Buffalo Bills: 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
NFL teams hope that every season they have one or two players that are able to break out and take their careers to the next level. Two players that immediately come to mind for the Buffalo Bills last season are safety Aaron Williams and left tackle Cordy Glenn.
The Bills have a number of candidates this year that could be in line for a breakout season, which is mainly due to the fact that they have done an excellent job in the draft the past few years. These are five players currently with the Buffalo Bills who are primed to take their career to the next level and break out.
Robert Woods, WR
The additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams will provide a nice boost to the wide receiver position. However, with the loss of Steve Johnson, the Bills will be looking to second-year wide receiver Robert Woods to have a breakout season.
Chris Brown of Buffalobills.com provided some insight in his Fan Friday article about the plan for Robert Woods when he wrote:
It’s believed that Woods can be an even more productive receiver in the slot. Right now he has the most chemistry with EJ Manuel as OTAs are set to begin. What’s more his precise route running provides more consistency for a quarterback looking to take the next step in his on field performance than the unconventional route running of Johnson.
This coming season seems to be aligning perfectly for Woods, as opposing defenses will focus more attention on the explosive Watkins. This should give Woods plenty of mismatches that he can exploit and help Manuel get rid of the ball on time.
EJ Manuel, QB
If Robert Woods wants to have a breakout season, he will need quarterback EJ Manuel to do the same. The moves the Bills have made this offseason make this a real possibility, providing the second-year quarterback with plenty of support.
First the organization traded for Mike Williams, which fills the need for a big wide receiver on the outside, and the Bills followed that by drafting arguably the best wide receiver in the draft in Sammy Watkins.
It didn't matter what weapons they added in the passing game, though, if they could not give Manuel time in the pocket to make a throw. Last year, the Bills quarterbacks were sacked 48 times, finishing 28th in the league in that category.
The offensive line was addressed in free agency, with the signing of guard Chris Williams, and in the draft, with the additions of Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson.
The team has surrounded Manuel with the support necessary for a young quarterback that is still developing at the position. In his rookie season, he missed extensive time in training camp as well as the regular season, which stunted his development. Now that he will have a full offseason to prepare, in addition to the added talent, Manuel is in a position to break out in 2014.
Duke Williams, S
There is going to be a heated training-camp battle between Duke Williams, Da'Norris Searcy and Jonathan Meeks to replace Jairus Byrd. The front-runner would seem to be Searcy because he has experience, but Williams is the best player for the position.
The second-year safety out of Nevada is a sure tackler and good blitzer similar to Searcy. The difference between the two, though lies, in pass coverage where Williams has a clear advantage.
This NFL.com scouting report for Williams describes some of his strengths as, "Another important component of Williams' game is that he shows great balance in coverage, showcasing a smooth back-pedal, and fluid hips. Shows the hands to make difficult interception, as well."
It will not be an easy challenge to fill the shoes of Byrd, who was a Pro Bowler for three of his five seasons in Buffalo, but Williams is the player most equipped for the job. If Williams wins the job over Searcy, he should be in line for a big season.
Stephon Gilmore, CB
This is the second year in a row that Stephon Gilmore looks poised to have a breakout season. Last year, Gilmore saw his season derailed due to a broken wrist suffered in the preseason.
He was able to come back for 11 games in 2013, but it wasn't until the latter part of the year that Gilmore started to get back to form. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave Gilmore a rating of 6.7 over the final four games. This is much better than the rating of minus-14.4 over the first seven games he played in 2013.
If he is able to carry the momentum he gained at the end of last season into 2014, and stay healthy, this could be the year he takes his career to the next level.
Nigel Bradham, LB
Unlike the other players on this list, Nigel Bradham does not have a clear path to a starting position. Right now, free-agent signing Keith Rivers is penciled in as the starting strong-side linebacker, and it would take a very strong camp from Bradham to unseat him.
At some point this season, though, the team could see Bradham in the starting lineup next to Brandon Spikes and Kiko Alonso. Pro Football Focus selected the linebacker out of Florida State as their Secret Superstar.
Pro Football Focus' Peter Damilatis made a strong case for Bradham breaking out this season when he wrote:
Beyond his stout run defense, Bradham is also a sure tackler, missing just six in 86 attempts over his two seasons. He had the eighth-highest Tackling Efficiency of all inside linebackers to take 200 snaps last season. And despite being used primarily as a run defender, he posted a solid +2.6 coverage grade in 2013. In fact, after allowing just four receptions for 42 yards all season, his 0.39 Yards Allowed Per Coverage Snap was the best rate by any inside linebacker with 20 snaps last season. This helps explain why former Bills general manager Buddy Nix claimed that Bradham could be a three-down player last summer.
If Bradham is able to develop into a regular starter, it will only help the team's run defense, which was near the bottom of the league, and make the defense as a whole that much stronger.
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