Grading Every Buffalo Bills Starter's 2013 Regular Season
This was a season of new beginnings for the Buffalo Bills with a new GM, new head coach and coaching staff and who many hope is the new franchise quarterback. Unfortunately for fans, it was the same result, as the team once again missed the playoffs and finished with a losing record of 6-10.
The season wasn't all lost though, as the Bills finished with a division record of 3-3, the first time they won three or more games within the division since 2007. The team saw a major improvement in defense, with the Bills finishing 10th in total yards, fourth in passing and second in sacks with 53.
These are the season grades for the Buffalo Bills starters based on how they performed over the course of the year.
EJ Manuel: C-
The Bills drafted EJ Manuel in the first round in hopes of finding a franchise quarterback. His first season was riddled with three knee injuries, but he still was able to start 10 games and finished with a record of 4-6. The highlight of his rookie season came in Week 2, when he led the Bills to a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of the game.
Thad Lewis: C
The Bills traded for Thad Lewis in training camp, sending linebacker Chris White to Detroit. When the trade was made, it didn't make many headlines but turned out to be a very important move. Lewis started five games for Buffalo and showed he is the perfect backup to EJ Manuel. They have similar skill sets and he fits well into this style of offense.
C.J. Spiller: B
The speedy running back entered the season with high expectations after rushing for over 1,200 yards in 2012. He suffered an ankle injury early in the season that bothered him for a majority of the year. He still rushed for 927 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The reason his grade is lower is because he struggled putting the ball in the end zone, scoring only two rushing touchdowns all season.
Fred Jackson: A-
At the start of the season, many wondered if this was the year Fred Jackson was going to start to see his play decline. He proved those doubters wrong and was the best running back this year for a team that finished second in the NFL in rushing.
Jackson ended the year with 896 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He proved to be a leader on this team. Jackson's biggest moment came in Week 16 when he rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown, all while playing with broken ribs.
Steve Johnson: D+
Steve Johnson will want to forget the 2013 season, as he struggled on the field. This was by far his worst year in the last four years with only 52 receptions, 597 yards and three touchdowns. It is kind of surprising because he started the year so strong with 17 receptions, 236 yards and two touchdowns in the first three games. Many have questioned if Johnson is truly a No. 1 wide receiver, and this is something he will need to prove next season.
Robert Woods: C
Robert Woods was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft and had an up-and-down season. He finished the year with 40 receptions, 587 yards and 3 touchdowns. Woods' best games came when EJ Manuel was under center, and they looked to have built a good relationship on the field. This is something the Bills organization hopes will only get better next season.
Marquise Goodwin: C-
Marquise Goodwin was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft and, like Woods, showed flashes of his talent but was not consistent. Goodwin came in just as a speed guy but showed he has much more talent than that. One of his best catches this season came against New Orleans when he was able to make a fingertip catch. I expect Goodwin to come into the season as the No. 3 wide receiver behind Johnson and Woods.
T.J. Graham: F
To say T.J. Graham struggled this year would be an understatement. He would disappear on the field at points in the season. He had a stretch of three games where he did not even get one pass thrown in his direction. He will have a lot of ground to make up this offseason and in training camp if he hopes to be a part of this offense in 2014.
Scott Chandler: B
Scott Chandler had by far his best season as a Buffalo Bill, and the organization now must decide if they want to bring him back or let him go in free agency. Chandler struggled early in the season, which could have been due to the ACL surgery he had at the end of the 2012 season.
He finished the year leading the Bills in receptions and yards with 53 receptions and 655 yards. He did have a key fumble in overtime against Atlanta that cost them the game, but he was one of the more consistent offensive players.
Pass Protection: D
The Buffalo Bills' offensive line finished the 2012 season giving up the 10 fewest sacks, and expectations were high for this group. This group regressed a great deal this season as they gave up 48 sacks, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. The coaching staff struggled to find a suitable replacement for Andy Levitre which was probably the biggest reason this group struggled.
The front office will need to put finding a left guard and possibly a right tackle at the top of their priorities this offseason to help protect EJ Manuel and give him time in the pocket.
Rush Protection: C
The Bills did finish second in the NFL in rushing yards, but this rushing attack could have been much better with improved offensive line play. This group needs to get much better, particularly close to the goal line. A number of times this season, Buffalo would have the ball inside the five-yard line and the offensive line could not get enough push to open a hole for the running back.
Mario Williams: A
After a disappointing first season with the Buffalo Bills, Mario Williams rebounded to have a Pro Bowl season. He finished the year with 13 sacks and set the Bills' franchise record for most sacks in a single game with 4.5 sacks. Williams' biggest sack came in Week 7, when he got a strip sack that led to the Bills game-winning field goal.
Alan Branch: B
Alan Branch was inserted into the starting lineup when Alex Carrington went down with a season-ending injury. He does not bring the same pass-rushing ability as some of the other lineman but is strong against the run and can tie up one or two offense linemen, allowing other players to make plays. The Bills rewarded Branch for his play with a three-year contract extension worth $8.5 million dollars.
Jerry Hughes: A-
Before the season began, Jerry Hughes came over in a trade which sent linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis. The Colts drafted Hughes in the first round in 2010 and were ready to go in a different direction. The Bills luckily made the move, as Hughes was one of the biggest surprises of the season.
He finished the year with 10 sacks and was the perfect pass-rushing compliment to Mario Williams on the opposite end of the defensive line. He is sure to go into 2014 with high expectations after the stellar season he had.
Kyle Williams: A+
Kyle Williams is my vote for team MVP because he was one of the main catalysts for this defense. He was constantly breaking through offensive lines and disrupting opposing quarterbacks. Williams finished the year with double-digit sacks for the first time with 10.5 and will be going to the Pro Bowl for the third year in a row.
Marcell Dareus: B
Marcell Dareus had a grade of A- before the New England game, however after his second straight week of suspension for being late to meetings, the grade had to be re-evaluated. He made a crucial mistake in the second half when he jumped offsides on a field goal attempt that allowed the Patriots to score a touchdown on the next play.
There is no question that Dareus has the physical talents to be a great defensive tackle, and that he had the best season of his NFL career with 71 tackles and 7.5 sacks. However, there are things he needs to work on if he hopes to reach that next level and play up to his true potential.
Kiko Alonso: A-
This season will go down as the year the Legend of Kiko was born. The second-round draft pick did not waste any time stepping into the starting middle linebacker role. He was given a lot of responsibility by the coaching staff and played very well.
He finished the season third in the NFL in tackles with 159 and added two sacks and four interceptions to that impressive total. He should be considered a favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He would join Shane Conlan and Jim Haslett as the only Bills to ever win the award.
Manny Lawson: B+
Manny Lawson signed with the Bills as a free agent and played well his first season in Buffalo. He had 73 tackles, four sacks and capped the season off with an interception on Tom Brady.
Arthur Moats: C+
Arthur Moats had the best season of his career with 54 tackles and provided good depth for the Bills linebacker corp, but he is not a starter for this defense. Along with the offensive line, improving the talent at this position should be a top priority for the Bills' front office. Moats has the talent to be an excellent reserve linebacker and, if he is able to stay in that role, it would help this group.
Nigel Bradham: D+
Nigel Bradham was expected to step into a starter role at the beginning of the season, but he struggled. He had his best game of the season in Week 17 against New England with 10 tackles, but he didn't make a big impact before then. He finished the year with only 51 tackles.
Stephon Gilmore: C+
Stephon Gilmore came into the season with high expectations and unfortunately couldn't live up to them. A broken wrist in the preseason contributed to a lot of his struggles this year, as he missed the first five weeks of the season.
Once he did return it seemed like he was playing catch up, both in learning the defense and physically for weeks after his return. Gilmore is a very talented cornerback, and he will enter next season with questions if this is the year he reaches his full potential.
Leodis McKelvin: B
Many wondered why the Bills would bring Leodis McKelvin back after he struggled for five years at cornerback. By the end of his rookie contract he was viewed as nothing more than a talented punt returner.
The Bills' coaching staff obviously saw something in McKelvin to bring him back, and McKelvin proved it was the smart move. From start to finish this season, McKelvin was the Bills' best cornerback and helped this defense finish fourth in the NFL in pass defense.
Aaron Williams: B+
Aaron Williams made the move from cornerback to safety in the offseason and played very well in his new role. He finished the year with 82 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defended.
The fact that he did play cornerback for the first two years of his NFL career provided this defense with versatility, and Williams was able to move back to cornerback when they were struggling with injuries early in the season.
Jairus Byrd: A-
Jairus Byrd held out for most of training camp and struggled with injuries over the first few weeks of the season. When he was on the field though, he showed exactly why he is considered one of the top safeties in the game. He was recognized for his play by being selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time.
This season he played in only 11 games due to his injures but still finished tied for the team leader in interceptions, with four. One of the biggest storylines for the Bills this offseason is what they will do with Jairus Byrd. Last year the front office was not willing to offer him a big contract. But after the way the defense played with him in the lineup, it may be time to pay the man.
Dan Carpenter: A
When Dustin Hopkins went down with an injury to start the season, the Bills were left scrambling to find a kicker. Luckily for them, Dan Carpenter was available and had a great season for Buffalo.
He finished the season tied for fifth in the NFL in field goals made with 33 and tied for 10th in the NFL in field goal percentage at 91.7 percent. He didn't miss an extra point or field goal inside of 40 yards all season.
Brian Moorman: B+
After Shawn Powell's release, the Bills' front office decided to bring back fan favorite Brian Moorman to handle the punting duties. Moorman showed he still has it and even said he would like to return next season to Buffalo.