Buffalo Bills with Best and Worst Chance at Repeating 2012 Production
The 2012 season was a perfect snapshot of what the last 13 years have been for the Buffalo Bills and their fans. Pomp and circumstance surrounded the team after a flurry of high-profile moves in free agency, combined with what looked to be a solid draft by then-GM Buddy Nix.
Chemistry on offense looked to be average at best with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick pressing to live up to the mistake of a contract he was signed to during the 2011 season. The preseason-darling defense was even worse under a conservative defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt, and an even more stubborn head coach, Chan Gailey.
Despite a 6-10 record and another fourth-place finish in the AFC East, several Bills' players put up career stats to put the team in the position to win even more games.
Reflecting on last year's performances—both statistically and analytically—which Bills have the best chance at producing to or over their 2012 clip and who is going to see his numbers dip?
Best: C.J. Spiller
C.J. Spiller took the AFC by storm during his third NFL season by becoming the first player in league history to run for at least 1,200 yards with as little as 207 carries. Despite not being the starter from the outset of the season, Spiller rampaged his way to over 1,700 total yards and displayed the game-breaking potential that made him the ninth-overall selection in 2010.
The maddening part of Spiller's season is that Chan Gailey inexplicably refused to consistently give Spiller the touches he deserved. Fred Jackson's injury-plagued 2012 season should have given the former Clemson star the time to become the focal point of the Bills' offense. Instead, Gailey would take Spiller off the field after long plays or in goal-line sets in favor of fringe talent Tashard Choice.
With a new regime in place it was not entirely clear how the running back situation in Buffalo would work itself out in 2013, but new offensive coordinator Nate Hackett gave a pretty clear indication this week. Hackett, who is currently implementing a no-huddle offense, spoke to the Howard Simon Show on WGR 550 in Buffalo on Wednesday and said the team is going to give Spiller the ball "until he pukes."
There is some obvious hyperbole in Hackett's interview regarding his speedy back, but unless Spiller misses a few games, there is no reason for him not to easily surpass his career numbers from last year.
Worst: Mario Williams
Mario Williams had one of the most confusing seasons statistically for any Bills' player during the 2012 season.
Williams struggled to find consistency in the first half of the season. Blame it on the wrist issue or potentially feeling the weight of becoming the highest-priced defensive player in league history. Blame it on whatever you want, but Williams did not live up to his billing for six or seven games.
However, the Williams that we saw from Weeks 9-17 was a player that looked like one of the elite defenders in the NFL. The former Texan defensive end was Pro Football Focus' fifth highest rated 4-3 defensive end in the second half of the season with a +13.1 rating. Williams' sacks were up during that time, but his run defense also greatly improved as the season waned.
So, which player is Williams going to be in 2013 under new coordinator Mike Pettine?
Williams finished last season with 10.5 sacks, which was actually the third highest total of his seven-season career. The fact that the amount of sacks and the look of his play felt underwhelming when analyzing from afar leads me to believe that he is capable of even more than his 14-sack sophomore season.
However, Williams played an entire 16-game slate for the first time in three years and has a new role under a new coordinator for the third time in as many seasons. Neither is a very good trend for developing consistently high numbers.
Best: Stephon Gilmore
An argument can be made that rookie wide receivers and cornerbacks have the biggest learning curve when transitioning from college to the pros. For second-year corner Stephon Gilmore, that idea proved to be true for the first half of his rookie season.
Due to injuries and ineffectiveness of other corners, Gilmore was immediately called upon to shadow opposing teams' No. 1 receivers. Problems with biting on fakes and getting caught slightly out of position plagued him early on, but he made the progressions you would like to see out of a young player as the season wore on.
After giving up a few big plays in the beginning of the season, Gilmore held his matchups to a 53.5 completion percentage and did not allow a single touchdown to a No. 1 receiver in Buffalo's final 11 games. And while his 13 penalties led the entire NFL at his position, you can chalk some of that up to being a young player thrust into a primetime position.
Gilmore finished tied for ninth in the league in passes defensed with some of the league's elite, including Patrick Peterson and Charles Tillman, with 16 total knockdowns.
Having only one interception may look like a black mark on an otherwise solid season, but many of Gilmore's batted passes were balls that would have been difficult to catch. His interception total should improve in his second season, but it may not go up much as opponents may choose to focus on the Bills' weaker defensive backs.
With Darrelle Revis out of the division, Gilmore has a chance to build upon a solid end to his rookie season and become the AFC East's best shutdown corner in year two.
Worst: Scott Chandler
Maybe this is being unfair to Scott Chandler, but coming off of a career-season that ended on a poor note—Chandler tore his ACL in the final week of the season—his opportunity for another high return may be limited. Chandler has had trouble staying healthy during a six-year career and bigger tight ends coming off of knee injuries have not had the greatest recoveries—i.e. Jake Ballard and Tony Moeaki.
Chandler led the Bills' receiving options in touchdowns and was second on the team in receptions with 43 to his credit. Since coming to Buffalo two years ago, Chandler built a good relationship on the field with Bills' cast-off Ryan Fitzpatrick and became a favorite red zone target.
Even if Chandler is able to work through his injury concerns, a revamped receiving corp with a multitude of rookies will spread targets thin. Chandler had the second most targets on the team last season with 73 and the odds of him hitting that number against probably are not too good.
Much of the reliance on Chandler last season came due to the fact that David Nelson and Donald Jones—who ended up retiring on Thursday due to kidney disease—were injured for major chunks of the season. Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and second-year receiver T.J. Graham all look to benefit from more looks towards receivers under Doug Marrone and Nate Hackett.
Best: Alex Carrington
For the better part of three years, Alex Carrington looked to carry the unfortunate title of "draft bust." Carrington was one of the prized selections in the first three rounds of Buddy Nix's inaugural draft in Buffalo. However, the Arkansas State product struggled to produce in limited field appearances and was even on the roster bubble as recent as last offseason.
Carrington's 2012 gave a glimpse into the potential he could fulfill on an already loaded Bills' defensive front. He racked up two sacks and three passed defenses in limited duty, while really coming on toward the end of the season in rush defense. Carrington's most important contribution to the team in 2012 was his special teams prowess, as the defensive end blocked a team record four field goals and extra points.
The spurt at the end of the season drove analysts and fans into high alert entering the offseason. Pro Football Focus named him a "Secret Superstar" back in May and multiple sources have labeled him as a potential breakout candidate for the upcoming season. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News called him "a force," while the guys at Buffalo Low Down mention he's been one of the most dominant players in camp so far.
It should not be hard for Carrington to surpass generally uninspiring stats from a season ago, which makes his selection on this list a bit easy. However, all reports do seem to align to the fact that Carrington is finally ready to take his game to the next level.
The Bills didn't just shed the salary of recently-signed defensive end Mark Anderson for no reason, did they?
No. Carrington is that reason.