Offseason Buffalo Bills Player Power Rankings
It is just one step closer to the beginning of the football season. Per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak, the only Bills who didn't attend the voluntary practice were Manny Lawson and Alan Branch.
The Bills roster has undergone a pretty serious makeover in the offseason. So let's take stock of what the Bills have in-house with a good, old-fashioned power ranking. We'll rank the players in the starting lineup on each side of the ball, as well as an extra running back and a few extra receivers since they will have a big role in the offense this season.
Besides just numbers these players put up, we will take into consideration a player's leadership role on the team, positional importance and value over the player's replacement. There are a few starting positions that are up for grabs, so we went with the player we think is most likely to win the job in camp.
24. Kraig Urbik
It is perhaps no surprise that we start with a member of last year's weak offensive line.
But general manager Doug Whaley's moves this offseason proved the Bills are anything but set with their offensive line play. Whaley brought in Chris Williams during free agency and picked Cyril Richardson in the fifth round of the draft.
Whaley also signed J.J. 'Unga in November, and 'Unga saw some playing time at the end of the season.
Considering all of the reinforcements Whaley called in, Urbik's job is anything but safe. He, therefore, stands as the lowest-ranked starter on our list. The right tackle job is his for now, but there are hungry young players vying for his spot.
23. Cyrus Kouandjio
Even though Brown's offensive line report stated Erik Pears started at right tackle during OTAs, he won't keep the job for long.
But since he is a rookie and he doesn't yet have a firm hold on the starting job, Kouandjio can't make it much higher on this list. Kouandjio is also competing with Chris Hairston, who is back on the practice field, per Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550 Sportsradio, and fellow rookie Seantrel Henderson.
Kouandjio has the potential to be a capable bookend to Cordy Glenn, but as of now he finds himself near the bottom of the totem pole.
22. Keith Rivers
Now we can move away from the offensive line for a moment. Keith Rivers finds himself toward the bottom of this list because he is still an unknown commodity in Buffalo.
However, the switch to a 4-3 base defense that comes with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz presents the need for another linebacker. Per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak, Whaley said "Kiko Alonso would move to outside linebacker," and Rivers would "compete" to start opposite him.
With Manny Lawson making the switch to defensive end, there is an opening at outside linebacker. Rivers seems like the most likely candidate to fill that void at the start of the season.
But the former top-10 pick of the Cincinnati Bengals hasn't lived up to that status just yet. The Bills are already Rivers' third team along with the Bengals and New York Giants, and he's only managed 275 tackles in 62 career games.
21. Chris Williams
There's a need to go back to the offensive line for a moment. But you can probably guess this will be the last time for a while.
The Bills signed Chris Williams to a four-year deal at the beginning of free agency, and he was immediately penciled in as the starting left guard.
The first of several Williamses on this list finds himself near the bottom mostly because we haven't seen how he will fit in on the offensive line. He signed a pretty hefty contract, so the Bills obviously expect big things out of him. And at 6'6" and 326 pounds, Williams fits into the Bills' "go big or go home" attitude.
20. Scott Chandler
The Bills' leading receiver from 2013 finds himself ranked lowest of all the receivers on this list. That's mostly because Scott Chandler leading the team in receiving was an anomaly.
Chandler caught 53 balls for 655 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, but the inconsistent quarterback play was what caused the team's receiving numbers to be out of whack. If EJ Manuel has a full and healthy season this year, there's almost no chance Chandler has the most yards again.
But at 6'7", Chandler can still be a reliable target in the red zone. But it was puzzling that Whaley didn't address the tight end position at all in the draft after acknowledging that tight ends are trending to athletic basketball-type players who can out-jump defenders.
Chandler may be 6'7", but he's not going to win many jump balls. The Bills are also hoping for more from the likes of Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg in 2014, so Chandler's value could decrease a little.
19. Da'Norris Searcy
We continue on with players expected to fill vacated starting spots.
Da'Norris Searcy is the man we expect to take over for Jairus Byrd at safety. Per Rodak, Searcy was with Aaron Williams as the first-team safety duo at OTAs.
Searcy had his most successful season in a Bills uniform in 2013, totaling 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks one fumble recovery and one interception, which he took to the house.
Searcy will be competing with Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks and possibly Corey Graham and Kenny Ladler for playing time at safety. Searcy has a leg up as he is the most experienced of the bunch (save for Graham, who is a cornerback first), so he is the best bet to win the job.
But besides right tackle, this will be the most interesting position battle to watch as offseason workouts continue.
18. Sammy Watkins
Make that the now-signed-to-his-rookie-deal Sammy Watkins, per Rodak.
Even though he's a rookie, Watkins makes it this high on the list because of how impressive he has already been in Buffalo.
Watkins opened eyes at the Bills' rookie minicamp, catching just about every pass that was sent his way, per John Murphy of BuffaloBills.com. Murphy also said Watkins "showed fluid route running and a good burst after the catch."
Also during that rookie camp, Watkins came to the facility by himself, at 6:45 in the morning, to work on his routes, per BuffaloBills.com. We already knew Watkins had the talent, but that also shows the incredible work ethic the kid has.
The Bills gave up a lot to move up and draft Watkins, so he eventually needs to get higher on this list to make the deal worth it. If you take into account everything he has shown so far, it is just a matter of time before Watkins shoots up rankings like this one.
17. Marquise Goodwin
Marquise "Flash" Goodwin outranks Watkins mostly by virtue of having a year of NFL experience under his belt.
During Goodwin's rookie year, he displayed how he can be a threat as a field-stretching slot receiver. Goodwin had only 17 catches in 2013, but three of them were for touchdowns, and his 283 yards average out to 16.6 yards a pop.
He can also be a threat in the return game, as evidenced by this 107-yard scamper during the preseason. He's got world-class speed, and he dropped a 4.27 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine last year, per NFL.com. If he gets a step on his defender, forget about it.
Like Watkins and the rest of the receivers to come, Goodwin's success hinges on Manuel's health. Either way, Goodwin will draw less attention than Watkins, Mike Williams and the rest of the Bills' offensive weapons. If he finds himself lined up against the third or fourth corner, or even a linebacker, there are a lot of successful go routes in Goodwin's future.
16. Jerry Hughes
Like Williams and Rivers, Jerry Hughes is another former first-round pick who arrived in Buffalo eager for a fresh start. If Hughes' first season with the Bills is any indication, Williams and Rivers will have immediate impacts.
After totaling only five sacks in his first three years with the Indianapolis Colts, Hughes exploded for 10 sacks with the Bills in 2013. Sure, some of that can be credited to Mike Pettine's defensive scheme, but Hughes still had to go out there and make the plays.
Hughes is the best bet to start at defensive end in 2014 opposite Mario Williams, and the Bills have enough defensive talent to help Hughes have another productive season. Defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus should thrive in Schwartz's system, and offenses can't leave Mario Williams one-on-one too often.
The Bills also don't have much depth behind Hughes, so his importance pushes him up the list a bit. He may not have another double-digit sack season, But Hughes can still play a big role in the Bills defense.
15. EJ Manuel
If your team is going to have any success, you want your quarterback to rank higher than this.
But alas, here stands EJ Manuel, with an injury-riddled rookie season leaving question marks about the strength of the Bills' quarterback position.
But Manuel did have his moments during his first season. He led a game-winning drive against the Carolina Panthers and looked solid at home against the New York Jets and New England Patriots. He was also engineering a drive to potentially beat the Atlanta Falcons before costly fumbles by his receivers caused the game to slip away.
Heading into this season, the front office has given Manuel all the tools necessary to succeed. He has weapons at his disposal across the board, and an improved offensive line should give him more time in the pocket.
The time is now for Manuel to take control of this team. His level of play will be the No. 1 storyline concerning the Bills this season.
14. Robert Woods
Now that Stevie Johnson is off to San Francisco, Robert Woods can take over as the main man in the slot for the Bills.
Woods had a decent inaugural season in Buffalo, hauling in 40 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns. His precision route-running makes him a threatening possession receiver who can move the chains on 3rd-and-short situations. Of his 40 catches, 26 of them resulted in first downs.
While he isn't on the same level yet, Woods has a skill set similar to Wes Welker. With Johnson gone, Woods can work the middle of the field, while Watkins and Mike Williams do damage on the outside.
Woods wasn't on the field for the first day of OTAs, though, as Joe Buscaglia reported that Woods had offseason ankle surgery. Several other Bills starters, including Alonso and Mario Williams, also were reported to have had procedures in the offseason. There are no indications any of these players will miss meaningful playing time, however.
Assuming Woods gets back to 100 percent, he is primed to have a breakout season in the slot for the Bills.
13. Leodis McKelvin
Leodis McKelvin is coming off his best year in Buffalo.
McKelvin posted career highs in tackles (72) and passes defended (19), and he filled in admirably, while Stephon Gilmore missed time with a wrist injury.
For what it's worth, McKelvin was also among those who sat out the Bills' first practice, per Buscaglia, but he should have plenty of time to heal up before the season starts.
Bleacher Report's Alessandro Miglio recently ranked the Bills' cornerback duo sixth in the league. PFF (via Miglio) said McKelvin allowed only 46.1 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed, which was second in the league among corners.
12. Mike Williams
Here we find the second Williams on this list.
Mike Williams enters the season as the Bills' No. 1 receiver, and his career accomplishments thus far earn him a high ranking here. Williams, a Buffalo native, is beginning his first year with the Bills after starting his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There is no questioning Williams' talent. What got him shipped out of Tampa was his behavior off the field. If he can clean up his act in Buffalo, Williams can cause problems for opposing defenses on a weekly basis.
11. Brandon Spikes
We follow up Mike Williams with another newcomer to the Bills.
Brandon Spikes spent his first four NFL years in New England and arrived in Buffalo via free agency this offseason. With the switch to the 4-3 defense, Spikes is the run-stuffing middle linebacker the Bills desperately needed.
Spikes' spot this high in the rankings has as much to do with the lack of depth behind him as anything else. Right now, his only real backup is rookie Preston Brown.
What will help the Bills get the most out of Spikes is that, even though he just signed a contract, it is a one-year deal. Therefore, he's already in a contract year and auditioning to get a long-term deal. If he plays to his strengths and helps the Bills improve the league's fifth-worst run defense, he should easily secure another deal.
10. Aaron Williams
Aaron Williams is another defensive player coming off a career year in Orchard Park.
Williams played in 14 games and had 82 tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions, which were all career bests. That performance was enough for the Bills to give Williams a four-year contract extension in March.
That was money the Bills elected to not use to pay Jairus Byrd, so the pressure is on Williams to produce like Byrd did. With a year of experience under his belt after switching to safety, Williams should be able to do just that.
Now that Williams has settled into his role and doesn't have to worry about the shadow of Byrd looming over everything, he can just go out and continue to make plays.
9. Stephon Gilmore
Stephon Gilmore is this high on the list mostly on potential.
We already discussed Gilmore and McKelvin's talent back on the McKelvin slide. Per Miglio's story, PFF had Gilmore allowing 53.9 percent of passes thrown his way to be completed last year.
Gilmore was poised for a big sophomore season in 2013, but a wrist injury set him back. Once he was healed, though, Gilmore found his stride.
MMQB.com's Andy Benoit has pegged Gilmore for a big-time year in his third season. Benoit said, "The popular cornerback debate is Revis or Sherman? By this time next year, it will be Revis, Sherman or Gilmore?"
Benoit went on to predict that Gilmore will become a "Cover 0 corner, following the opposition's No. 1 receiver all over the field." If Gilmore lives up to his potential, he can become a true shutdown corner for Buffalo.
8. Eric Wood
Besides left tackle, there is no more important position on the offensive line than center.
The Bills have their future at center locked up, as they signed Eric Wood to a contract extension before the 2013 season.
You also have to respect Wood's perseverance, fighting back from serious leg injuries in 2009 and 2011. Now, per Rotoworld.com, Wood is the league's fifth-highest paid center and ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 11 center.
7. C.J. Spiller
When C.J. Spiller is healthy, he is as explosive as any player the Bills have.
However, a lingering ankle injury limited his effectiveness in 2013. That was combined with then-first-year offensive coordinator Nate Hackett having trouble figuring out how to properly use Spiller. There was too much handing the ball to Spiller between the tackles and not enough getting him in space and allowing him to use his quickness.
Despite that, Spiller was still able to put up 933 yards on 202 carries. That was considered a down year for Spiller, though, after he put up 1,244 yards on 207 carries in 2012. The biggest difference in Spiller's productivity came in his receiving numbers, where he only managed 185 yards compared to 459 in 2012.
Assuming Spiller is healthy in 2014, he should be able to get back to his 2012 form. Hackett needs to use Spiller in the screen game more and set him up with pitches and draws instead of dives in the run game.
6. Cordy Glenn
Despite all the questions at offensive line for the Bills, left tackle Cordy Glenn isn't one of them.
Along with Alonso and Woods, Glenn is part of a group of quality players the Bills have found in the second round of recent drafts.
Glenn started 13 games in 2012, his rookie year, and then started all 16 games last season. According to Rotoworld.com, Glenn was responsible for just 1.5 sacks in 2013. And per Pro Football Focus via Chris Brown at BuffaloBills.com, Glenn was third among left tackles in pass-blocking efficiency as of the middle of November.
The Bills were looking for answers at several of their offensive line positions, but left tackle was not one of them. Glenn has been nothing short of excellent for the Bills in his two years with the team, and that should continue as Glenn gains more experience.
5. Marcell Dareus
We start the top five with a player whose performance has been steadily improving.
In 2013, Marcell Dareus showed the dominance that made him the third overall pick in the 2011 draft. Dareus finished the 2013 season with 71 tackles, 7.5 sacks and his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Dareus now finds himself as the No. 29 player on Pro Football Focus' Top 101, per Khaled Elsayed. The breakdown by PFF said Dareus had nine games in 2013 with a positive rating, and his 36 stops against the run were tied for most by a defensive tackle.
With defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz now in town, Dareus should only get better. Schwartz had success in Detroit with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, so he should be able to do the same with Dareus in Buffalo.
4. Kiko Alonso
Alonso barely missed being the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 2013, losing to the Jets' Sheldon Richardson by four votes. But don't let that take away from the brilliant rookie season he put together.
Alonso had a whopping 159 tackles in his first professional season to go along with four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Alonso was all over the field on defense for the Bills, and he played every defensive snap on the season.
Yes, that's every single snap.
It's hard to project Alonso's second year, as he will make the switch to outside linebacker in the new 4-3 scheme. Alonso also underwent offseason hip surgery in January, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan (via Rodak), but he is expected to be fully recovered by the start of the season, based upon the recovery for the procedure being "typically four to six months."
It will be nearly impossible for Alonso to have another season like he had in 2013, but he is already one of the Bills' best players and someone opposing offenses need to account for.
3. Mario Williams
Like Alonso, Mario Williams had an offseason hip procedure. But also like Alonso, Williams is expected to have a clean bill of health by the time they start tackling each other for real.
After a rocky first season in Buffalo, Williams showed in 2013 why the Bills paid him $100 million. He still managed 10.5 sacks in that first season, but a wrist injury hampered his production. Then in 2013, Williams became the dominant force the Bills expected, making 13 sacks, his most since 2007.
Williams is the Bills' primary pass-rusher, and they will count on him to continue putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If Williams can have another relatively healthy season, the Bills have enough talent on defense to allow him space to do his thing.
2. Fred Jackson
Now we are getting to the two players who are the heart and soul of the Bills on their respective side of the ball.
Fred Jackson is that to the Bills offense, even if he isn't the most talented player. Jackson is a team captain, and in 2013 he became the third Bills running back to achieve 5,000 career rushing yards, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
You want to be a leader on this team? One of the best ways to show that you're with this team is to play hurt. And that's what I wanted to do--let those guys know that I would be with them...I've got to give those guys credit. The offensive line did a tremendous job. They protected me knowing what I was going through, and we were able to get a win today.
If that isn't the definition of a leader, I don't know what is. Jackson's importance to the Bills goes beyond the numbers he stacks up. He does whatever it takes to help his team. If any Bills player after Jackson is able to wear No. 22, it will be a minor travesty.
1. Kyle Williams
It just seems fitting that a Williams would top this list doesn't it?
Kyle Williams earns the No. 1 spot because of his consistency, leadership and toughness. Like Jackson, Williams is a team captain and one of the hardest working players on the squad.
Williams is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro selection. He had 68 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 2013, his eighth pro season, all of which are with the Bills. His sack total in 2013 was by far a career best.
Williams joined Dareus on Pro Football Focus' Top 101 of 2013, checking in at No. 26. Williams earned a plus-20 grade against the pass and the run.
Williams has also been extremely durable in his time in Buffalo. He has played in all 16 games in six seasons, while playing 14 in another. He only played five games in 2011 because of a foot injury. Despite being on the injury report just about every week in 2013, Williams didn't miss a game.
Add everything up and Williams is the best player the Bills have. When his career is done, Williams will surely go down as one of the best the Bills have ever had.
What are your thoughts on the list? Where would you rank the best of the Bills? Sound off in the comments below and follow Justin on Twitter @JustinNeuman10 to join the debate.