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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

30 Jan

Part 4 of our annual Bills’ season review is always my favorite. It’s where I get to play pretend general manager, and give my thoughts on how the team can improve going into the following season. I’ll take into account that Brandon Beane can’t afford any high-priced free agents and will have to work some salary cap magic again, but try to best fill the team’s needs using both free agency and the draft. The positions listed are where I think they need help.

Let’s get on with this yearly exercise:

 

Running Back

 

James Cook is established as the Bills’ top back, and they would be wise to re-sign Ty Johnson to back him up, but there is still a need for another runner, preferably a bigger, hard-running short yardage back. The running back market has been undervalued recently, but even so, the prize runner in this year’s class is Derrick Henry. He is not in Buffalo’s price range, and there aren’t any bigger backs in the free agent bargain bin, so the draft, probably in the later rounds, is where the team will have to find the type they want. Braelon Allen of Wisconsin is a mid-round prospect who fits the bill. at 6’2 and 235 lbs. he has the size, and his draft profile describes him as a “violent” runner. He played safety in high school so he isn’t afraid of contact for sure. Another power back slated to be drafted late day 2 or early day 3 is Ohio State’s Miyan Williams. He’s tough to bring down, but his draft profile also claims he has “subtle shiftiness”.

 

Wide Receiver

 

This is the biggest offensive area of need for GM Beane to address this offseason. He brought in a couple of bargain FAs last year in Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty, but they’ll need to upgrade from them going into next season. There are some big name free agents hitting the market – Tee Higgins, Mike Evans, Tyler Boyd – I don’t see any of them signing here. A couple of lower cost possibilities are Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Darnell Mooney, but in my opinion they would be better off trying to re-sign one of their own, Gabe Davis. He has been inconsistent but at least he’s a known commodity that Josh Allen has familiarity and has had success with. The Bills pick 28th in the first round of the college draft and most observers see them using that pick, and probably another on day 2, on adding to the receiver corps. Two intriguing names fall into that range on various “mock drafts”. Brian Thomas Jr. from LSU is a big wideout at 6’4 and 205 lbs. who is a mismatch for smaller cornerbacks. He has tremendous speed, a great catch radius and is a big play threat on long throws. The other name is Oregon’s Troy Franklin. He has good size at 6’2 and may be the fastest player in this draft. He excels on double moves and is definitely a deep threat, who also possesses great hands. Looking at day 2 of the draft, where the Bills have pick 60 and a compensatory pick that figures to be 99 or 100, there are some other receivers who project to be solid pros. Texas’ Xavier Worthy is a natural playmaker who also has elite speed, and a knack for setting up defenders, and can play both outside and in the slot. Johnny Wilson from Florida State is an interesting player. He is massive for a wideout at 6’7 and 240 lbs., which is basically tight end size. Of course that gives him a wide wingspan and great catch radius who high-points the ball exceptionally well. His long strides make him a deep threat also, with running back yards after the catch ability. There are other names to watch in this range, including Jalen McMillan of Washington, Louisville’s Jamari Thrash, Malachi Corley of Western Kentucky, Michigan’s Roman Wilson and Luke McCaffrey from Rice, who has great NFL bloodlines.

 

Defensive Tackle

 

With Ed Oliver being the only interior defensive lineman signed for 2024, Buffalo will have to add players at that spot. Again, one of their own – DaQuan Jones – should be a top priority to get re-signed. After big-ticket players like Chris Jones and Christian Wilkins, the free agent pickings are slim. With glaring needs at other positions it’s unlikely the Bills would use a high draft choice on the D-line, but if a prospect like Texas nose tackle T’Vondre Sweat fell to them in the second round, they would have to consider it. At 6’4 and 346 lbs. he is a massive space eater who would immediately upgrade the run defense. They will more than likely target later round players like Tyler Davis of Clemson, Jordan Jefferson from LSU and North Carolina’s Myles Murphy.

 

Safety

 

With both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer starting to age out (Hyde is also a free agent) and Taylor Rapp hitting free agency, safety is another hot spot for Buffalo. Like running back, the safety position was undervalued in last year’s free agency period. If that happens again, Beane should look at 3 top players on the market. They are Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father played for the Bills, Jeremy Chinn of the Panthers and New England’s Kyle Dugger. All 3 figure to be coveted but if their asking price is within the Bills’ cap range they should be aggressive. In the draft, the Bills could easily use a high day 2 pick on a safety, maybe even their first rounder if the receiver group dries up. Players worth picking in the second round are USC’s Calen Bullock and Utah’s Cole Bishop. Bullock has good size and leaping ability, and is perfectly capable of covering speedy wide receivers. Like Bullock, Bishop has good size, is athletic and has the ball skills to create turnovers. He’s also a willing tackler in run support.

 

Cornerback

 

There aren’t any corners worth paying on the free agent market, so the Bills may look to add depth here in the later rounds of the draft. They’re not totally lacking in talent at CB but Tre White’s injury uncertainty and the fact that Dane Jackson is a free agent means some bodies will need to be added to the training camp roster. In the third day rounds, some possibilities include Cam Hart of Notre Dame, Auburn’s Nehemiah Pritchett, Elijah Jones of Boston College, and an interesting name, Louisville’s Storm Duck.

 

Special Teams

 

I lumped this all into a single category since I think the Bills should add competition at punter, placekicker and kickoff/punt returner. There’s always the possibility they bring back former draft choice Matt Araiza to compete for the punting job, now that he is clear of any criminal charges. Any other punter or kicker brought into camp will be an unknown undrafted guy so we won’t bother naming players. As for return specialists, Texas WR Worthy adds punt return ability to his resume, as does Texas A&M’s Ainias Smith. Penn State cornerback Daequan Hardy returned 17 punts for an almost 15 yard average, with 2 touchdowns.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

30 Jan

Logo of an FCS level college football team that plays in the Big South Conference, the Kennesaw State University Owls. A fairly new program that came into existence in 2015, the school has won 3 conference titles and made 4 playoff appearances. The first game they ever played in the fall of 2015 was a rousing success, as they hammered East Tennessee State 56-16. In 2023, defensive lineman Travis Bell became the first Owl to be drafted by the NFL when the Chicago Bears took him in the seventh round.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

30 Jan

1982 Topps football card of former pro safety Bill Simpson, who split a 9 year career between the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills. He was named to the NFL All Rookie team in 1974, and had 43 career interceptions, including 9 in the playoffs. Simpson’s son Brett was the US Open of Surfing champion in 2009 and 2010.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

29 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review deals with the defense. Coach Sean McDermott made a major change here in 2023. Former coordinator Leslie Frazier was eased out, and McDermott took over calling the defense on game days. The regular season results of that move were positive. The Bills maintained a high ranking, but at the same time finished second behind the Ravens in sacks and ranked high in turnovers produced, producing more “splash plays” that McDermott desired. However, in the playoff loss to the Chiefs, the unit was once again gashed, in many ways due to a rash of injuries, especially at linebacker.

Here is a position-by-position look at the defense and special teams:

 

Defensive Line

 

Defensive line play was spotty, but mostly adequate, in 2023. On the interior, Ed Oliver signed a new contract and showed that he deserved it with All Pro-caliber play all year. With almost no players signed beyond this season, this is another area that might require an infusion of youth through the draft. A priority should be put on trying to re-sign Oliver’s running mate, DaQuan Jones. He’s a valuable run stuffer whose presence is sorely missed when he’s not on the field. All of the other spare tackles – Tim Settle, Poona Ford, Linval Joseph, Jordan Phillips and practice squad player Eli Ankou – are replaceable. On the outside edges, the team has to live with Von Miller’s contract, so they can only hope he returns to some semblance of his former self in 2024. At his advanced age that might be a big ask. Greg Rousseau is a solid edge rusher who also is good against the run. The club would be wise to try to re-sign A.J. Epenesa, who flashed in a limited role at end. One of Beane’s free agent one year gems, Leonard Floyd, led the team in sacks and might price himself off the Bills’ roster next season. Like his running mate Phillips, Shaq Lawson has probably worn out his welcome, and would only be brought back as a depth piece at a minimum contract. The coaching staff seems to like the future possibilities of Kingsley Jonathan, so he could move into a more prominent role next season.

 

Linebackers

 

This group was a MASH unit at season’s end in 2023. They were heavily victimized by Pat Mahomes in their season-ending playoff loss. However, the pairing of Matt Milano and Terrel Bernard bodes well for the 2024 season. Milano is an All Pro and Bernard is trending in that direction after a stellar campaign this year. An unknown to start the year, he took on the “green dot” role of calling the defense and excelled at it. As for backups, having to step into major spots this year will help players like Tyrel Dodson, Baylon Spector and Dorian Williams next year. Old friend A.J. Klein will likely be sent back out on vacation in 2024, and Tyler Matakevich is strictly a special teams player. His role could easily be transitioned to another player like Spector or Williams if the team needs to free up a roster spot for another position.

 

Defensive Backs

 

Suddenly, the back end of the Bills’ defense is growing old. Starting cornerback Tre’Davious White will be entering his 8th season next year, and he has become injury-prone. The Bills would be smart not to count on him returning, at least not at the beginning of the year. The safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer has served the team well since 2017, but their partnership may be coming to an end as both are well into their 30s. Dane Jackson, like Levi Wallace before him, has been a serviceable corner for years. He is a free agent and like Wallace, may be allowed to walk. With Hyde and Poyer aging out, it would behoove Beane to try to bring Taylor Rapp back again. Even without White, the Bills have 2 adequate starting corners for 2024 in Christian Benford and trade deadline add Rasul Douglas, who is a ballhawk. In reserve there is still Kaiir Elam, who has struggled but still has plenty of potential to revive his career next season. The Bills have an All Pro at slot corner in Taron Johnson, an invaluable member of their defense. Cam Lewis has established himself as a versatile piece. He can play safety or nickel corner, and is a core special teamer. In my opinion the team may be underutilizing Siran Neal. A vet who can play both safety and CB and is a top gunner on special teams, he should see more time on defense, especially when injuries happen. With possible openings at safety next year, can Damar Hamlin make a push to get into the lineup?

 

Special Teams

 

The Bills’ special teams were not special in 2023. Deonte Harty’s punt return touchdown that changed the momentum of the division-clinching win over Miami was the highlight.

Lowlights:

  • Allowing a game winning punt return TD against the Jets on opening night
  • 12 men on the field vs. Denver
  • Blocked field goal in wild card game that resulted in the punter getting hurt
  • Missed field goal to end the divisional playoff game

Placekicker Tyler Bass had an alarmingly mediocre season in 2023. At the very least, the team has to bring in competition for him next season. No free pass to the roster as he’s had so far in his career. Punter Sam Martin was equally inconsistent, bad to start the year, then hit a very strong stretch late, only to fail in the playoff loss coming off a hamstring injury. Competition for him would be a smart move also. Long snapper Reid Ferguson is a keeper. I can’t recall any bad snaps for him in his career here. Buffalo could look to add some zip to their return game next year. Harty gave them one amazing and very important lift in the season ender, but overall the return game was below par. Maybe the return of Nyheim Hines will help, but a late round flyer on a speedy return guy might be an option.

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

29 Jan

Logo of a small college football team that plays at the Division II level in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, the Missouri Southern State University Lions. Located in Joplin, Missouri the program came into existence in 1968 and they’ve won 2 conference titles and a small college national championship in 1972. Former Lions who have gone on to play pro football include Rod Smith, James Thrash, Richard Jordan, Allen Barbre, Brandon Williams and Terry Joyce.

 

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

29 Jan

1971 Topps football card of former pro offensive lineman Joe O’Donnell, who enjoyed an eight year career in the AFL and NFL with the Buffalo Bills, and also played a couple of seasons in the old WFL with Birmingham. He was named an AFL All Star in 1965 and was a key member of the Bills’ offensive line on their 1964 and 1965 championship teams. After retiring O’Donnell was involved in various business projects, coached for high school teams for many years and did radio commentary for University of Michigan games in the 1980s. He died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 2019.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

27 Jan

The offense is the focus of part 2 of our annual Bills’ season review.  The change of coordinators from Ken Dorsey to Joe Brady produced positive results for the most part, the biggest being an improvement in the run game. If Brady is retained as OC, it’ll be interesting to see what ideas he adds to the attack as he takes full control, rather than just tweaking the team’s existing playbook . Here’s a position-by-position look at the offense:

 

Quarterbacks

 

Josh Allen is the unquestioned leader of this team. His teammates all claim they would do anything for him and support him 100% even when he comes up short occasionally. He should spend the offseason continuing to find ways to cut down on costly turnovers, while still maintaining his swashbuckling style of play. Kyle Allen’s role as backup QB mainly consisted of taking kneel downs at the end of games and being Josh Allen’s buddy. Will practice squad quarterback Shane Buechele get a fair shot at taking that spot in 2024?

Running Backs

 

After Brady assumed the OC duties, it became apparent that James Cook is now the Bills’ bell cow running back. He is an elusive runner who also seems to have an even bigger upside if he can add some longer chunk plays to his arsenal and improve his pass catching ability. Damien Harris was signed to a one year deal but injuries derailed him and his contributions were minimal. Latavious Murray added some leadership to the squad, but I don’t see him back next year. The best of the backup backs was easily Ty Johnson, a waiver wire pickup who should figure in their plans for 2024, should he be re-signed. This is a spot where a young, hard running short yardage back, preferably found in the late rounds of the draft, would be a good addition. 2022 trade acquisition Nyheim Hines, who excelled as a kick returner, should be back in 2024 also. Fullback Reggie Gilliam is a solid special teams guy and blocker, so he is almost sure to be back.

Receivers

 

This is an area of glaring need going into the offseason for the Bills. Their top receiver, Stefon Diggs, saw his production drop off dramatically the second half of the season. “Big Play” Gabe Davis was very inconsistent, wavering from 100 yard games to no catch games. He is also a pending free agent, and it seems unlikely the Bills will re-sign him. One positive was the emergence of Khalil Shakir, who thrived when Joe Brady took over as offensive coordinator. Free agent additions Trent Sherfield and Deonte Harty contributed very little outside of the AFC East-clinching win over Miami. Sherfield won’t be back and Harty will surely face stiff competition, most likely from the draft, next year. Out of desperation, Andy Isabella was elevated from the practice squad late in the year, but didn’t provide any help in the passing attack. An unknown is Justin Shorter, like Shakir a fifth round draft pick who spent the entire 2023 season on injured reserve. Wide receiver may be lacking, but the Bills are set at the tight end position. Dawson Knox is a reliable target who always seems to make his biggest plays in the playoffs, while rookie first round pick Dalton Kincaid is a superstar on the rise. Comparisons to the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce have already started for him. An unsung but valuable third tight end is Quinton Morris, a former undrafted player who has battled his way into a contributing role each year he’s been here.

 

Offensive Line

 

Once a question mark, the offensive line was a stable bright spot for Buffalo in 2023. Anchored by veteran Mitch Morse at center, the group stayed intact as a starting 5 all season. GM Beane added 2 new guards to reinforce the interior line – free agent signee Connor McGovern from Dallas and rookie second round draftee O’Cyrus Torrence, who looks like a second day steal. Left tackle Dion Dawkins had a Pro Bowl level season, and much-maligned right tackle Spencer Brown quietly locked in at his position and played well. Buffalo also has a bevy of capable backups who were hardly used in 2023. They are versatile Ryan Bates, who can play every position on the line, swing tackle Ryan Van Demark, Alec Anderson, another undrafted gem who is being groomed to man all spots like Bates, and David Edwards. Edwards will be a free agent and it’s up in the air whether he’ll return or not. He did play a valuable role this past season as the extra “eligible” lineman on running downs. That role was previously played by Tommy Doyle, who will be back after spending the year on IR.

 

 

 
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Classic Team Logo of The Day

27 Jan

Logo of a small college football team that plays in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, the Missouri Western State University Griffons. The gridiron program began play in 1970 and they play their home games at Spratt Stadium in St. Joseph, Missouri, and have won 2 conference titles over the years. Former Griffons who have played pro football include Greg Zuerlein, Jonathan Owens, David Bass and Mike Jordan.

 

Classic Sports Card of The Day

27 Jan

1984 Topps Premier Edition USFL football card of former pro quarterback Dan Manucci, who played 2 seasons in the NFL as a backup with the Buffalo Bills, and also had one year stints in the USFL and Canadian Football League. His playing career didn’t amount to much, but he has been successful in his post-playing days. He currently is co-host of a sports talk show in Phoenix, Arizona and helps run a youth quarterback camp in Arizona.

 

NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

26 Jan

The Buffalo Bills’ 2023 season once again ended in disappointment, as the team lost in the playoffs to Kansas City for the third time in four years. So it’s time for our annual four-part Bills’ season review, where we dissect what happened and peer into the future with suggestions as to how to improve the product and finally reach the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl title. As always, Part 1 of the review deals with the front office and coaching staff.

General manager Brandon Beane’s draft choices have sometimes been questioned, but he was somewhat vindicated this year. Rookies Dalton Kincaid and O’Cyrus Torrence were immediate starters and huge contributors, and a couple of past picks, Ed Oliver and Terrel Bernard, blossomed into Pro Bowl-caliber players. His annual plan of signing low-cost free agents produced Leonard Floyd, who led the team in sacks. Beane also added veteran cornerback Rasul Douglas at the trade deadline, and he was a major addition to a defense hampered by injuries.

As for the coaching staff, head coach Sean McDermott faced a mid-season controversy when some ill-advised comments he made about 9/11 years ago surfaced. He not only survived but the team rallied around him and fought back to reclaim the AFC East title. He also did an admirable job coordinating the defense, especially when the unit was depleted due to injuries. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was replaced mid-season also, but his replacement, Joe Brady, revived that side of the ball. Special teams coach Matt Smiley’s units were a liability much of the season, and he may be the next assistant shown the door.

I expect the Bills will promote Brady to the OC job permanently, removing his interim tag, and it would be wise to take a burden from McDermott by naming a full time defensive coordinator also.

 
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