by Greg DePalma, Ourlads.com contributor
2016 (7-9)…The Bills are in the midst of the longest current playoff drought (last appearance in 1999) from any of the four major sports leagues.
Owner/CEO Terry Pegula…Purchased the franchise in 2014 with his wife Kim following the death of founder and Hall of Fame owner, Ralph Wilson; Pegula has also been the owner of the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL since 2011.
President Russ Brandon…With the franchise since 1997 and held several key titles since 2006 including CEO; also became President of the Buffalo Sabres after the Pegula’s purchased the team.
VP of Player Personnel Brian Gaine…1st-year; hired away from Houston as their Director of Player Personnel; has been interviewing recently for general manager jobs around the league; New York native.
GM Brandon Beane…1st-year; spent 19 seasons with Carolina including the last two as assistant general manager.
HC Sean McDermott…1st-year; first time HC; spent six seasons in Carolina as their DC which included a SB runner-up finish in 2016; William& Mary Grad.
OC Rick Dennison…1st-year; fourth appointment as an OC including two stints in Denver; won three SBs in Denver (2 as ST coach and 1 as OC); played linebacker for nine seasons with the Broncos including three SB runner-up finishes; Colorado State Grad.
DC Leslie Frazier…1st-year; former HC with Minnesota for three and a half seasons; won SB as assistant HC and DB coach for Indianapolis; won SB with Chicago as a starting cornerback on the legendary Buddy Ryan ‘46’ defense; was DB coach in Philadelphia when McDermott was an assistant HC; Alcorn State Grad.
DB Gill Byrd…1st-year; former first-team All-Pro cornerback for San Diego and their all-time interception leader as well as a member of their Hall of Fame; San Jose State grad.
QB Nathan Peterman
FB Patrick DiMarco
FB Tom Tolbert
WR Corey Brown
WR Andre Holmes
WR Zay Jones
WR Jordan Matthews
OL Dion Dawkins
ILB Gerald Hodges
CB EJ Gaines
CB Leonard Johnson
CB Tre’Davious White
CB Shareece Wright
FS Jordan Poyer
SS Micah Hyde
PK Steven Hauschka
QB E.J. Manuel
RB Mike Gillislee
FB Jerome Felton
WR Marquise Goodwin
WR Sammy Watkins
WR Robert Woods
DL Leger Douzable
ILB Zach Brown
CB Ronald Darby
CB Stephon Gilmore
CB Nickell Robey-Coleman
CB Corey White
FS Corey Graham
SS Aaron Williams
PK Dan Carpenter
QB…After toiling in obscurity for four seasons as Joe Flacco’s backup in Baltimore, Tyrod Taylor was acquired in 2015 to battle the failed EJ Manuel and instantly provided a spark to the franchise. After leading the Bills to a 7-6 record that first season while adding an extra pass-run dimension to the offense, Taylor was rewarded with a nice pay raise last August. His numbers were nearly identical last season which means Taylor wasn’t able to elevate his game with more experience. Now it’s up to the new coaching staff including coordinator Rick Dennison to try and get more out of Taylor before the Bills have to look for an alternative. With Manuel and Cardale Jones now gone, journeyman TJ Yates was added for experience while Nathan Peterman was taken in the fifth-round as a nice sleeper pick. Peterman had a huge final season in Pittsburgh that included a career defining upset win at eventual National Champion Clemson. Peterman could end up the starter here next season unless the Bills use their plethora of early draft picks next April to insure they get the player they really want.
RB…LeSean McCoy is quietly putting together a terrific career which includes five 1,000-yard seasons and is coming off the third-best season of his eight years as a pro between Philadelphia and Buffalo. Last year’s fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams is ready to assume the top backup role with Mike Gillislee off to New England. Williams entered the draft in 2016 after a foot injury took him out before his final season in Arkansas even began. Williams’ first order of business is to make sure he takes better care of the ball after fumbling twice on only 27 touches during his rookie campaign. The fullback position is in capable hands thanks to the addition of one of the top run blockers in the league, former Falcon Patrick DiMarco. Mike Tolbert is a quality insurance pick-up for both positions.
TE…Charles Clay is a decent player who can be counted on for about 500 receiving yards and four scores per season. He’s also been a very capable run blocker which has been an important necessity for this offense. Former John Mackey Award winner Nick O’Leary has just 10 receptions over his first two seasons. The jury’s still out on whether he can become a starter.
WR…The Bills decided to move on from Sammy Watkins after he let the franchise down with injuries that forced him to miss 11 games the past two seasons combined. With Watkins set to become a free agent after the season the Bills did their best to acquire some assets before losing him for nothing. That leaves all newbies for the top five receivers on the depth chart which is actually an upgrade for the position starting with newly acquired Jordan Matthews. Even though his stats dropped a bit last year with a rookie at the helm, Matthews has still averaged nearly 900 yards and six TDs per season. Anquan Boldin was another late off-season addition who enters his 15th-year in the league. Boldin started all 16 games for Detroit last season and led them in TDs with eight. After a record-breaking college career at East Carolina, rookie Zay Jones could soon end up being the team’s top player here while sleeper and former Oakland Raider Andre Holmes is just looking for chance after spending the past two seasons behind Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Corey Brown is just another former Panther making his way to upstate New York. He’ll provide depth, but nothing more.
OL…Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito and John Miller form an excellent nucleus up-front. Eric Wood has been inconsistent though and is coming off a broken leg injury that sidelined him for the final seven games last season. But with the versatile overachieving Ryan Groy backing Wood up as well as every other position on the roster, the Bills should be just fine under center. The big question remains once again at right tackle with Jordan Mills getting another shot to try and hold down that spot. Mills appeared to struggle quite a bit last season which prompted the team to draft Dion Dawkins in the second-round. Dawkins appears to need a bit more time though so the job is most likely Mills’ to lose. That is unless Seantrel Henderson can make a complete comeback from Crohn’s disease and suspensions that will keep him out until Week 6. As a 7th-round draft pick Henderson started all 16 games during his rookie season in 2014 and the future appeared very bright until his medical issues started to flare-up the following season. Early reports are promising for a potential return.
DE…The Bills have one of the best defensive interior tackle tandems in the NFL with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Both players are elite run defenders. On the outside, veteran Jerry Hughes is looking to regain the form that made him one of the top edge rusher in the league when he posted back-to-back 10-sack seasons prior to Rex Ryan’s arrival two years ago. Meanwhile, last year’s top pick Shaq Lawson should benefit from the team’s transition back to a four-man front after a shoulder injury forced him to miss the first six games of his rookie season. Lawson never really caught on from there. The sleeper of the defensive end group is Wyoming’s all-time leader in tackles for loss, Eddie Yarbrough. Yarbrough is having an excellent camp and played great against Minnesota to kick off the preseason. Former Packers second-round bust Jerel Worthy played fairly well in limited reps last season and will battle for playing time while second-year pro Adolphus Washington has a July weapons charge hanging over his head that could impact his roster status.
LB…This is a position of fluidity entering the preseason with many questions on how the coaching staff will get the right pieces to function properly. The best bet is having Reggie Ragland man the new middle linebacker role after returning from an ACL injury that forced him to miss his entire rookie season. Ragland had an outstanding championship career with Alabama that included being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. If Ragland does take over the middle of the defense then what happens to three year starter, Preston Brown? Brown has put up good numbers with 361 career tackles, but he’s only registered one career sack while forcing just five turnovers. The Bills also have 34-year-old Lorenzo Alexander who’s coming off a career year. Alexander might have been Rex Ryan’s best reclamation project in Buffalo as he totaled a team-high 12 ½ sacks last season, which brought his 10-year career total to 21 ½. And then there’s Gerald Hodges. The former 49er found himself waiting a longtime to find a new home as a free agent this off-season which was a bit of surprise considering he was also coming off a career season. Ramon Humber provides depth and is an anchor on special teams, while rookie Matt Milano is one you’ll need to keep an eye on and who figures to be a fan favorite in that same role.
DB…Maybe no position in the league has gone through more of a severe transition in personnel than this one. Just when you thought the transactions were over, the Bills went out and traded away top veteran corner Ronald Darby while adding the uninspiring EJ Gaines. This puts additional pressure on first-round pick Tre’ White. White could end up as the best corner from his draft class after starting four years with one of the top defenses in the country at LSU. The main reason he ended up as the fifth corner taken in round one was mostly due to his measurables, not his playing ability. Gaines will battle Kevon Seymour and Shareece Wright for the other starting spot. It’s anyone’s guess who comes out on top there. That is unless the Bills aren’t done making moves. The nickel spot belongs to former Carolina corner Leonard Johnson, whose familiarity while playing under McDermott last season will be a big help. The safety duo does not have the same questions the cornerbacks do with free agent pick-ups Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer expected to man both positions full-time. Hyde was a nice signing and instantly becomes the leader of the secondary while Poyer will try and rebound from a lacerated kidney injury that caused him to miss the final ten games last season in Cleveland. Bacarri Rambo returns for his second stint with the Bills after playing in Miami for one season. He should be their top safety backup.
The Bills made an excellent decision to move on from place-kicker Dan Carpenter by replacing him with former Seahawk Steven Hauschka. Hauschka has a big leg which will come in handy in Buffalo as he’s connected on 12 of his last 14 from 50 yards or more. The punting job appears to be Colton Schmidt’s to lose even though he had a terrible season last year. Rookie free agent Austin Rehkow is in camp to put pressure on Schmidt while also displaying his versatility. Rehkow handled kick-offs, punting and field goal duties as a four-year starter for Idaho. Kick-return specialist Brandon Tate had a solid season and was the lone bright spot for this unit.
It’s becoming obvious that Buffalo is in rebuilding mode now after trading Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby. That’s a good idea too considering they play in the same division as the mighty Patriots and that they don’t have a franchise quarterback on the roster yet. Hence the moves this off-season to bundle-up on draft picks. That doesn’t mean the Bills will be a bad team though. Taylor is a gamer, the running game is top-notch and the receivers are actually better than they have been the past two years since Watkins was hardly around anyway.
For the Bills to keep games close though on defense, McDermott& Frazier will need to work magic in the back-seven, but there is talent there to work with.
Will the Bills end their long playoff drought this season? Of course not. But there’s no reason to think that they won’t continue to play respectable .500 football. The good news is that at least they understand what they are now, and if they can find a quarterback in next year’s draft to take over as early as 2018, the future for this franchise will finally be back on track.