Breaking Down the Bills, Part Two: The Defense
Yesterday I took a long look at every position on the Buffalo Bills offense, analyzing the incumbent starters and taking a look at the options the team has regarding players that could be upgraded this offseason.
For those that didn't read Breaking Down The Bills Part One: The Offense , I have broken down the analysis for each player into three categories:
- Locked : Locked in as a starter going into 2010. Does not need to be upgraded or have competition brought in.
- Compete : Will likely be the starter going into camp, but needs to have competition brought in to raise their level of play or be replaced.
- Upgrade : Not a quality starting-caliber player. Needs to be replaced either through free agency or the draft.
I'll be doing the same in-depth rundown today, but focusing on the other side of the ball with the Bills defense going under the microscope.
As before, free agent options will be unrestricted free agents only with the assumption that no new CBA will be reached prior to the 2010 season.
Draft prospects are based on the assumption that Buffalo's first and second-round draft picks will be used on (in no particular order) a quarterback and left tackle.
Let's get started.
Notes: * denotes an incumbent who enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent
Left Defensive End
Incumbent: Chris Kelsay
Analysis: Compete. Kelsay seems to be the same story every year: not terrible, with a couple flashes throughout the season, but certainly not a solid starter. The Bills drafted Aaron Maybin last year, but he may be better suited for the right side in Buffalo's system. Either the Bills will have to bring someone in to compete with Kelsay, or prove to fans that they knew what they were doing when they passed on Michael Oher for Maybin in last year's draft.
Recommended Addition: C.J. Wilson. Wilson stands at 6'4", 278 lbs—a very solid build for a left defensive end in a 4-3 defensive scheme. This year, Wilson notched 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. If necessary, Wilson could rotate with Kelsay for a year while he gets a feel for the game, but he has all the tools necessary for manning the left side of the defensive line in the NFL for a long time, while all the free agent options are over 30.
Left Defensive Tackle
Incumbent: Marcus Stroud
Analysis: Compete. Stroud's play has definitely declined, but with the massive extension Buffalo gave him last offseason, he's not going anywhere. However, the Bills need to do something to fix their run game and cannot simply hide behind an ineffective "name" player. Buffalo needs a better rotation at tackle in order to not rely so heavily on the declining Stroud.
Recommended Addition: Tank Johnson. Wilfork would be the top option here without a doubt, but all signs point to him being either franchised or signed to an extension by the Patriots. Johnson was able to overcome his character issues in Cincinnati this year, playing in 14 games after overtaking Pat Sims as a starter. Johnson is more of a natural two-gap tackle than Stroud, which would give him an edge at the position. Johnson also just turned 28, so age is not an issue with him.
Right Defensive Tackle
Incumbent: Kyle Williams
Analysis: Locked. Williams was actually the better of Buffalo's two starting tackles this offseason, even being named a Pro Bowl alternate in the AFC. Williams and Stroud both play the three-technique, which means one needs to be put into a rotational role to make way for a more natural two-gap. Williams, currently the better of the two three-techniques, should stay as a main cog in the lineup. No help needed here.
Right Defensive End
Incumbent: Aaron Schobel
Analysis: Locked. This one is tricky, because it hinges on Schobel sticking around and playing for another year. Schobel has talked about retiring at points in the season, but after finishing with 10.0 sacks on the year, it is clear that Schobel still has plenty to offer as a quality player. If he stays, he'll once again be a solid part of Buffalo's defense in 2010.
Will Outside Linebacker
Incumbent: Kawika Mitchell
Analysis: Locked. Mitchell was one of Buffalo's best defensive players in 2008 after coming over from the Giants in the offseason. In 2009, Mitchell was again on pace to be one of the Bills most solid defenders before injuring his knee in the fifth week of the season. However, his injury was not an ACL tear , and Mitchell should be ready to come back for 2010 and return to being a solid player on Buffalo's defense.
Incumbent: Paul Posluszny
Analysis: Locked. One of Buffalo's defensive captains, Posluszny really stepped up his play in 2009, becoming more than just a tackling machine at middle linebacker. Posluszny picked off three passes to go along with his team-high 110 tackles, which he tallied over only 12 games because of an arm injury. Posluszny also forced three fumbles and recorded a sack on the year. Having just turned 25 this past October, Posluszny is a huge part of the Bills' plans for the future, and the future for him certainly looks bright.
Sam Outside Linebacker
Incumbent: Keith Ellison
Analysis: Upgrade. Ellison is vastly undersized for his position, and should be no more than a reserve at the NFL level. A liability against the run and a major part of the Bills last-ranked rush defense in 2009, Buffalo should look to bring in a new starter at the position for the 2010 season.
Possible Additions: Navorro Bowman (Draft: Penn State), Roddrick Muckelroy (Draft: Texas), A.J. Edds (Draft: Iowa), Karlos Dansby (FA: Cardinals), Keith Bulluck (FA: Titans)
Recommended Addition: Roddrick Muckelroy. I cannot say enough about how much I love Muckelroy as a player. He has been solid for the Longhorns all season and is a very smart, productive, and physical player. His size (6'2", 235 lbs) and physical style of play are exactly what the Bills defense needs, and he would be able to provide a long-term solution at the position, rather than a free agent stopgap.
Incumbent: Terrence McGee
Analysis: Locked. McGee missed five games this year, but when healthy, he is a very good cover man and solid, top corner option for Buffalo. No need to look for more talent here, McGee has it covered (bad pun intended).
Incumbent: Leodis McKelvin
Analysis: Locked. Buffalo's 2008 first-round pick, McKelvin unfortunately saw his sophomore campaign cut short after three games with a fractured bone in his lower leg. When healthy, McKelvin is an electrifying kick returner and developing cornerback. McKelvin will return to a starting role in 2010 and should continue to improve.
Incumbent: Jairus Byrd
Analysis: Locked. The league leader in interceptions as a rookie, Byrd proved to be a true ballhawk and a very quick learner, picking up Buffalo's defense after missing most of the offseason work with a late finals schedule at Oregon. It goes without saying, but no competition needed for the rookie Pro Bowler.
Incumbent: George Wilson
Analysis: Locked. This is an interesting position for the Bills, because while the position doesn't need another player added, the actual starter may not be locked in. Donte Whitner, the Bills first-round pick in 2006, transitioned this season from strong safety to free safety in order to have more freedom to make more plays on the ball.
When Jairus Byrd emerged as a star at free safety, however, Whitner was sent to the bench instead of replacing Bryan Scott at strong safety. Once Scott transitioned to linebacker, the Bills again left Whitner on the bench, turning to special teams captain George Wilson. Wilson's play was solid, and there should be a competition for the starting strong safety spot between the two in 2010 training camp with Byrd locked in at free safety. Perhaps this is the motivation Whitner needs to finally take his play to the next level. Either way, Buffalo should get some solid play from the strong safety spot.
And that concludes my analysis of the Bills and their needs going into the offseason. With a manageable number of holes in the roster, they should be able to patch up some of those holes and have a much different—and hopefully better—looking team entering the 2010 season.
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