Bill Wippert/Associated Press
These next two players really could be 1A and 1B on this list because the impact they will have on their respective sides of the ball will be pretty similar. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was brought over from New England because of his run-stuffing ability, an area the defense really struggled in last year.
The defense ranked 10th in yards given up (333.4) but finished last year 28th in rushing yards given up per game (128.9). The additions of Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator and Brandon Spikes made it clear the front office wants to improve against the run.
The impact of Spikes may not be limited to just the run game now that Kiko Alonso is out for the season. The defense is trying to figure out how to fill the void left with Alonso's absence, particularly in the nickel formation.
Joe Buscaglia noted Spikes has started to get some looks in the nickel:
Without Kiko Alonso in the lineup the Bills are mixing and matching personnel with the first unit to see what the best combination is of linebackers in nickel coverage. Keith Rivers, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were all expected to get looks in that respect, but middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was always thought to be the one that would come off the field in that scenario. Noted as a solid run defender and also someone that has had struggles in coverage in the past, the nickel isn’t a fit for him — at least not on paper. For a few plays during team drills though, Spikes was in the nickel look as one of the two linebackers on the field. His athleticism wasn’t tested in these looks, but the Bills are weighing all their options.
The run game is where Spikes will earn his paycheck and have an immediate impact, but if he is also able to demonstrate an ability to defend the pass, then the defense is going to be that much tougher.