How do the Bills take their quarterback play to the next level?
The New York Jets have some competition for the league's worst quarterback situation, and it's within their own division—and their own state.
It's safe to say expectations are excruciatingly low for the Buffalo Bills at quarterback. It doesn't have to stay that way, though. There are options to make it better.
The Bills could trade for a quarterback, or draft one, but there are other measures they can take to improve their quarterback play.
- Tarvaris Jackson
- Aaron Corp
- Brad Smith
If those names don't jump off the page as surefire starters to you, it's because their resumés indicate they aren't.
What are their options?
Trade for Matt Flynn
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported on Tuesday that the Bills are one of three teams interested in trading for Seahawks quarterback Matt Flynn. La Canfora anticipates the Seahawks would net a fourth- or fifth-round pick for Flynn's services. If the Bills can get him for that price—and then restructure his contract (which will count for a $7.25 million cap hit for 2013)—they would be wise to pull the trigger from this perspective.
Flynn was part of a heated battle for the quarterback spot in Seattle, and ultimately lost the job to rookie sensation Russell Wilson, who went on to have one of the best seasons ever for a rookie quarterback.
The question with Flynn is his ability to succeed in an offense that isn't brimming with talent like the one he had when he was filling in for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.
Regardless, any time Matt Flynn came in for the Packers, he did it all: Whether it was delivering deep balls with perfect touch, evading pressure, going through his progressions, throwing with excellent timing or anything in between.
Nathaniel Hackett's offense has similar principles to the West Coast offense. Flynn has plenty of experience running it with the Packers, and it is what the Seahawks were running with him in training camp (they evolved to incorporate some read-option elements into the offense with Russell Wilson at quarterback).
And if he can do to the Patriots what he did to them with the Packers, Buffalonians will warm up to him pretty quickly.
Best Fits in the Draft
This year's quarterback class is not considered one of the best in recent memory, especially since that memory is so dramatically skewed by the campaigns of last year's rookie crop.
If the Bills want to find a quarterback to run the West Coast offense, though, there are plenty of options available in the draft.
We know USC quarterback Matt Barkley has extensive experience running the West Coast offense for Lane Kiffin, but the physical limitations (lack of arm strength, limited athleticism) could be what scares some teams away from him.
There is one quarterback, however, who the Bills are intimately familiar with: Ryan Nassib.
There's no quarterback in this year's class who has more knowledge of Hackett and Marrone's offense than Nassib. That being said, there's no pair of coaches with more knowledge of Nassib's strengths and weaknesses than Hackett and Marrone.
Comparisons to Ryan Fitzpatrick will probably have most Buffalonians petrified of the thought of Nassib in a Bills uniform, but Bleacher Report's Matt Miller called Nassib one of his draft risers in a recent post, saying: "Nassib throws one of the prettiest balls in this year's crop of passers, and he has the strength to push and drive the ball downfield." Miller recently ranked Nassib his 43rd-overall player, and second-best quarterback.
When asked for a couple other potential fits at quarterback, Miller gave me two names to keep an eye on for West Coast offensive teams: Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson.
Smith has already been scouted by the Bills, after being brought in for a private workout at the end of March. He is considered by most to be the top quarterback prospect in this year's class. He is outstanding on timing throws and quick passes such as screens and slants.
With a solid running back in C.J. Spiller, the Bills offense should be able to execute the downfield play-action passes that Smith feasted off of at West Virginia. While that was a big part of his game, he was the Big 12's most accurate quarterback in 2012 completing 71.2 percent of his passes. He also had the highest efficiency rating at 163.9—6.4 points higher than second place.
As for Tyler Wilson, he has been compared to Joe Flacco for his ability to throw the ball downfield, pocket awareness and his ability to throw under pressure. Wilson was one of four quarterbacks listed by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock as potential fits in the West Coast offense (along with Barkley, Nassib and Landry Jones).
He led the SEC in several categories in 2011, including passing yards, passer rating and adjusted yards per pass attempt, but his numbers took a step back in 2012 as he watched two of his top targets take off for the NFL.
We've only scratched the surface here of quarterbacks the Bills could be targeting, but suffice it to say there are plenty of options in the first round and elsewhere.
Stock the Cupboards
It won't matter much who the quarterback is if he isn't aren't surrounded by talent.
Luckily for Marrone and the future Bills quarterback, there is some untapped potential on the roster.
The Bills have built a solid offensive line, although a couple of key components walked off in free agency this year. They need to figure out who will be the starting left guard next year after Andy Levitre joined the Titans, and could use some depth after Chad Rinehart bolted for the Chargers. The offensive line paved the way for the league's fourth-highest rushing average of 50.2 YPA and allowed Bills passers to be sacked just 30 times in 2012.
They already have at least one solid receiver in Stevie Johnson. They already have a dynamic and versatile backfield with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They should add another receiver on the outside to allow Johnson to take on his more natural role as a No. 2 receiver.
T.J. Graham could be asked to play in the slot or as a Y receiver on the outside with Johnson in the slot, but if those pieces emerge and come together, the Bills offense could cruise.
They have an underrated tight end in Scott Chandler, who is absolutely a monster at creating first-downs and touchdowns, but adding another athletic "H-back" type of tight end would help the passing game greatly, as well, with Dorin Dickerson slow to develop.
So, aside from quarterback, there are three or four holes on the offense that need filling:
- wide receiver
- tight end
- offensive line depth
With just six draft picks in 2013, the Bills may not address all those needs in one year, but a lot of their work is already done for them. They just have to fill in the blanks.
And although everyone would be happier if the quarterback had every piece in place, the right quarterback can make up for the pieces that aren't in place.
The Bills have plenty of options to fix their moribund quarterback situation for 2013. With that being said, perhaps their best approach is to take the Seahawks' approach from last year: create a competition among several quarterbacks, roll with the winner and hope for the best.
They're already one step of the way there with Tarvaris Jackson, and could really be mimicking the Seahawks method if they trade for Flynn—a move they most certainly should make. Giving up just a fourth-round pick for Flynn would allow them to still invest draft capital in the position if they feel it is necessary.
The only way they're going to get the most out of their quarterback, no matter who it is, is to surround him with talent. Having a good quarterback goes a long way, but having a good team goes even further.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team press releases.