How Will the Buffalo Bills Use Their Rookies in 2014?
After a busy three days that included a number of trades, the Buffalo Bills left Radio City Music Hall with seven new players joining the organization. The team hopes that every one of those players will contribute, whether it is this year or down the road and help the team's 14-year playoff drought.
It was clear the focus this year for the Bills was to help quarterback EJ Manuel and what better way to do that then trading up for the draft's top wide receiver, Sammy Watkins. It didn't stop there as they used three of their remaining six picks to draft offensive linemen, who will not only protect Manuel but open up lanes for running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
The following slides will break down how each rookie will be used by the Buffalo Bills this coming season.
Sammy Watkins should step in immediately as the Bills go-to wide receiver and help a passing offense that struggled last season. Now that defenses will turn their focus toward stopping Watkins, it should open up more opportunities for other receivers, like Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin.
The challenge for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will be how to get Watkins the ball with enough space to turn a short or intermediate route into an explosive play. The type of speed the former Clemson Tiger has should compel Hackett to incorporate more screens and jet sweeps than last year.
No matter how they make Watkins part of this offense, I would expect that he will be highlighted early and often. This will not only help Manuel with getting into a rhythm but force defenses to back off the line, giving C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson more room to run.
Cyrus Kouandjio is a massive tackle, checking in at the NFL Combine at 6'7" and 322 pounds. The team will benefit greatly if he can step in and start at right tackle immediately. The biggest impact he will have in his run blocking, an area in which Erik Pears struggled in last year.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Bills rushed the ball 545 times but only 39 of those attempts were behind Pears. By inserting Kouandjio on the right side, the Bills should have a much more balanced rushing attack and more flexibility in their play-calling.
And Bills running backs are sure to enjoy carrying the ball behind this behemoth offensive tackle from Alabama.
After the Bills went offense with their first two picks, the team addressed their run defense with the selection of Preston Brown. The inside linebacker from Louisville is an excellent tackler, with over 300 tackles in his collegiate career, but unlike Kiko Alonso, last year's standout rookie linebacker, Preston may not get significant playing time in his first year.
Brown could develop into a starting middle linebacker, and this pick may have been made just in case Brandon Spikes does leave Buffalo when his one-year contract is up. He is very similar to Spikes in terms of being a force against the run. He struggles in the passing game, according to this scouting report, which could limit his playing time.
For this coming season, Brown will most likely be the main backup for Spikes at middle linebacker and be asked to contribute on special teams.
The Bills stayed on the defensive side of the ball in the fourth round with the selection of Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell. Unlike the three players selected before him by the Bills, Cockrell's role in 2014 is a little unclear.
As with Preston Brown, if Cockrell gets playing time, it will most likely be on special teams. However, depending on how the secondary shapes up during training camp, Cockrell could see some snaps on defense.
One way that Cockrell might get some playing time is if the Bills move Corey Graham to safety this coming season. The team has mentioned this switch as a possibility but has not yet committed to it.
He also might acquire some snaps through injury. Last year, the Bills secondary was hit hard by injuries, and if this happens again, the 6'0" and 191-pound Cockrell would be a much better candidate to fill in for Leodis McKelvin or Stephon Gilmore should they be out for an extended period of time.
The Bills continued to build their offensive line up with the selection of guard Cyril Richardson, who stands 6'5" and weighed 329 pounds at the NFL combine. It won't matter whether the Bills line up Richardson next to Cordy Glenn on the left or Cyrus Kouandjio on the right, opposing defenses will have trouble getting through them.
Fans may have to wait a year, though, to see Richardson make an impact on this offense. The team signed Chris Williams this offseason to a four-year deal, and the expectation is that he'll be used at left guard. While on the right side, Kraig Urbik who has been a steady performer there for the past couple of seasons, should remain the starter.
Richardson should be considered the guard of the future for the Bills, which could happen as early as 2015. As far as this season goes, he will primarily be a backup unless there is an injury at either guard position.
Randell Johnson was selected by the Bills in the seventh round with an eye to the future in hopes that he could develop into an outside linebacker. At 6'3" and 242 pounds, he has the body to be a strong-side linebacker, but the Bills may try and use him on special teams this season.
The Sports XChange wrote about Johnson after the Bills drafted him:
Johnson recorded 41 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a senior when he played in every game and was named his team's Iron Man of Year. Part of that came from the fact that he played on almost all of the special teams units, as well as on defense. That's where he'll have to make his mark in the NFL.
The Bills have done a nice job this offseason addressing the linebacker position and have added enough depth that Johnson can learn the strong-side linebacker position and not be rushed onto the field.
With their second pick in the seventh round, the Bills selected an offensive tackle who has the physical gifts to be elite. However, the reason he was still on the board in the seventh round is because he comes with a lot of red flags.
Seantrel Henderson has a long list of issues ranging from failed drug tests in college and even at the NFL Combine, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Henderson's pro day at the University of Miami did not help his cause when he had to stop early due to dehydration and feeling sick.
The slide all the way to the seventh round could be the wakeup call that Henderson needs and Buffalo could reap the benefits. At 6'7" and 331 pounds, Henderson is another big offensive tackle that Coach Marrone covets.
Even with all the physical gifts and the incredibly high potential he has, Henderson won't be playing a big role for the Bills offense in 2014. By spending a year and practicing on technique and learning the nuances of the position and stays out of trouble off the field, he could be competing for a spot in 2015.
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