The fourth and final segment of our Buffalo Bills’ 2016 season review takes a look at what the team needs to do to finally snap the 17 year playoff drought. Of course, the first and most important thing they need to do is find a new head coach who can change the attitude and the culture of a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity for almost two decades. Here is a summary of the Bills’ biggest needs and our suggestions on how to fill them:
The lack of discipline under Ryan needs to be corrected. If the Pegulas and Doug Whaley decide they need to have some semblance of continuity, then promoting interim coach Anthony Lynn to the job full time would be a good option. Two candidates who have been lined up for interviews are relative unknowns – Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator for Carolina, and Harold Goodwin, offensive coordinator for Arizona. A dark horse candidate who I liked before Ryan was hired is former Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich. He is currently offensive coordinator for the Eagles, and did a pretty good job helping develop rookie Carson Wentz there. He’s not a flashy or hot candidate, but the fact he knows the fan base and understands the team’s history is a plus. He seems to have the right demeanor to be a good head coach also, and really was basically a coach on the sideline for Jim Kelly during his playing days.
If the Bills want to try to build on what they’ve accomplished on offense, then bringing back Tyrod Taylor is the best option. A new head coach will likely have input in that call, however. No matter what, the Bills will need to replace EJ Manuel as their primary backup. As far as veteran free agents go, the pickings are slim. They might be better off just continuing to develop Cardale Jones and drafting another lower round player to compete with him. Middle round options with some possibilities include Iowa’s C.J. Beathard and a familiar name, Chad Kelly from Ole Miss.
The Bills have 3 impending free agent receivers in Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Justin Hunter, four if you count Percy Harvin, who should not be retained after contributing nothing after being re-signed this year. It would behoove them to try to retain Woods and Hunter and then try to strengthen the unit through the draft. Good receivers can be plucked in the middle to late rounds if your scouts are doing their jobs. Some options there are Corey Davis from Western Michigan, Travis Rudolph of Florida State and Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook.
This is the Bills’ biggest area of need and may very well be where they look to improve their defense with their top draft choice, which will be the tenth pick of the draft. There are three top players who might be available there – Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, a versatile star, Malik Hooker of Ohio State and LSU’s Jamal Adams. Any of these three would be able to step into Aaron Williams’ starting spot in the lineup. An interesting free agent possibility is Duron Harmon of New England, who could be a diamond in the rough for the Bills’ currently depleted secondary.
The Bills need to start looking toward the future with Kyle Williams aging and Marcell Dareus being a player they can’t count on. A couple of draft prospects are Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones and Clemson’s Carlos Watkins, who are both nose tackles. If they decide to try to improve the pass rush, a couple of draftable edge rushers are Josh Carraway of TCU and Auburn’s Carl Lawson.
The Bills have a lot of needs but Dan Carpenter was so bad this season that they may have to use a draft pick on a new kicker. The top prospect is Auburn’s Daniel Carlson, who also can punt. If they can convince him to come here, Los Angeles Ram kicker Greg Zuerlein is one of the NFL’s best. Signing him would be equivalent to when they inked Steve Christie back in the “Plan B” free agency days.