Are the Buffalo Bills Finally Ready to Compete in the AFC?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 29, 2019

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - APRIL 25:  Ed Oliver reacts after being drafted ninth overall by the Buffalo Bills on day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft on April 25, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Since the Buffalo Bills last won a playoff game in December 1995, the organization has employed 20 starting quarterbacks. Many of them have been bad, some of 'em good. But even the good ones haven't received enough support to take the Bills on a postseason run. 

Buffalo simply hasn't possessed enough talent the last couple of decades, but that's changing. Fast. 

The rebuilding Bills already had the key rebuild ingredient entering this offseason. His name is Josh Allen, who last year became the first top-10 pick at the quarterback position in team history. And while raw, the 22-year-old Wyoming product showed enough promise as a rookie to indicate he could become a franchise signal-caller in the near future. 

Now, about that support. 

That's where Bills general manager Brandon Beane has come up big this offseason, both in free agency and the draft. 

Beane has added at least eight key players on offense along with one of this draft's most highly touted prospects on defense, which could be enough to move the Bills into contention. 

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Bills GM Brandon Beane means business this offseason.
Bills GM Brandon Beane means business this offseason.Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Meet the new crew...

   

The safety valves: Wide receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Tyler Kroft 

Allen completed just 52.8 percent of his passes as a rookie, and accuracy was a concern coming out of college. But it didn't help that his offense lacked experience in the slot (young Zay Jones struggled as the primary option there) and production at tight end (veteran Charles Clay had a disastrous campaign). 

Enter Beasley and Kroft. 

The former caught more than 70 percent of the passes thrown his way during his seven seasons for the Dallas Cowboys—mostly as the primary slot receiver—while the latter did the same during his four years at tight end with the Cincinnati Bengals

Beasley is now on the wrong side of 30, but that experience is just what the Bills need at wide receiver. And while Kroft missed the vast majority of the 2018 season with a broken foot, the 2015 third-round pick is just 26 years old. 

He could have a chance to break out in Buffalo, especially with the support of third-round rookie Dawson Knox at his position and Beasley in the slot. 

   

The field-stretcher: Wide receiver John Brown

Beasley, Kroft, Knox and Allen should also benefit from the addition of Brown, who Buffalo signed to a three-year, $27 million deal early in free agency. The outside threat is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL, and he was a 1,000-yard player in 2015 with the Arizona Cardinals

Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

Brown isn't a superstar, but he's well-accomplished and still only 29. And the key is he has the wheels to keep defenses on their heels. We all know the cannon-armed Allen has the ability to get it deep, and now he has an established home run target out wide. 

For a QB who threw most of his deep balls to some guy named Robert Foster last year, that's huge. 

   

The protectors: Offensive linemen Cody Ford, Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe, Quinton Spain and Spencer Long

Ford was a potential top-10 pick who Buffalo was lucky enough to land with the sixth pick of the second round on Friday night. The enticingly large, athletic and versatile third-team All-American could eventually be a pillar offensive tackle, but the former Oklahoma Sooner should be able to provide an immediate upgrade at guard. 

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

Ditto for Spain and/or Long, both of whom should fight to supplant veteran Vladimir Ducasse and bring some upside to the left guard position opposite Ford. The former was a solid starter much of the last four years with the Tennessee Titans, while the latter has 44 career starts under his belt with the Washington Redskins and New York Jets

Most importantly, Buffalo has manufactured competition at the guard positions after getting poor results in both spots last season. 

In the middle will be Morse, who is now the highest-paid center in the league after signing a massive free-agent deal to replace the disappointing Russell Bodine (now recovering from a broken leg). According to Pro Football Focus, Morse hasn't surrendered a sack since he was a rookie in 2015. 

In fact, per the same source, he's the league's current record holder for longest streak of pass-blocking snaps without giving up a sack.

Finally, the Bills moved on from Jordan Mills, who was one of the worst right tackles in football the last three years, and replaced him with the underrated Nsekhe. The 33-year-old quietly performed well in spot duty with the Redskins the last few years, and he'll also encounter healthy competition from incoming vets LaAdrian Waddle and Jake Fisher.

    

The young weapons: Running back Devin Singletary and tight end Dawson Knox

Ford and first-round pick Ed Oliver are getting the lion's share of the attention within Buffalo's 2019 draft class, but the Bills also added two offensive skill-position players in Round 3 who could eventually make a difference. 

And while the quick-footed Knox might need time to develop as a converted quarterback, the elusive Singletary has the talent and resume to become the latest Day 2 success story at the running back position. The dude is a tackle-breaking machine, and he rushed for over 4,000 yards and 66 touchdowns at Florida Atlantic. 

Veteran Bills back LeSean McCoy is coming off the worst year of his career, and Frank Gore is 35 years old. Buffalo needed young blood at that position, and Singletary has the ability to make a significant impact immediately.  

   

The potential game-changing defender: DT Ed Oliver

In this case we might have saved the best for last, because the Bills landed one of the steals of the draft when Oliver fell to them in the No. 9 spot. The Houston product has routinely been compared to two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and for good reason. 

The undersized but wildly fast, explosive and athletic 21-year-old recorded 53 tackles for loss during his three-year stint with the Cougars, and there's little reason to believe he won't make a difference right off the bat in Buffalo. 

The Bills defense didn't need an overhaul. It was one of just three units in the league that surrendered fewer than 5.0 yards per play last season, and it ranked in the top 10 in takeaways. Football Outsiders ranked that unit second in the league in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). 

But that D lacked a standout player. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (2018 first-round pick) is still developing, cornerback Tre'Davious White (2017 first-rounder) experienced a bit of a sophomore slump, defensive end Shaq Lawson (2016 first-rounder) flashed but lacked consistency, and front-seven linchpins Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander and Matt Milano were often good, rarely great. 

Oliver can be great, and it might not take long. 

Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

So while the Bills might not have every piece in place, the critical ingredients are indeed there. 

Few will view them as a Super Bowl-caliber team entering training camp, but the rebuild was expedited this offseason, and it wouldn't be surprising if the process concluded more quickly than originally anticipated. 

Soon, the cream should rise to the top along the offensive line, while young pieces like Allen, Ford, Oliver, Jones, Edmunds and left tackle Dion Dawkins will have plenty of room to grow this summer and fall.  

The Bills did make the playoffs a mere 16 months ago, but that appearance—their only postseason berth this century—felt a tad fluky. That team was only 9-7, it gave up more points than it scored, and it needed several serendipitous breaks on the final day of the regular season to sneak in. 

Few got the sense that was the beginning of something special, and that team had yet to add Allen, Ford, Oliver, Edmunds, Beasley, Kroft, Brown and Morse to the fray. 

But if this Bills team can make a run, it'll be different. This team has been carefully constructed in an appropriate and deliberate fashion, step by step. And if Allen comes through and his supporting cast delivers, the Bills could finally achieve contender status in the wide-open AFC as early as this fall. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.