injuries.
Look for the Bills to keep him in the slot all season. Nelson has the best hands out of the wide receiver corps, so it's not surprising that he is one of Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite targets.
T.J. Graham was the Bills' third-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL draft. He had a great training camp and carried his strong play into the preseason. He finished the preseason with nine receptions for 146 yards. Graham's greatest asset is his speed.
This year, the Bills hope to develop a deep passing game with Graham. By midseason in 2011, teams were sitting on the Bills' short-pass attack due to their lack of deep speed. If Graham can make one big play per game, teams will not be able to sit on the short passes.
The Bills lack depth at wide receiver, so they will need to stay healthy if they plan on returning to the postseason for the first time since 1999.
Scott Chandler should put up solid numbers in the Bills offense.
Scott Chandler: C+
Lee Smith: C-
Scott Chandler was one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season. The Bills entered the year with a lot of uncertainty at the tight-end position, and Chandler made the most of his opportunity.
Chandler had 38 receptions for 389 yards and six touchdowns. He was one of Ryan Fitzpatrick's favorite red-zone targets, and the Bills hadn't seen such production out of the tight-end position since the Jay Riemersma days.
The Bills awarded Chandler with a new contract in the offseason, and Chandler has a great chance to outproduce his 2011 stats. Look for Chandler and his sure hands to get many opportunities in the Bills' passing game.
Lee Smith is not much of a pass-catcher, but he is an outstanding blocker. You won't see much on Smith's stat sheet this season, but when he is in the game, look for him to open many holes in the running game.
Rookie Cordy Glenn is the best tackle on the team.
Cordy Glenn: B-
Erik Pears: C+
Chris Hairston: C
Sam Young: D
The 2011 Bills' offensive line gave up the fewest amount of sacks in the NFL. A large part of this was due to the quick-pass offense. The personnel itself was average, at best, when it came to our offensive tackles.
When the 2012 draft rolled around, many felt the Bills needed to take a left tackle in Round 1. The team, instead, took a cornerback. However, in Round 2, Cordy Glenn fell into their laps.
Glenn started 50 games in his time at Georgia. Eighteen of the games were at left tackle where he played better with each start. Glenn battled Chris Hairston in training camp and eventually won the job. The rookie is extremely agile and has everything you look for in a franchise left tackle.
Erik Pears played well in 2011. He kept defensive lineman in front of him long enough for Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball to his targets. That said, he is not the long-term answer at the position. Pears had offseason hernia surgery and missed some time in training camp and the preseason. If he struggles early in the season, don't be surprised if he loses his job.
Hairston would be the beneficiary if Pears struggles early in the season. Hairston, fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft, started in seven games last season and held his own. He battled Glenn for the left-tackle spot, but Hairston is probably better suited to play right tackle.
Sam Young is a raw athlete who is still learning how to play tackle in the NFL. Young played well in college at Notre Dame, but the speed of the game in the NFL is a completely different animal. Young did have a great training camp, so there may be some potential for him as a right tackle.
Andy Levitre is one of the most underrated guards in the NFL.
Andy Levitre: A
Kraig Urbik: B-
Chad Rinehart: C+
Andy Levitre is one of the best offensive guards in the NFL, but he doesn't seem to get the credit he truly deserves. Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus listed Levitre as one of their secret superstars:
Levitre’s play is clearly going only one direction and if the Bills can provide him with some stability in where he lines up (though he proved himself adept at providing cover when needed) then there is no reason to believe that the Bills won’t have one of the league’s best left guard’s on their hands. His +14.5 overall grade through those first six weeks was better than players like Evan Mathis, Carl Nicks, Marshal Yanda, and Josh Sitton … the only players who ranked higher than Levitre at guard for the full season.
Levitre’s ability in pass protection at both guard and tackle cannot be questioned. Over the last two seasons whether you look at our grades (+15.1) or the stats (35 total pressures allowed), he is amongst the elite pass protectors at guard. Combined with clear improvements in his in-line run blocking, and his consistent quality blocking in space, Levitre is ready to use the 2012 season to break into the NFL’s upper echelon of guards.
Entering a contract year, the Bills would be wise to sign him to an extension before he hits the market after the season is over.
Urbik had a good season with the Bills in 2011, starting in 13 games. Urbik is entering his third year in the league, and his game has come a long way in that time. He has the potential to be the team's long-term answer at right guard.
Rinehart started in 12 games for the Bills in 2011. The Bills' offensive line suffered many injuries, and players were bounced around to different positions. To Rinehart's credit, he played well for the team and is a valuable backup.
The Bills need Eric Wood to stay healthy.
Eric Wood: B+
Colin Brown: C
Eric Wood is an excellent player, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy over a full season. In three seasons, Wood has only been able to play 33 games out of a possible 48. In his rookie season, Wood broke his right leg against the Jaguars, in 2010, Wood suffered another leg injury, and in 2011, he tore his ACL.
When healthy, Wood is one of the best centers in the league. If he plays in all 16 games this season, the Bills' odds of making the postseason improves.
Colin Brown's play in 2011 was respectable. Once Wood went down to injury, Brown earned quite a few snaps each game, even starting in Week 17 against the Patriots. That said, Brown is a journeyman who should not be depended upon for long periods of time.
Mario Williams significantly improved the Bills defensive ends.
Mark Anderson: B
Chris Kelsay: B-
Kyle Moore: C
The Bills' defensive line struggled to get to the quarterback last season. Enter Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Williams was the defensive prize of free agency. When it was announced that he decided to sign with the Bills, fans rejoiced as they imagined a player who could create havoc for opposing team's quarterbacks.
In Williams' last four seasons as a defensive end, he averaged 10.875 sacks per season. On the Bills defense, Williams will play left defensive end where he'll go head-to-head against right tackles. This should help elevate his sack total.
Mark Anderson was a pass-rush specialist for New England in 2011. In a limited amount of snaps, Anderson found a way to get 10 sacks. A few days after Williams signed with the Bills, Anderson signed a contract with Buffalo.
The Bills' defensive line instantly went from an area of weakness to an area of strength. Anderson played well in training camp and was named as the Bills' starter at right defensive end. In a full season, the sky is the limit for Anderson in terms of sacks.
Chris Kelsay is not going to pile up sacks for the Bills, but his greatest strength is playing the run. Kelsay will not be a starter for the first time since early in the 2004 season. That said, Kelsay will get plenty of snaps on running downs, so look for him to be a big contributor for the Bills.
Kyle Moore was one of the feel-good stories for the Bills this offseason. Moore, entering his fourth season, played two seasons with Tampa Bay where he felt he wasn't a good fit in the 3-4 defense, according to Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News.
Moore impressed the Bills' coaching staff during training camp with his burst off the edge, and for that reason, he won the job. Moore is quality depth who will probably play a few snaps each game.
Marcell Dareus hopes to follow up on his solid rookie season.
Kyle Williams: A+
Marcell Dareus: A
Spencer Johnson: B-
Alex Carrington: C+
The Bills may have the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Kyle Williams' 2011 season was cut short with a foot injury that landed him on the injured reserve. When healthy, Williams does it all.
He is excellent against the run and breaks the pocket down on pass plays. In the preseason, Williams has looked unbelievable, and in my eyes, he was the team's preseason MVP.
Marcell Dareus had an excellent rookie season, compiling 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks as both a defensive end and interior lineman in the Bills' 3-4 defense. This season, he'll play exclusively as an interior lineman, his natural position. Look for Dareus to improve upon his rookie stats and enter the upper echelon of defensive tackles.
Due to injuries, Spencer Johnson started in 11 games for the Bills. He played very well in that time and ended the season with 47 tackles and two sacks. If the Bills need Johnson to take a few snaps each game, Bills fans should feel like they are in good hands.
Alex Carrington is entering his third season with the Bills but has not done much when given opportunities on the field. Due to multiple injuries, Carrington started six games and played in all 16 regular-season games. His final stat line: 16 total tackles and one sack. Bills fans can only hope that Carrington does not have to see the field often in 2012.
Nick Barnett was a bright spot on a porous Bills defense in 2011.
Nick Barnett: B+
Arthur Moats: C+
Nigel Bradham: C+
Bryan Scott: C
Chris White: C-
The Bills picked up Nick Barnett after he was released by the Green Bay Packers. Last season, Barnett was probably the team's defensive MVP. He compiled 130 total tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble, three interceptions and one touchdown.
This season, Barnett will start as one of the Bills' outside linebackers. He is the only linebacker I have full confidence in as he is a proven commodity.
Arthur Moats had a brilliant training camp and won the starting job opposite Barnett. Moats has been moved around on the Bills as an interior and outside linebacker, as well as a defensive end. Having just one spot to focus on this offseason in the 4-3 defense really helped Moats, according to Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle:
I feel like with my skill set and body size it’s a better fit for me.The alignment is different, and what they're asking me to do is different. When you're in a 3-4 you're rushing and a lot of time you have to hold up against those big tackles. With a 4-3 you're off the ball and you're able to use your quickness more. I've been used to taking on those guys from close to the line, and now I have a running start.
Moats will get first crack at OLB, but it appears he'll be on a short leash.
On Monday, September 3rd, it was reported by Mike Ludwickzak of CBS Sports that Nigel Bradham is pushing for Moats' job. When asked about Bradham's emergence, Chan Gailey said:
He's such an impressive athlete. He's not played over there (strongside linebacker) at all. We'd thrown him over there a couple snaps over a little bit during OTAs and training camp, but we stuck him over there to see how he can do. He is such a physical presence and has such great speed. He matches up well over there and Arthur's done a good job, too. So if we can keep getting Nigel some reps and he can learn what to do, that'd give us two solid, young players.
Bryan Scott is transitioning from safety to linebacker. He has been a solid contributor with the Bills as a safety, and as he gets more comfortable with his new role, I expect he'll do well on a limited basis as an outside linebacker.
Chris White is the unknown. He's coming off an ACL injury but was impressive enough in training camp and the preseason to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster. White did look good in the preseason, so as he gets more practice time, I wouldn't be surprised to see him play during the regular season.
The Bills Need a Big Season from Kelvin Sheppard
Kelvin Sheppard: C
Kirk Morrison: C
Kelvin Sheppard was handed the middle linebacker job with the Bills. I'm not trying to say that he won't play well in the role, but he had no challengers for the job. For what it's worth, Sheppard played well in 2011 when given a starting role.
Sixty of Sheppard's 70 tackles came after the bye week when Sheppard took over as a starter. Early in the preseason, Sheppard played poorly, but his play improved with each passing game.
Kirk Morrison is technically listed as an outside linebacker, but if Sheppard were to be injured, Morrison would take over the spot. Morrison has seen snaps at middle linebacker as of late and has spent most of his career in that role. It's good that the Bills have a quality veteran on the roster in case Sheppard is hurt or underperforms.
Stephon Gilmore was excellent in the preseason.
Stephon Gilmore: B+
Aaron Williams: C
Leodis McKelvin: C+
Terrence McGee: C
Justin Rogers: C-
Ron Brooks: C+
The Bills have a lot of question marks at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore, the Bills' first-round pick, is not one of them, however. Gilmore has looked excellent during training camp and the preseason. The true test for Gilmore starts Sunday against the Jets, but by all accounts thus far, the Bills seem to have picked a great corner in Gilmore.
Aaron Williams, a second-round pick from the 2011 draft, has shown that he possesses outstanding athleticism. Williams is young and can grow into a very good cornerback, but he's experienced plenty of growing pains this offseason.
During training camp, Bills wide receivers were beating him consistently, and in the preseason, many wide receivers ran by him. Maybe when the real games start, Williams will step up his game, but for now, he's given the Bills plenty to worry about.
Leodis McKelvin seems to have finally found his role with the Bills. As a slot cornerback, McKelvin has looked excellent this preseason. McKelvin can keep up with any wide receiver, and in his new role, his job is simply to keep wideouts in front of him.
McKelvin can definitely do this well, and this season, it seems McKelvin could put together his best season as a Buffalo Bill.
Terrence McGee is on the downside of his career. In his prime, McGee was a terrific cover corner. Despite his size, McGee could cover most wide receivers and was good against the run.
Now, McGee cannot stay on the field. McGee has only played in 26 games in the last three seasons. The Bills shouldn't depend on McGee this season, but if he can stay healthy, his veteran leadership will give the Bills' secondary a boost.
Ron Brooks had an excellent training camp and preseason, but it was recently announced that he had to undergo foot surgery. Brooks is a great candidate for the new injured reserve where he can be brought back to the active roster when ready. The Bills can only hope that Brooks heals quickly as his depth would benefit the team.
Jairus Byrd is one of the most complete safeties in the NFL.
Jairus Byrd: A+
George Wilson: A
Da'Norris Searcy: B
Delano Howell: C+
Safety is among the Bills' strongest areas in terms of its starters. Jairus Byrd, the team's free safety, finished the 2011 season with 98 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and one sack.
Entering a contract year, Byrd excels in all aspects of the game. He plays the ball well, is a sure tackler and is great against the run. With an improved defensive line, Byrd will have many opportunities to intercept rushed quarterback passes.
George Wilson, the strong safety, finished the 2011 season with 106 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Wilson is entering his seventh season in the league and is one of the best strong safeties in the league. The starting tandem is near the top of the league in terms of production.
Da'Norris Searcy has shown a great deal of improvement from his rookie season a year ago. He appears to be more confident and is playing well when he is in the lineup. If Jairus Byrd is not resigned, Searcy is likely to take over the top in 2013. That said, it'd be nice for the Bills to have Searcy as their third option.
All training camp, the Bills mentioned that they were looking for a fourth safety. It turned out he was on the roster all along. Delano Howell, an undrafted free agent from Stanford, played great in the preseason. He credits his fellow safeties for the improvement in his play:
A lot of the veterans -- I've got George, I've got Jairus, I've got [Da'Norris] Searcy -- I've got a lot of questions for them and they have answers. I've got the playbook to study. So it wasn't too difficult to catch up with all the help of the veterans.
Delano Howell to the Buffalo News 8/18/2012 as reported by Tim Graham
Garrison Sanborn is excited to receive his own slide.
Garrison Sanborn: A
It's hard to find much to say about a long snapper, but here it goes. Garrison Sanborn is good at what he does. He excels in his role and is probably one of the best long snappers in the NFL.
Rian Lindell is back from injury.
Rian Lindell: B+
John Potter: B+
Rian Lindell has done well during his career. He has made 80.9 percent of his field goals and the majority of his career has been spent in Buffalo and its turbulent weather. Lindell was underrated by fans heading into 2011, and it wasn't until he was placed on injured reserve that Bills fans could truly appreciate him.
Brandon Coutu and Dave Rayner showed that kicking in Buffalo and NFL in general is not an easy job.
One area where Lindell struggles is on kickoffs, so the Bills drafted John Potter in the seventh round. Potter made the most of his opportunity in the preseason, consistently kicking the ball through the end zone. By doing this, opposing teams cannot break off a big return and gain momentum in a game. Potter's strong leg will be a welcome addition to the 2012 team.
Brian Moorman is an elite punter.
Brian Moorman: A+
Brian Moorman is the greatest punter the Bills have ever had. The guy is unbelievable and seems to be getting better with age. Last season, Moorman's punts travelled an average of 48.2 yards.
The Bills are lucky to have Moorman as he is an elite punter in the NFL.
Justin Rogers hopes to be off and running in the return game.
Justin Rogers: B+
Leodis McKelvin: B+
C.J. Spiller: B
Brad Smith: C
The Bills' return game came on strong late in the 2011 season. This was thanks to Justin Rogers on kickoff returns and Leodis McKelvin as the team's punt returner. Against the Chargers, Dolphins and Broncos, Rogers averaged 33 yards per return.
McKelvin also came on strong for the Bills late with 135 total punt-return yards against the Broncos. This season, McKelvin will get the opportunity to build upon his strong finish to 2011.
C.J. Spiller is another good return man, but since his role in the offense seems to be expanding, it'd be best if the Bills kept him away from the return game. That said, when given the opportunity this year, Spiller will be a dangerous return man.
Brad Smith is the weakest of the bunch in my opinion. He looks slow and lacks speed when returning the ball. If he gets the chance to return kicks in 2012, I hope he proves me wrong. That said, on this list, he is the weak link of the return game.
Overall, the return game is pretty solid in Buffalo and has a chance to be a top-tier unit in 2012.