Ranking the 2014 Impact of Buffalo Bills Free Agent Signings so Far
For a second year in a row, the Buffalo Bills avoided making a big splash in free agency. However, for a second year in a row, the front office had a plan to address weaknesses and executed it by signing a number of veterans to reasonable contracts.
Along with bringing back a number of their own free agents (Dan Carpenter, Brian Moorman and Scott Chandler), they signed five players who should have a major impact on the team's success in 2014. I have ranked these five players based on how much they should improve the Bills from last year to this upcoming season.
5. Anthony Dixon
The Bills wanted to bring in Anthony Dixon primarily for his play on special teams, which was one of the team's focuses this offseason. In 2012, Football Outsiders ranked the Buffalo Bills as the ninth best special team's unit. Last year, that ranking dropped all the way down to 30th.
One area that Buffalo may use Dixon more than San Francisco has to this point in his career is in terms of short-yardage and goal-line plays. In the past three seasons, Dixon has not had more than 30 rushing attempts, but at 6'1" and 233 pounds he is the biggest running back Buffalo has.
The past couple of seasons Fred Jackson has been that back who was expected to pick up those tough yards in short-yardage situations; however, as he gets up there in age, the coaching staff may want to go with Dixon. This should keep Jackson healthier and hopefully add some games onto his career.
4. Keith Rivers
Keith Rivers is a player who can help in two problem areas for the Bills last years: special teams and run defense. Doug Whaley has already talked about Rivers ability to be a "four-down" linebacker when he said:
He can play first and second downs. He can stay in on third down and cover because he's got athletic ability, and then he can contribute on teams. So this goes back to our mantra of getting value guys, and that’s an incredible value pick for our team.
Rivers should also help this team improve against the run, an area they ranked 29th in rushing yards allowed. The six-year pro out of USC has done a good job playing the run, receiving a positive rating every season since 2009, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
3. Chris Williams
The signing of Chris Williams was a bit surprising, but the front office believes the offensive guard has not reached his full potential. There is plenty to like about this signing, particularly his size (6'6", 315 pounds), and the Bills will not have Colin Brown and Doug Legursky as the starting left guard anymore.
Williams is a former first-round pick who started out at tackle for the Chicago Bears and was eventually moved inside to guard, where he has found more success. The Bills are constructing a very big offensive line that has an average weight of 322 pounds with Cordy Glenn, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears and Williams.
The one area Williams will have the biggest impact in is the run game. The Bills finished second in rushing yards in the NFL with a total of 2,307 yards but was not as effective as they could have been. The offense last year rushed the ball the most in the NFL and only finished 14th in yards per rushing attempt with a total of 4.2 yards.
With more talent at the left guard position next year, it should give C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson better opportunities to take advantage of their touches.
2. Corey Graham
Once again, Buffalo was trying to find players to help the special teams unit and signed cornerback Corey Graham. That wasn't the only reason for the signing though, as Graham should strengthen a secondary that was already one of the best in the league.
Graham will be joining a position group that already includes Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin and Nickell Robey. The NFL has become a league dominated by passing, so the need for multiple cornerbacks has become extremely important.
In a recent article by The Buffalo News' Tim Graham, Doug Marrone talked about this when he said, "you need six guys that can cover man-to-man." The other interesting thing he mentioned was the possibility of Graham being a possible replacement at safety for Jairus Byrd. This will be something fans will want to keep an eye on as the team goes through OTAs and training camp.
1. Brandon Spikes
The prize of free agency for the Bills is the signing of middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. He is the player who will have the biggest impact on this team in 2014. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him the best inside linebacker against the run, and this was the weakest part of their team last year.
Last year, the team gave up 128.9 yards per game on the ground and allowed opposing running backs to break off big runs. In six of the seven final weeks of the season, Buffalo allowed at least one running play of 25 or more yards, and two of those weeks gave up rushes of more than 65 yards.
By adding a run-stuffing linebacker like Brandon Spikes to a defense that includes a good defensive line and a dominant secondary, this unit has the potential to be one of the best in the league.