Buffalo Bills

Breaking Down All the Key New Faces on the 2014 Buffalo Bills

Brandon CroceAnalyst IJune 17, 2014

Breaking Down All the Key New Faces on the 2014 Buffalo Bills

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Since Doug Whaley took over as general manager of the Buffalo Bills, he has had a clear plan of what he wants his football team to look like. In the two offseasons led by Whaley, the Bills have gone out and gotten the players they hope will get them to the playoffs and beyond.

    Over the past six months, the Bills have signed, traded and drafted players who will be deciding factors on how successful this team will be in 2014. I have highlighted 10 of those acquired players and broken down what they bring to this team and the impact they should have this year.

Sammy Watkins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Acquired: First-Round Pick in NFL Draft (Fourth Overall)

    The selection of Sammy Watkins will probably be the move fans remember most down the road from this offseason. The hope is that he is remembered for being a great wide receiver for this offense and not for the trade the Bills made to get him.

    There is concern that the Bills may have given up too much to get him. CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson breaks down the idea of trading up and believes the trade may not work out for the Bills.

    The effect of adding Watkins to the offense will be felt in every aspect of this unit. Quarterback EJ Manuel will have that go-to, No. 1 wide receiver—a role Steve Johnson struggled to fill last year.

    Watkins has unbelievable speed and can turn a routine route into a long touchdown in the blink of an eye. This is the part of the game opposing defenses will have to account for the most. This should provide more favorable matchups for the other wide receivers on the field with more attention on Watkins.

    The Bills could also find it a little easier to run this season with defenses having to account for Watkins, as they won't necessarily be able to stack the line of scrimmage. The Buffalo offense has the potential to be very good this season, but it will need the rookie wide receiver to have an immediate impact for that to happen.

     

Brandon Spikes

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Acquired: Signed in Free Agency

    The only other player who could equal Sammy Watkins' impact on this team could be new starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. The Bills defense struggled mightily against the run last season, and this is an area in which Spikes excels.

    The knock on Spikes has been whether he can be a true "three-down" linebacker because of his struggles in the passing game. Chris Brown of the BuffaloBills.com picked Spikes as one of his standout performers and even mentioned his ability to defend the pass:

    His knack for quickly flowing to the ball put him in position to make the kind of plays one might not expect to see from the big, bruising linebacker. Batted passes and interceptions were where he showed up in the spring practices. That combined with hard hitting ability when the pads go on should make Spikes a much more complete linebacker than some might think.

    The player who may be impacted the most on this defense could be the rookie standout from last season, Kiko Alonso. With Spikes on board, Buffalo has the chance to move Alonso outside to the weak-side position. Instead of Alonso continually having to take on blockers, which will be Spikes' responsibility now, he can use his speed and instincts to get to the ball-carrier more quickly than a season before.

Mike Williams

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Acquired: Trade with Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    In two seasons, the Bills front office has almost completely overhauled the wide receiver position, with Sammy Watkins and the trade for Mike Williams being the final pieces. Last year, the Bills had plenty of speed at the position, but it was evident that they lacked size. That is why Williams will be a perfect fit for this offense.

    A former Syracuse wide receiver, Williams had an immediate impact for the Bucs when he caught 11 touchdowns his rookie season. Over his career, he has shown a good ability to use his body and his height (6'2") to go up and give his quarterback a big target.

    With players like Watkins, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin to work underneath and the short routes, Williams will be able to play to his strengths on the outside and give EJ Manuel a big target down the field. If Williams is able to perform the way he did his rookie season, the Bills will have a complete wide receiver group that should give Manuel all the weapons he needs to be successful.

     

     

Cyrus Kouandjio

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Acquired: Second-Round Pick in NFL Draft (44th Overall)

    Cyrus Kouandjio is a big offensive tackle who is expected to provide a boost to the Bills rushing attack. The rookie out of Alabama will be battling with veteran Erik Pears for the starting right tackle job—a battle he should eventually win.

    Kouandjio brings a dominating run-blocking presence thanks in large part to his physical size (6'7", 322 lbs). A blocker like this on the right side will be a welcome addition to an offense that has relied heavily on the run.

    The concern that seemed to show up on scouting reports, including this one by Rob Rang, was his lack of technique. Kouandjio's technique is not horrible by any means, but it is a work in progress, particularly his pass blocking. During his last season at Alabama, Kouandjio really struggled against the speed rushers, which is something he will need to work on between now and the start of the season.

Anthony Dixon

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Acquired: Signed in Free Agency

    The addition of Anthony Dixon will be a major boost to the special teams unit, which was one of the focuses this offseason. Dixon has spent the past four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and has been extremely durable. He hasn't missed a single game since entering the NFL.

    The majority of those games he contributed on special teams, but he did line up in the backfield on occasion, primarily as a short-yardage or goal-line back. He has 148 career rushes, 458 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. 

    The Bills have a crowded backfield with C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown all fighting for touches, but none has the size of Dixon. At 6'1" and 233 pounds, Dixon could be the perfect back for the Bills to use to pick up a tough yard or two.

Bryce Brown

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Acquired: Trade with the Philadelphia Eagles

    With the uncertainty of C.J. Spiller's and Fred Jackson's contracts past this season, the Bills acquired a backup plan when they traded for Bryce Brown. The third-year running back will provide the Bills with one of the best three-running back rotations in the league this coming season with protection in 2015 if the team loses Spiller and/or Jackson.

    Playing behind LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia, Brown did not get regular carries, and in only three of his 32 career games did he receive more than 15 carries. In two of those games, though, he ran for 178 and 169 yards and showed he has the skills to be an explosive back in the NFL. He currently has a career average of 4.6 yards per carry.

    The concern about Brown coming out of his rookie season was whether he could hold onto the ball, since he finished the season with four fumbles on only 115 carries. The fumbling problem didn't affect him last season, though, as he did not have a single fumble—but he only carried the ball 75 times.

    It will be interesting to see if 2013 was a fluke or if he has put his fumbling problems behind him.

     

Corey Graham

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Acquired: Signed in Free Agency

    Corey Graham is as versatile as they come for the Bills defensive secondary, and it remains to be seen exactly where he will line up once the season rolls around. He has enough size (6'0", 196 lbs) to line up on the outside to step in for an injured Stephon Gilmore or Leodis McKelvin, and he still seems to be a viable option to be a starting safety.

    He could be best utilized, however, as the starting nickel cornerback. The NFL is moving more to a passing league, and three-wide receiver sets are being used more frequently. It is important for defenses to have three or four quality cornerbacks to try to stop these offensive formations. 

    Graham is coming off a career year where he showed a knack for forcing turnovers with four interceptions last season. This is going to be extremely important for a defense that finished second in interceptions last year but must deal with the production lost by Jairus Byrd heading to New Orleans.

Keith Rivers

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Acquired: Signed in Free Agency

    A former first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008, Rivers has not had the type of impact that is expected from a top-10 pick due primarily to injuries. He has put together a solid career even still and is a solid veteran addition to a rather young linebacker group.

    Rivers is expected to be the starting strong-side linebacker next to Brandon Spikes and Kiko Alonso and will be called upon to set the edge against the run. The hope would be that Rivers will be able to force running plays to his side back toward the middle where Spikes and Alonso can get to the ball-carrier.

    One of the concerns with Rivers is whether he can stay healthy over an entire season with last season being the first time in his career that he played in all 16 games. If the Bills are able to get a full season out of Rivers, it would be a huge boost for this defense and its play against the run.

     

Preston Brown

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Acquired: Third-Round Pick in NFL Draft (73rd Overall)

    Similar to Brandon Spikes, middle linebacker Preston Brown is a "thumper." He excels in stopping opposing running backs. Brown could be limited to only two downs, as Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com believes, because of a lack of athleticism, which would limit his coverage ability.

    Even though Brown will primarily be the backup to Spikes this season, he should see plenty of playing time. He could potentially get his chance to really make a name for himself in 2015 if Spikes leaves after his one-year contract is over. The two have very similar skill sets and body frames, which will hopefully translate to a better run defense this year.

    Nawrocki listed Brown's positive traits in his scouting report:

    Outstanding size. Physical tackler. Steps downhilll and attacks the run with the proper shoulder. Good eyes and instincts. Delivers some pop on contact and strikes with force. Experienced three-year starter. Good football intelligence -- makes the calls and lines up a defense. Has large hands and a big wing span for his size.

    The lack of coverage ability does lower the potential ceiling for Brown, but he stops the run very well. He should fit nicely in the middle of this Bills defense for years to come.

Chris Williams

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    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    Acquired: Signed in Free Agency

    In a continued effort to build a physically imposing offensive line, the Bills addressed the left guard position when the team signed free agent Chris Williams. When Andy Levitre left in free agency before the 2014 season, there was a huge hole left on the offensive line that could not be fixed with Colin Brown or Doug Legursky.

    It remains to be seen if Williams is the answer, though, with mediocre seasons in Chicago and St. Louis. He entered the league with the Bears in 2008 as a left tackle but struggled at the position and was eventually moved inside to guard.

    Williams has great size to play the position at 6'6" and 330 pounds, but he still needs to refine his technique to reach his potential. The Bills coaching staff has already started addressing this. In a recent article by Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, Williams said: "Coach Morris has been on me about some technique things we want to get fixed from last year, and I’m excited about it."

    If Williams is able to refine his technique, the Bills will have a strong offensive line that will control the point of attack. This would be just one more reason the Bills offense should be much better than last season.

    Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce


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