2013 NFL Free Agency: Paul Kruger and the Top 10 Buffalo Bills Targets
When the 2013 NFL Free Agency period begins on March 12, the Buffalo Bills will be looking to add significant talent to their roster. Since the conclusion of the season, the team has completely overhauled the coaching staff, which means the team will need a different type of player to fit the roles within the new schemes.
Following the releases of linebacker Nick Barnett, safety George Wilson, and cornerback Terrence McGee, coupled with the retirement of defensive end Chris Kelsay, the team has been projected to have roughly $28 million to spend in free agency.
The #Bills are in a much more favorable salary cap situation with the retirement of Kelsay. They are currently $28.425 million under the cap
— Jay Skurski (@JaySkurski) February 28, 2013
WR Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
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General Manager Buddy Nix told Buffalo's WGR550 that he wanted to add a big-time wide receiver to the Buffalo Bills' receiving corps. Following recent reports that the team wouldn't be tendering offers to their two restricted free agents Donald Jones and David Nelson, it appears that a big move is ready to happen.
I think Stevie's a guy that you can play him in the slot or you can play him outside. But we need a big-time outside receiver. T.J. gives us a lot of that, but you still need to get another, bigger guy that can line up out there and catch the ball when he's covered.
Bowe stands at 6'2" and weighs 221 pounds. His size helps him to shield defenders when making plays on jump balls, and his bulk makes it more difficult to jam him at the line of scrimmage.
In his six years with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bowe caught 415 passes for 5,728 yards and scored 39 touchdowns.
TE Dustin Keller, New York Jets
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Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler tore his ACL in the final game of the 2012 season, leaving Derek Buttles, Mike Caussin, and Joe Sawyer as the only tight ends on the roster. Buddy Nix said that he wanted to add a player at the position, and Dustin Keller could be the one.
“Certainly tight end is a concern because a guy gets an ACL at the end of the year like Scott (Chandler) did and it limits your time for rehab and you don’t know how strong that guy will come back,” said Nix. ”We’ve got three or four guys on the roster, but we’re definitely looking to add somebody at tight end if we can.”
Dustin Keller was a highly thought of prospect coming out of Purdue in 2008, and the athletic tight end has been a favorite target of Mark Sanchez throughout his career. Keller missed most of the 2012 season with an injury, but in his five-year career, he’s caught 241 passes for 2,876 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Keller is 28-years old, but offers far more athleticism and ability than any of the tight ends currently on the Bills' roster.
DT/DE Mike Devito, New York Jets
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While the need for a defensive tackle isn't exactly the highest priority on the Buffalo Bills' wish list, Mike Devito has played with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine during his entire career with the New York Jets.
He's a versatile defensive lineman that played at both defensive end positions and even played some nose tackle in 2012, when Sione Pouha went down with an injury. Last year, Devito racked up 52 tackles, one sack and forced two fumbles in his role as a rotational player.
Devito graded out as ProFootballFocus' (Subscription Required) 10th ranked 3-4 defensive end, and was ranked No. 7 against the run. While Devito doesn't offer much in terms of rushing the passer, he's solid at setting the edge against the run.
OLB Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens
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Paul Kruger is the hottest name of the pass rushers set to hit free agency in March, as the 6’4” 270 pounder recorded 42 tackles and nine sacks, while defending six passes and forcing a fumble in 15 contests during the 2012 season.
Kruger really became a big part of what the Ravens did on defense this year during their Super Bowl run, and despite playing 1,068 snaps, rookie Courtney Upshaw began to cut into his playing time as the year went on.
Kruger excelled in rushing the passer, creating 55 pressures in just 359 pass rush attempts. However, he struggled to defend the run, and winded up ranking as ProFootballFocus’ (Subscription Required) 25th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in that aspect of the game.
Furthermore, his tackling was an issue. Kruger missed nine tackles, and ranked 34thamong 3-4 outside linebackers in Tackling Efficiency, as he whiffed once every 4.6 attempts to take down the ball-carrier.
ILB Dannell Ellerbe, Baltimore Ravens
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The Buffalo Bills have struggled to find capable linebackers for years. Looking at the defenses that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine presided over in Baltimore and New York, his linebackers are very big and fairly athletic.
Dannell Ellerbe emerged as a big-time player for the Ravens this season, especially when Ray Lewis missed time with injury. Ellerbe was undrafted in 2009 out of Georgia, but played 980 snaps with the Ravens in 2012, recording 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks as the weakside inside linebacker.
At 6’1” 240 pounds, Ellerbe is versatile enough to play outside or inside in a 4-3, and is a great fit for the Bills’ new hybrid defense. He’s an absolute stud against the run, as he made 52 stops in 2012, and he graded out as ProFootballFocus' (Subscription Required) 3rd ranked inside linebacker while rushing the passer. Ellerbe is a complete, three-down linebacker that is a fit for nearly any defensive scheme.
ILB Brad Jones, Green Bay Packers
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Brad Jones is really an interesting player that could be a great fit for the Bills’ defense. He was a seventh round draft pick in 2009, but has emerged as a starter through his noted hard work and dedication.
Jones played 829 snaps in 2012, and recorded 83 tackles and two sacks. Jones is 6’3” and 242 pounds and is an extremely versatile player, which boosts his value. He’s played at both outside linebacker positions in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, in addition to holding down both the “Mike” and “Will” inside linebacker spots.
In 2012, Jones recorded 77 tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble.
ProFootballFocus (Subscription Required) graded Jones as the eighth best inside linebacker in pass coverage and 10th against the run.
OLB Erik Walden, Green Bay Packers
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Walden has been brought along as a situational pass-rusher, before finally earning significant playing time this past season. Walden played 883 snaps at left outside linebacker, and recorded 46 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. The 6’2” 250 pound linebacker generated just 30 pressures, but he graded as ProFootballFocus' (Subscription Required) sixth-ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in terms of run defense.
Furthermore, Walden is a sure tackler, missing a tackle just once per 21.5 attempts, good for 10th at his position. Walden would be a relatively inexpensive addition to a weak linebacking corps, and is a great fit for the strong-side linebacker position in the 3-4.
CB Keenan Lewis, Pittsburgh Steelers
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The Bills’ secondary allowed 3,473 pass yards and 25 touchdowns, and cornerbacks accounted for just three of the team’s 12 total interceptions for the season. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine blitzes safeties quite a bit, which leaves cornerbacks alone in one-on-one coverage with opposing wide receivers. Cornerbacks in Pettine’s defense must be physical and should be counted on to be left alone on an island.
Keenan Lewis finally emerged as a full-time starter on the Steelers’ defense during the 2012 season, and he performed admirably. The former third round pick started all 16 games, recording 69 tackles and defending 23 passes.
He was targeted 112 times, and allowed just 59 catches. Opposing quarterbacks posted an 80.7 passer rating when targeting Lewis, and he allowed just 212 yards after the catch and three touchdowns, according to ProFootballFocus (Subscription Required).
Lewis’ potential value in free agency will be interesting, as he has only one year of starting experience. Will a team offer a long term deal, with the hopes of him building on his 2012 campaign? Or will they be weary of his limited experience?
CB Derek Cox, Jacksonville Jaguars
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Derek Cox is an unknown talent, due to playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars for his four-year career. He has the size (6’1” 195 pounds) and strength to compete with the bigger wide receivers.
He’s played in a division that features Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne, and has still performed at a high level. Cox has been labeled as injury prone, after missing 14 games in the past two seasons, but when healthy, he’s a premier talent in the secondary.
In his four years with the Jaguars, Cox has intercepted 12 passes while making 203 tackles, and defended 32 passes.
SS LaRon Landry, New York Jets
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The Buffalo Bills recently released long-time safety George Wilson, leaving many fans to believe that third-year man Da’Norris Searcy will be a starter at the position. Searcy, a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, had begun to see an increased role during the 2012 season, playing 279 snaps. He recorded 39 tackles and forced two fumbles during his limited action.
Defensive backs are crucial to Mike Pettine’s defensive scheme, and as BuffaloBillsDraft.com points out in their breakdown, the Jets used seven defensive backs a league-leading 17% of the plays. This makes safety, particularly strong safety, an important position that the Bills could be addressing this offseason.
LaRon Landry’s name has been circulating among Bills fans recently, as Mike Pettine has had nothing but praise for the former No. 6 overall pick.
We never thought of [Landry] as a box safety. Here's a guy who ran sub-4.4 [40-yard dash time] coming out, has great range. To me, he's a complete safety because he's an excellent blitzer, his man-coverage skills are solid -- that was one of the things that we studied when we looked at him on tape
Landry Is quite the physical specimen, and at 6’0” 220 pounds he’s a human highlight reel known for de-cleating ball carriers.
Landry played in all 16 games for the Jets this year after signing a one-year “show me” contract in the offseason. He made an impression, recording 99 tackles, four forced fumbles, and intercepted two passes en route to a Pro Bowl appearance.
Landry has been rumored to want upwards of $6 million per year as a free agent this offseason, but the connection with Pettine certainly makes Landry a hot target for the Bills.