Know Your Foe Preview: Scouting the Buffalo Bills’ Offseason

I am very excited to announce that coming this regular season, I will be hosting a weekly podcast centered around the dissection of the Jets’ opponent each week; featuring guests from the opposing perspective, in-depth looks into opposing teams’ strengths and weaknesses on film, compelling statistical nuggets, matchups to watch out for, and plenty more! To preview the show, each week leading up to the season I’ll recap the offseason of one of the Jets’ opponents; this week, we look at the rival Buffalo Bills.

BUFFALO BILLS:

Franchise Outlook – 

The Bills made the playoffs for the first time this century, but make no mistake. This is a team that is still in rebuilding mode. Their playoff berth, while an impressive streak-snapping feat, was as fluky as they come. The Bills happened to be one of two teams in a four-team tie lucky enough to take one of two Wild Card spots. Their 29th-ranked yardage differential was their worst ranking since 2007, and their -3.6 point differential was actually their worst since 2012. In fact, that marked the worst point differential for a playoff team since the 2011 Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, the worst for a wild card team since the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers, and the worst for a wild card team in the six-team playoff field era (since 1990).

Long story short, the Bills emphasized that they are still rebuilding with their moves this offseason. They had cleaned house under a new regime the previous season and continued this year, most notably trading away their best quarterback of the century in Tyrod Taylor. Unlike the 2015-16 Jets, the Bills brass seems to recognize that they are still far away in spite of their outlier season in the win column, which is the smart way to approach team building.

2017 Strengths and Weaknesses –

Positives:

  • 6-2 in one-score games
  • 6th in lowest opposing passer rating allowed (78.9)
  • 2nd in fewest passing touchdowns allowed (14)
  • 8th in turnover differential (+9); 6th in fewest turnovers (16) and 9th in takeaways (25)
  • 6th in rushing yardage (126.1 yards per game)
  • 6th in 3rd down conversion rate (41.9%)

Negatives:

  • 31st in passing yardage (176.6 yards per game)
  • 32nd in rushing touchdowns allowed (22), 29th in total rushing defense (124.6 yards per game), 25th in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.3), 31st in rushing defense DVOA
  • 31st in 4th down conversion rate (13.3%)
  • 30th in opponent sack percentage (9.0%)
  • 31st in sack percentage (4.5%)

Draft – 

R1, #7: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming – The Bills traded up to take the most scrutinized passing prospect among NFL fanbases. Though he is loaded with physical tools and size, Allen seems like a reach with his poor college production, sporadic accuracy, and issues with decision-making and pocket presence. Buffalo was rumored to be the team that loved him the most throughout the pre-draft process, and that buzz was proven true when they traded #12, #53, and #56 for #7 (and #255) to go get Allen. Is there something fans are missing with Allen? Or are the Bills just another stubborn team thinking they can get the most out of a “toolsy” QB in spite of glaring red flags?

R1, #16: Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech – Extremely high-upside (he just turned 20) linebacker with an elite blend of special athleticism and high-level production.

R3, #96: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford – Gritty, space-eating, anchoring run defender with questionable pass rushing upside.

R4, #121: Taron Johnson, CB, Weber St. – Very similar prospect to the Jets’ sixth-round pick, Parry Nickerson, as an impressive cover corner with blazing speed who will have to transition to a nickel role because of size and has to lessen grabbing tendency.

R5, #154: Siran Neal, S, Jacksonville St. – Big and physical but will likely transition to playing a press cover corner role. Older prospect at 24 years old.

R5, #166: Wyatt Teller, G, Virginia Tech – Tantalizing size and athleticism blend, but highly questioned motor and motivation. Declined rapidly in 2017.

R6, #187: Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson – Very small (5’9 1/2) and lacking elite athletic traits or even a true position, McCloud is an interesting pick. He could compete as a returner, as he did average 12.1 yards a punt return in 2017.

R7, #255: Austin Proehl, WR, North Carolina – Another very small wide receiver who was relatively unproductive in college. Seems like a typical flier in the 250s.

Biggest instant threat to the Jets? – With top selection Josh Allen a dice roll to start the first week and not sparking any intimidation until he proves he has fixed his major issues, I have to go with Tremaine Edmunds as the most likely threat to the Jets in particular in 2018.

At just 19 years old, Edmunds posted 108 tackles, 14.0 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, and 3 fumbles forced. Even with more growth and filling out still likely to come, he already boasts this insane athletic profile:

The Bills leaned heavily on upside over instant impact with both of their first round picks, but I can see Edmunds’ speed and athleticism being a major problem in both the run and pass game for a Jets offensive line that has a ton to prove after a lackluster at best 2017 season.

Free Agency/Trades:

Major trades:

  • Traded QB Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland for 2018 R3/#65: The Bills certified their direction by trading away the first QB to lead them to the playoffs since Doug Flutie for a third-rounder. It made sense though, as Taylor has showcased a merely average ceiling as a passer. The rebuilding Bills could afford to start over and shoot higher.

 

  • Traded T Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati for 2018 R1/#12 and 2018 R6/#187: Yet another rebuilding move, as the Bills dealt their six-year starter at left tackle after playing just six games in 2017. This is actually an impressive haul for a tackle coming off 15 missed games over the previous two years.

Notable losses:

  • LB Preston Brown, signed with Cincinnati: Brown had 142 tackles and was PFF’s 42nd-ranked linebacker in 2017.
  • CB E.J. Gaines, signed with Cleveland: Gaines had 1 interception, 9 passes defended, and 3 forced fumbles in an impressive lone campaign with the Bills, fitting into their zone-based cover scheme. He was PFF’s 13th-ranked cornerback.
  • WR Jordan Matthews, signed with New England: Matthews was unimpressive in his lone Buffalo season. Injuries limited him to 10 games and 7 starts, in which he posted career lows of 282 yards and one touchdown. He did average an impressive 7.83 yards per target.

Notable additions:

  • CB Vontae Davis, signed from Indianapolis for 1 year, $5 million: The now 30-year old Davis had an awfully graded 2017 in Indy, ranking 103rd among corners at PFF.
  • DT Star Lotulelei, signed from Carolina for 5 years, $50 million: The 28-year old Lotulelei saw a big dip in production in 2017, falling to PFF’s 109th-ranked interior defender. There’s buzz in Buffalo circles out there against the signing. After a very strong rookie year, Lotulelei has been quite simply unproductive.
  • QB A.J. McCarron, signed from Cincinnati for 2 years, $10 million: McCarron, now 27, expertly turned four so-so starts in 2015 into a $10 million contract and the inside track to a starting job three years later. In 7 regular season games for the Bengals in 2015, he went 2-1 as a starter while totaling 854 yards, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a 66.4% completion rate, 7.2 yards per attempt, and a 97.1 rating. He struggled in a playoff loss to Pittsburgh, going 23 for 41 with just 212 yards and a 68.3 rating.
  • EDGE Trent Murphy, signed from Washington for 3 years, $22.5 million: Murphy posted 9.0 sacks in a limited role in 2016 before missing all of 2017. A high-upside gamble for Buffalo.

Most damaging loss? – I’d roll with Gaines. The Bills ranked 6th in lowest opponent quarterback rating allowed last season, and Gaines was a huge part of that. He fit in very well with what they were doing defensively.

Tyrod Taylor is a close second. While he has probably hit his ceiling as an average game manager with great athleticism and ball security but limited pocket playmaking, he was the best quarterback the Bills have had in a very long time, and is substantially ahead of whoever Buffalo will put under center this year.

Most threatening free agency/trade addition to the Jets? – The Bills’ non-draft additions are uninspiring, but I have to roll with Murphy. Davis is up into his 30s, Lotulelei’s production is pedestrian, and McCarron is extremely unproven. If Murphy can return to form, he is exactly the kind of player who devastated the Jets’ offensive tackles off the edge last year. I can see him making his share of splash plays if, once again, he is back to full form.

Jets Connections – 

  • Signed RB Chris Ivory: After his big 2015, Ivory signed a big deal with the Jaguars. He busted in Jacksonville, struggling with fumbles and inefficiency while gradually tumbling down the depth chart. He will probably compete for a reserve role in Buffalo.
  • Signed WR Jeremy Kerley: Kerley was surprisingly efficient for the Jets on limited targets in 2017, until he was released after a PED suspension.
  • Signed LB Julian Stanford: Stanford was among the Jets’ leading special teams tacklers during his Jets tenure.
  • Rick Dennison, the Jets’ current run game coordinator and offensive line coach, was the offensive coordinator for the Bills in 2017, and was fired after one season. He was replaced by Brian Daboll, who was most recently Alabama’s offensive coordinator and prior to that was the tight ends coach in New England.

Synopsis –

 The Bills are in full-on rebuilding mode. I would be very surprised to see them match their 2017 win total. From a roster that won 9 games but was actually more of a 6 or 7 win performer, they lost their starting QB, starting LT (though he missed much of the season), a strong starting CB, and a solid starting LB. The veteran additions they made do not seem to be enough to accommodate for those losses. Aside from what looks a very risky QB investment, they look to be on the right path as a franchise, but they do not paint the picture of a team bound for 2018 success.

Stay tuned throughout the offseason for weekly in-depth breakdowns on the Jets’ 2018 opponents, and make sure to listen in to the Know Your Foe podcast every week during the 2018 season!

Photo Credit: NFL.com 

Author: Michael Nania

You can follow me on Twitter @Michael_Nania. I'll be hosting the weekly Jets opponent preview podcast, Know Your Foe, starting with the 2018 regular season. I've been writing for Turn On The Jets since January 2018, and you can also check out more of my work on the Jets over at Gang Green Nation.