Analyzing the Buffalo Bills' Building Blocks to Return to Relevance
If you want to immerse yourself in unadulterated Buffalo Bills negativity, click elsewhere.
Everything about the current state of the team and its 13-year stint in neutral is blatantly obvious and has been written about at length.
I hate obvious.
I hate rehashing.
Instead, this piece, with the help of ProFootballFocus.com, also known as analytical paradise, I'll comprehensively break down Buffalo's building blocks for the future, players who give the Bills legitimate hope to return to the relevance in the NFL.
Stunned, aren't you?
The third-year running back currently has a 99.9 Elusiveness Rating, which is a metric that attempts to measure how effective a runner is without considering the blocking in front of him and how hard he is to bring to the turf. Spiller's near century-mark figure is the highest in NFL. Next is, randomly, Isaac Redman with 86.3. To put this into perspective before I lose you, Adrian Peterson's is 73.3.
Just as impressively, Spiller averages 3.6 yards after contact, which trails only AP's 3.99.
The Bills runner has forced 44 missed tackles on 161 rushes—the best ratio among RBs with more than 30 forced missed tackles in 2012.
Spiller is a legitimate superstar—frankly, the first one the Bills have had since...Eric Moulds?
Eh, I don't know.
Though he's a smaller back, he's the prototypical, new-age, run-from-the-spread, screen weapon that will continue to pop up in this league over the next five years.
Incredible lateral agility, instant burst, developed patience and keen vision are his strong suits, and he has run more decisively than ever this season.
The Bills offensive line has been praised for stellar play in 2012, but Spiller has made it appear to be much better than it really is.
It's hard to build a team around a running back in today's NFL, yet Spiller is the type of talent for which you make an exception as an organization.
Regardless of who is coaching Buffalo in 2013 and beyond, C.J. Spiller is must be utilized like the franchise foundation he is.
Ryan Fitzpatrick certainly didn't help Stevie Johnson in the eyes of PFF, but much of what Johnson brings to the field is beyond the quantifiable.
Actually, Sam Monson (PFF and Bleacher Report writer) recently wrote this about Johnson's success against Richard Sherman:
Before the game against the Bills, Sherman had given up just 32 receptions for 480 yards and one lone touchdown. He allowed six receptions for 89 yards and another score in this game as he was shaken loose by Johnson’s routes more than I can remember him being by any other receiver. So what is it about the way Johnson plays that allows him to give these shutdown players such trouble?
I asked Sherman that question, and he believes that Johnson is given more freedom than any other receiver to change his route and get open. If Sherman lines up outside, Johnson runs an in-breaking route, if he lines up inside, he works outside, always away from the leverage of the corner, making it virtually impossible to stop. That holds up when looking at the tape, and you will see the Bills isolate Johnson to one side more than most receivers, giving him the freedom and space to improvise without worrying about crowding one area of the field or leading the quarterback into another defensive back he isn’t looking for.
Johnson truly is one of the league's preeminent route-runners, and he has earned that distinction differently than anyone else.
Super precise, Marvin Harrison-type routes don't get Johnson open; his basketball-style jukes, underrated football IQ and sneaky athleticism clearly do.
The phrase "he's not the fastest and not the biggest" has become the classic way to knock Johnson down a peg, and I've realized it's misguided.
Only one wideout is the "fastest" and one of the "biggest" (probably Mike Wallace and Calvin Johnson, respectively), and there are many wideouts between those two who have emerged as stars.
At 6'2'' or 6'3'' and around 210-220 pounds, Johnson is a big receiver by NFL standards.
However, his lack of inherent speed is an issue and is the reason why Johnson is only a fringe No. 1 receiver instead of a true No. 1.
Then again, how crucial is the term "No. 1 receiver" anymore?
He has been relatively successful against Darrelle Revis, had his way with Patrick Peterson and worked over Richard Sherman.
With a better quarterback, there's really no telling how productive Johnson could be.
Andy Levitre isn't an All-Pro caliber, mauling left guard who dominates the interior every week. But he's about as steady as they come and hasn't been injured, something the rest of Buffalo's offensive linemen can't stay for themselves.
His Pass Blocking Efficiency—which measures the amount of sacks, hits and hurries an offensive lineman allows per pass blocking plays—is 98.3, the second-highest in the NFL.
Levitre occasionally is late on pulls in the running game, and at 6'2'' and 305 pounds, he doesn't overwhelm defensive tackles as often as you'd probably like, but in the end, he's a sure-fire franchise cornerstone.
He needs to be franchised or signed to an extension—the latter more financially intelligent—soon.
Since Mario Williams has been fully healthy, he has been the player the Bills signed to a $100 million deal in March.
Did previous contracts given to elite defensive ends, having to entice him to come to Buffalo and the free-agent market give the former No. 1 overall pick leverage to raise his asking price?
But that's neither here nor there, and what the Bills have is a soon-to-be 28-year-old, top-flight pass-rusher they can build the defense around.
Though he may not get the consistent pressure many desire, he has 49 Total Pressures (combination of sacks, hits, hurries) on the season, which ranks him 14th among 4-3 defensive ends and would be fourth among 3-4 outside linebackers (below DeMarcus Ware, Ryan Kerrigan and Aldon Smith).
Taking the pre-wrist procedure ineffectiveness into account, Mario has been fine.
Kyle Williams will be 30 when the 2013 season starts, but that doesn't mean he's not a franchise cornerstone. Haloti Ngata is 28. Vince Wilfork is 31. Kevin Williams is 32.
If you re-watch any Bills games, you'll notice that Williams' burst off the snap is unparalleled. He uses his smaller frame, deceptive strength and an incredible motor to stun offensive linemen and disrupt plays in the backfield.
The LSU product ranks behind only Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Geno Atkins in terms of a stat PFF calls Pressure Percentage that tracks the amount of sacks, hits and hurries relative to the amount of times a defensive lineman rushes the passer.
Williams is signed through 2016 and should finish his career where it started.
No longer is Jairus Byrd an underrated safety. His play has improved from a solid 2011, and he has become a well-rounded safety who is considered elite by the masses.
What should the Bills do with Jairus Byrd?
The former second-round pick has a 23.4 Combined Tackle Efficiency, the highest rating among safeties by a wide margin.
(That statistic is the exact number of attempted tackles against the run and pass per missed tackle.)
Quite telling, no?
In coverage, Byrd's been just as stingy.
He's been targeted 18 times, has allowed 14 receptions for 142 yards with zero touchdowns and five interceptions.
Yes, 14 plus five equals 19, but my guess is that one of the picks counted came when Byrd demonstrated his surprising range and hauled in a pass not thrown his way.
Good safeties are hard to come by, so the Bills absolutely need to keep him in Buffalo for as long as possible.
The franchise tag is a real possibility.
The 6'7'', 260-pound Scott Chandler has found his home in Buffalo. He's not overly athletic and struggles as a blocker on occasion, but he's a sure-handed chain-mover the Bills need for the future.
Of Chandler's 42 receptions on the year, 35 have gone for first downs. That catch-to-first down ratio is the best among all NFL tight ends.
Think he's valuable?
This former Wisconsin Badger currently has a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 97.8, ranking him eighth in the NFL among offensive guards.
At 6'5'' and 324 pounds, Kraig Urbik has menacing size and is arguably the team's move active blocker on screen plays.
Buffalo just signed him to a four-year, $15 million extension (per James Walker of ESPN).
There's not much to say about Nelson, a guy who was lost for the season to a ligament tear in his knee during the third quarter of the season-opening loss to the New York Jets.
The undrafted wideout is only 26 and at 6'5'' and 215 pounds, he has prototypical size to be a steady possession guy in the future.
Marcell Dareus hasn't lived up to his draft status, but he has been far from a bust early in his career. We'll never know how much the murder of his brother affected him in 2012, and actually, he has graded out as a consistent pass-rusher from his defensive tackle spot.
His Pressure Percentage is 5.9, or 13th in the league among defensive tackles.
Dareus hasn't been as stout against the run as many believed he would be, but undoubtedly, there is room to grow for this 23-year-old exceptional athlete.
Alex Carrington was drafted to play the non-flashy 3-4 defensive end spot; however, he has transitioned seamlessly to an interior position in the Bills' 4-3.
Although he has only been on the field for 167 pass snaps, he has accumulated for two sacks, one hit and 14 hurries for a 17 total pressures and a Pressure Percentage of 8.0, which has him tied with Henry Melton for sixth among 4-3 defensive tackles.
This Arkansas State product won't become a superstar, but he is the type of situational interior defensive lineman teams love to possess.
Youngsters to Groom
Stephon Gilmore has experienced growing pains like 90 percent of rookie corners do. To me, he has been used far to often in soft zone coverage when he excelled as a Revis-type man-to-man, press-coverage guy in college, but I'm not a defensive coordinator.
Gilmore has been in coverage on 520 snaps, has seen 82 targets and has allowed 46 receptions for 678 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Yet when watching Gilmore, his athleticism and inherent coverage ability stands out.
If used correctly, and after a year of vast on-field learning, this first-round pick can be special.
However, it will likely take time.
Cordy Glenn, much like Gilmore, has encountered a variety of ups and downs during his debut NFL campaign. He appeared dominant as a run-blocker before his ankle injury, but floundered against the game's bigger speed-rushers, which should have been expected for a man of his size who played guard for the majority of his collegiate career.
He has allowed 28 Total Pressures on 388 pass snaps, which puts him at about the league average for offensive tackles.
With time and better coaching, Glenn should be able to deal with speed-rushers more consistently and should only get better as road-grader.
I would like to see him get a little nastier in all facets of his game.
The Bills' linebacking corps has been the subject of extensive criticism in 2012, and they've deserved it. While Nick Barnett is among the most active 4-3 outside linebackers in football, he's a liability in coverage, often gets swallowed by blockers and takes what appears to be incorrect angles on some run plays.
Kelvin Sheppard hasn't been much better.
Only Joe Mays has a lower percentage of tackles that constituted a "stop," or a loss for the offense, than Sheppard's 5.3.
What's strange about the former LSU standout is that his pass-rushing grades are almost off the charts for his position, but they show that he has been significantly underutilized.
Of the 18 times he has rushed the passer this season, he has tallied seven total pressures, giving him a 31.9 Pass Rush Productivity score, the highest among inside linebackers who have rushed at least ten times.
If there's an upgrade available at the middle linebacker spot in the draft or free agency, Buffalo should consider it, but Sheppard is still young and can slowly become a sound player.
Then again, there's nothing that says he will ever be a high-impact player during his stay in the NFL.
The rookie from Florida State has been lost in 2012 more than Buffalo would have liked, but he has certainly grown in his spot as the team's strongside linebacker during the final three-fourths of the season.
His natural athleticism and speed are appealing, yet much overall improvement can be made.
He graded a spot below Barnett in terms of tackling efficiency on run plays, but was among the worst 4-3 outside linebackers in tackling efficiency in coverage.
There's no reason Buffalo should give up on him yet, and playing with more impactful linebackers would, in all likelihood, aid his development.
As you can see, the Bills do have a considerable faction of talent, but are missing game-changers at football's most critical positions.
Another vital offseason for the Bills' front office awaits.
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