Buffalo Bills: 5 Areas the Bills Need to Improve
The Buffalo Bills finished the 2012 season with a 6-10 record, marking the 13th consecutive season in which they missed the playoffs. Despite the poor record, the Bills showed that they have a few young players that the front office can build the franchise around in running back C.J. Spiller, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Mario Williams.
However, the team has far more holes on the roster than any fan would like to see, and the lack of depth at some key positions directly contributed to the negative outcome of the season.
This slideshow exhibits some of the key areas that general manager Buddy Nix needs to focus on during the offseason in order to make the Buffalo Bills contenders once again.
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To any fan watching the 2012 NFL playoffs, there was one common factor: Every team had a quality passer at the quarterback position. The Bills rewarded Ryan Fitzpatrick with a six-year, $59 million contract early in the 2011 season.
This deal was incredibly premature, as the deal was signed after the team jumped out to a 4-2 start last year, before losing eight of its last 10 games.
While Fitzpatrick is a great leader of the Bills, he is far from being the franchise quarterback needed to consistently win games in the National Football League. Fitzpatrick ranked 17th in passer rating, 16th in completion percentage, 18th in yards, 24th in yards per attempt and 23rd in yards per game.
General manager Buddy Nix has made it clear that he fully intends on drafting a quarterback for the future before he leaves the team. Nix told WGR-AM in Buffalo:
Listen, we have said from Day 1, that we want to draft a good young quarterback. I don't want to leave here without a franchise guy for the future in place. I have not said that before, but I'm saying it now because it's a fact.
However, he's been chastised by the fanbase for passing on talent such as Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, all quarterbacks who led their teams to the postseason, in favor of players like Aaron Williams and T.J. Graham who haven't panned out.
Fitzpatrick is an average quarterback, and at 30 years old, there's not much room for growth in his game.
He lacks ideal arm strength and ranked in the lower half of the league in completion percentage, despite playing in an offense based on quick, short passes to maximize his limited talent.
The Bills are in a division with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game in Tom Brady, and a highly touted draft pick, seen as a quarterback of the future, in Ryan Tannehill. If Buffalo wants to keep pace in the AFC East, it must address the quarterback position, and fast.
There aren't any starting-caliber quarterbacks in free agency, but Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, N.C. State's Mike Glennon and West Virginia's Geno Smith could all be had with a first-round draft pick.
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The Bills have a very consistent wide receiver with Stevie Johnson, but aside from him, there really isn't any viable options on the team.
The Bills passing game has relied heavily on Johnson for the past three seasons, and while he's been very productive, catching 237 passes for 3,123 yards and 23 touchdowns in that span, the team needs another weapon to take the pressure off of him.
The rest of the team's wide receiver position is filled with undrafted free agents, such as Donald Jones and David Nelson.
In fact, the highest drafted receivers on the team are T.J. Graham, drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft in order to add a deep threat, and Marcus Easley, who still hasn't caught a pass in his two years with the team.
Since Johnson became a starter in 2010, only David Nelson has caught at least 60 passes as a secondary receiving option. This lack of production from the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers has led to opposing teams shifting coverage to Johnson, who isn't exactly a "burner" in terms of high-end speed.
Buddy Nix expressed his desire to add another big-time receiver to the team, in order to move Stevie Johnson to the slot, a spot he believes is the best role for him in the offense.
By adding another adequate wideout, it would force defenses to be honest in their coverage, leaving many more opportunities for Johnson to succeed.
Johnson is the first receiver in the history of the Buffalo Bills to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons at the wide receiver position, and it's intriguing to think about what he could do with another weapon opposite him.
The wide receiver position is very deep in free agency with Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace, while there is talent in the draft as well.
Options in the draft include Baylor's Terrance Williams, California's Keenan Allen, Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson.
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The Bills invested heavily in the team's pass rush in the offseason prior to 2012, signing defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract, making him the highest-paid defensive player in the National Football League. They also signed former New England Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson to a four-year, $19.5 million contract.
While Williams was productive, recording 10.5 sacks and generating 56 pressures, he wasn't requiring double-teams, and there was a major void at the opposite defensive end position.
Anderson and Chris Kelsay missed the majority of the season due to injury, and reserve Kyle Moore was an extreme liability against the run while serving as a marginal pass-rusher.
With the increased emphasis on pass-rushers in recent years, there is a surplus in talent via free agency and the draft. The team would be very wise to sign a defensive end or a rush linebacker in free agency, or add another at some point in the draft.
The free-agent defensive end class is chock-full of talent, with veterans Osi Umenyiora, Michael Johnson, Cliff Avril and Israel Idonije all set to become unrestricted free agents in March.
The 2013 NFL draft is just as deep, with talent like Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, LSU's Barkevious Mingo, Florida State's Bjoern Werner, Texas' Alex Okafor and Oregon's Dion Jordan.
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The linebackers are the weakest link on the Buffalo Bills defense. Weak-side linebacker Nick Barnett is probably the best of the group, but he's 32 years old and entering the last year of his contract.
Rookie strong-side linebacker Nigel Bradham showed a ton of potential, and is the most athletic of the group, but he's still very inexperienced and can't be expected to be an every-down linebacker in his second year just yet.
Kelvin Sheppard, a former third-round draft pick, hasn't lived up to expectations and has been very limited, playing just 520 defensive snaps in 2012. While Sheppard is decent in coverage, he can't play the run, which is true for the entire cast of linebackers on the team.
There aren't many linebackers in free agency that can be had at a reasonable price, but the position is extremely deep in the 2013 NFL draft. The Bills need to find a potential replacement for Barnett, and a two-down run-stopper is an upgrade over Sheppard.
Players like Georgia's Alec Ogletree, Kansas State's Arthur Brown and Rutgers' Khaseem Greene all fit the weak side perfectly, while Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, North Carolina's Kevin Reddick and Louisiana State's Kevin Minter all fit the "Mike" position very well.
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The Buffalo Bills used their No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft on South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore was asked to play a huge role on the Bills defense from day one, covering opposing teams' No. 1 wide receivers for the majority of the year.
However, as well as Gilmore performed, there was a major drop-off in talent at the opposite cornerback spot. There was a revolving door at the position, as neither Aaron Williams, Leodis Mckelvin, Justin Rogers or Ron Brooks could establish themselves worthy of a full-time role.
Williams was one of the least effective cornerbacks in the National Football League, as the second-year man was torched for five touchdowns on just 288 coverage snaps and allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 120.4 passer rating when throwing in his direction.
Leodis McKelvin is set to be an unrestricted free agent, but he's more valuable to the special teams unit than the secondary. Rookie Ron Brooks showed signs of improvement, but may be a bit undersized to handle the growing size of the X and Z receivers coming into the league.
The position has a lot of talent in both free agency and the draft this year. Brent Grimes, Derek Cox, Sam Shields and Tracy Porter could all be targets of the team when free agency commences in March.
In April, the Bills could target Alabama's Dee Milliner, Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.