Highlighting Buffalo Bills' Deepest, Thinnest Positions Ahead of 2014 Season
The NFL is physically demanding, and it is typical that every NFL team will have to deal with injuries at some point during the season. The teams that are most successful are the ones that have depth on their rosters and have players ready to step up when their number is called.
By looking at the Buffalo Bills' roster, it is apparent that this year's roster has the most depth the franchise has had in some time. The roster is not perfect, and some holes remain at positions that are thin or have questions surrounding them.
The following slides will highlight two positions that are deep and wouldn't see a drop in production if the projected starter suffered an injury. I have also highlighted two positions that could be a concern if the starter was lost for a significant period of time.
Deepest: Running Back
The Buffalo Bills' stable of running backs make it the deepest position on the roster and arguably one of the best in the NFL. Last season, the Bills finished second in the league in rushing yards with 2,306 yards, thanks in large part to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. The impressive part is that both players dealt with injuries but were still able to be so effective.
The success on the ground didn't stop the front office from going out and adding two more running backs to the roster. During the free-agency period, the Bills signed Anthony Dixon, who is expected to contribute more on special teams but should contribute on offense as well.
In a recent article by Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News, he mentions that Dixon is expected to be the short-yardage, goal-line power back because of his size at 6'1" and 233 pounds.
The real depth at the position, though, comes from the addition of Bryce Brown, who the Bills acquired in a draft-day trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. The rookie season for Brown pointed toward a promising career in Philadelphia when he rushed for 549 yards and a 4.9 yards-per -carry average. His second season in the league was not as he hoped, due to a lack of touches. When he did get the ball, though, he made the most of it and finished with a respectable average of 4.2 yards per carry.
The uncertainty of Spiller and Jackson's contracts after this season may have been one of the reasons the Bills made the trade. As far as this season goes, it provides the team great depth at the running back position, which is great news for an offense that relies so heavily on the run.
Thinnest: Defensive End
While the players will be mostly the same from a season ago, the Bills defense is expected to be in a little bit of a different alignment. Jim Schwartz's defense is typically more based in a 4-3 compared to former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's "46."
This subtle switch is going to add importance to the defensive end position that wasn't there a year ago. One side of the line is going to be anchored by the $100 million man, Mario Williams, who hopefully can build off a career year a season ago.
The depth at the position after Williams is somewhat of a concern, though, because the Bills do not have a complete defensive end on the roster. It is expected that Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes will split time opposite of Williams, according to Chris Brown of Buffalobills.com. The thought process would be for Lawson to play on run downs and Hughes to play on passing downs.
After these two players, the talent level at the position starts to get thin with Jarius Wynn being the only other player with notable NFL experience. If the Bills were to lose one of their top three players (Williams, Lawson, Hughes) it could have a significant impact on this defense.
In the early parts of last season, there was concern whether the Bills could find enough healthy bodies to play the position. This shouldn't be a problem this year, as this position was addressed in the offseason and entering 2014, is one of the deepest on the roster.
The group is led by Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, who exceed expectations last year and played very well. Another surprise was undrafted Nickell Robey, who excelled in the slot, however, his spot is up for grabs. One of the team's key free-agent signings was Corey Graham, who is expected to compete for that nickel spot.
Behind those four, the Bills have two players who have the potential to develop into contributors with Mario Butler and rookie Ross Cockrell. During OTAs the past few weeks, Butler has gotten a lot of practice time with the first team due to Gilmore and McKelvin sitting out and rehabbing. Joe Buscaglia of WGR 500 pointed out Butler's play:
The Bills liked the performance of cornerback Mario Butler so much in the first three days of practice that they elected to give him first-team reps at practice on Tuesday. That trend continued Wednesday and the Bills were rewarded for it. Butler has been able to keep up with most of the receivers on the roster, and even broke up a jump ball against Sammy Watkins late in the practice. He was a free agent acquisition in 2013, but has the size the NFL is looking for in their cornerbacks at 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds. Keep an eye on Butler, he’s earning more reps and taking advantage of some of the veterans not being able to participate.
Losing one of the top cornerbacks on this roster is obviously not ideal, but the Bills have built up enough depth that the lose wouldn't be as devastating.
The Bills safety position is not necessarily lacking depth but rather lacking experience, and with that comes uncertainty. The Bills lost Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd in the offseason, which has created a hole next to Aaron Williams and one they will try to fill before the upcoming season.
The issue lies in the fact that the Bills don't necessarily know what they have at the position. Da'Norris Searcy is the most experienced to fill the role and was the replacement to start the beginning of the 2013 season when Byrd was dealing with a plantar fasciitis injury.
If Searcy is able to secure the starting gig next to Williams, the playing experience behind them is almost nonexistent. In 2013, the Bills drafted Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks, however, neither saw much playing time in their rookie season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Williams only played 36 snaps last season and Meeks played only on special teams and didn't play a single snap on defense.
There is still a lot to be determined between now and the start of the season, and it is not a given that Searcy will be named the other starting safety. However, at this point in the offseason, the lack of experience has to be a little cause for concern. This is why the safety position is one of the thinnest on the Bills roster.
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