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NFL – Bills’ 2021 Mock Draft Predictions

20 Apr

The long wait is over! The seven round mock drafts for the Buffalo Bills for 2021, compiled by the expert staff at Rayonsports.com, are ready to be revealed. Here are the predicted choices for Buffalo made by Connor Pohlman, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz and Ray Prelewicz. I’ve added some comments to show why the picks would be justified:

 

Round 1, Pick #30

Connor Pohlman – Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech) – a young corner to man the spot opposite Tre White is a popular pick among draft experts. Farley would be a top 10 prospect without injury concerns and there’s a chance he falls to this pick.

 

Josh Pohlman –  Caleb Farley (CB, Virginia Tech) – see above.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Joe Tryon (Edge, Washington) – scouting reports list his best position as an outside 3-4 linebacker but he has the versatility to play in any system. He opted out of the 2020 season so there’s hesitation to pick him by some clubs high in the first round.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Landon Dickerson (OL, Alabama) – a surprise pick with a long term goal of Dickerson eventually replacing Mitch Morse at center. He has played all 5 positions on the offensive line and the Bills value versatility highly.

 

Round 2, Pick #61

Connor Pohlman – Quinn Meinerz (G, Wisconsin-Whitewater) – a small college diamond in the rough, he opened eyes at the Senior Bowl and catapulted up draft boards. Not very athletic but makes up for it with exceptional strength and good technique.

 

Josh Pohlman – Pat Freiermuth (TE, Penn State) – the Bills are a little light at the tight end position on the current roster so a good prospect like Freiermuth makes sense here. He’s an excellent receiver with good hands and an adequate blocker in the run game.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Pat Freiermuth (TE, Penn State) – see above.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Asante Samuel Jr. (CB, Florida State) – there will be a number of good CB prospects available at this pick, but most are slot corners. Samuel has the ability to play on the boundary and with good NFL bloodlines, should be able to handle starting on day one.

 

Round 3, Pick #93

Connor Pohlman – Hamsah Nasirildeen (S, Florida State) – the Bills have a pair of solid starting safeties, but with both over 30 they need to plan for the future. One description of Nasirildeen has to appeal to the Bills considering the teams they face in the AFC – “tight end neutralizer”.

 

Josh Pohlman – Deonte Brown (G, Alabama) – at 6’3 and 364 lbs. he is an imposing road grader who could help the Bills improve their run game. Brown is a good pass protector and excels at neutralizing inside pressure.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Trey Smith (G, Tennessee) – very high character player who has encountered some medical issues with blood clots that may drop him down some teams’ draft boards. His best asset is power run blocking, which the Bills could use an infusion of.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Alim McNeil (DT, North Carolina State) – the Bills need to toughen up the inside of their defensive line, with the uncertainty of Star Lotulelei returning in shape from opting out in 2020. McNeil is an excellent DT1 prospect. He’s a top notch run stuffer with potential to develop as an inside pass rusher.

 

Round 5A, Pick #161

Connor Pohlman – Demetric Felton (WR, UCLA) – small, quick slot receiver who also lined up as a running back for the Bruins. His best NFL fit is as a gadget player in an offense that uses multiple receiver sets, which makes him ideal for Brian Daboll’s offense.

 

Josh Pohlman – Jonathon Cooper (Edge, Ohio State) – he mostly projects as a designated passing down edge rusher, but the Bills rotate their defensive linemen a lot so he could be a fit. He’s not the prospect that other Buckeye players like Chase Young or the Bosa brothers were, but he’s good enough to play in the NFL.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Anthony Schwartz (WR, Auburn) – a small but fast deep threat, he is a track guy but also a real football player. The loss of John Brown to the Bills could open up a spot for a home run hitter like Schwartz.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Elerson Smith (Edge, Northern Iowa) – definitely a developmental project who would need to get stronger to survive in the NFL but has very high potential. He is similar to Darryl Johnson, another later round gem uncovered by the Bills’ scouts.

 

Round 5B, Pick #174

Connor Pohlman – Tommy Kraemer (G, Notre Dame) – he’s a four-year starter for a major college program so his experience alone will help him in his quest to play in the NFL. He could be valuable O-line depth for the Bills but doesn’t project to being a starter.

 

Josh Pohlman – Josh Imatorbhebhe (WR, Illinois) – a big, athletic wide receiver whose lack of real production will drop him into the later rounds of the draft. He has enormous potential, however, and the Bills could afford to develop him on the practice squad as a future contributor.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Malcolm Koonce (Edge, Buffalo) – a local prospect that the Bills should have a good scouting report on. He’s a long, rangy pass rusher whose weakness is getting overpowered against the run. He’ll need development time but could become a solid pro.

 

Ray Prelewicz –  Malcolm Koonce (Edge, Buffalo) – see above.

 

Round 6, Pick #213

Connor Pohlman – Chris Rumph II (Edge, Duke) – he’s small but as a coach’s son understands the game well and plays with good technique. He may have to carve out a role as a versatile specialty defensive player with a role on special teams.

 

Josh Pohlman –  Malcolm Koonce (Edge, Buffalo) – see round 5B picks above.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (CB, Wisconsin) – here’s a guy who you hope makes it in the NFL for his name alone. A shoulder injury left him without much game tape for scouts to analyze but he can play either on the boundary or the slot.

 

Ray Prelewicz – Drake Jackson (C-G, Kentucky) – at only 290 lbs. his only spot in the NFL may be at center, unless he adds weight and strength. His best trait is experience, as he was a four-year starter in college.

 

Round 7, Pick #236

Connor Pohlman –  Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (CB, Wisconsin) – see round 6 pick above.

 

Josh Pohlman – Jaret Patterson (RB, Buffalo) – after the stellar season he had for the Bulls, including an eight touchdown performance, this would be an excellent final round pick for Brandon Beane. There is way too much high-end potential to pass up.

 

Scott Prelewicz – Damar Hamlin (S, Pitt) – he is a willing tackler and has adequate ball skills but can be susceptible to double moves in the pass game. A long shot prospect, as most seventh rounders are, who would have to make an impact on special teams.

 

Ray Prelewicz –  Jaelon Darden (WR, North Texas) – wide receiver is a very deep position group again this year, and some good prospects will fall into the late rounds. Darden is a small but fast option who would be good as a gadget player for Brian Daboll and also a possibility to boost the kick return production.

 
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2021 NFL First Round Mock Draft

19 Apr

The team of expert analysts at Rayonsports.com has once again put their collective heads together to produce a first round mock draft for the NFL’s upcoming selection meeting of college prospects. Connor Pohlman, Josh Pohlman, Scott Prelewicz  and Ray Prelewicz took turns making the clubs’ choices for the 32 picks. Here are the final results:

 

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars (Connor Pohlman) – Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
  2. New York Jets (Josh Pohlman) – Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
  3. San Francisco 49ers (Scott Prelewicz) – Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
  4. Atlanta Falcons (Ray Prelewicz) – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
  5. Cincinnati Bengals (CP) – Penei Sewell, T, Oregon
  6. Miami Dolphins (JP) – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
  7. Detroit Lions (SP) – Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
  8. Carolina Panthers (RP) – Rashawn Slater, T, Northwestern
  9. Denver Broncos (CP) – Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
  10. Dallas Cowboys (JP) – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina
  11. New York Giants (SP) – Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama
  12. Philadelphia Eagles (RP) – Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
  13. Los Angeles Chargers (CP) – Christian Darrisaw, T, Virginia Tech
  14. Minnesota Vikings (JP) – Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
  15. New England Patriots (SP) – Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
  16. Arizona Cardinals (RP) – Teven Jenkins, T, Oklahoma State
  17. Las Vegas Raiders (CP) – Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama
  18. Miami Dolphins (JP) – Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Florida
  19. Washington Football Team (SP) – Alex Leatherwood, T, Alabama
  20. Chicago Bears (RP) – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB, Notre Dame
  21. Indianapolis Colts (CP) – Sam Cosmi, T, Texas
  22. Tennessee Titans (JP) – Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
  23. New York Jets (SP) – Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
  24. Pittsburgh Steelers (RP) – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars (CP) – Alijah Vera-Tucker, G, USC
  26. Cleveland Browns (JP) – Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi
  27. Baltimore Ravens (SP) – Azeez Ojulari, Edge, Georgia
  28. New Orleans Saints (RP) – Kwity Paye, Edge, Michigan
  29. Green Bay Packers (CP) – Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
  30. Buffalo Bills (JP) – Jayson Oweh, Edge, Penn State
  31. Kansas City Chiefs (SP) – Zach Collins, LB, Tulsa
  32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (RP) – Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

 

Alabama coach Nick Saban, once again, produced a high number of NFL-ready players this season. Our mock draft totaled 7 first rounders altogether. Three clubs who need to improve have multiple first round choices to try to accomplish that – Miami, Jacksonville and the New York Jets. At the other end of the spectrum are the Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, all of whom have no opening round picks. The Seahawks, in fact, have only 3 picks in the entire draft.

COMING SOON: Our draft experts submit their seven round mock drafts for the local club, the reigning AFC East champion Buffalo Bills.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

28 Jan

The final entry of our four part Bills’ season review delves into what the team needs to accomplish in the off-season as far as adding talent to improve their standing. Having made it to the AFC Championship game in 2020, the challenges GM Brandon Beane faces are much different than in previous off-seasons. Nonetheless, there are still areas where the Bills need to get better next season. Here are our projections on the positions Beane has to address:

 

Running Back

 

As prolific as Buffalo’s passing attack was in 2020 behind the arm of Josh Allen, the run game was very much abysmal. Allen, on scrambles and designed runs, was the best run game option. There is some debate as to whether the team needs a more dynamic running back to improve the rushing attack, or a stronger offensive line. Free agency is not a good option if Beane decides on adding a playmaking back. Most of the options are either too overpriced, plodding runners or are aging. Some draft experts see the Bills possibly taking a back with pick # 30 in the first round, and if players like Clemson’s Travis Etienne or Najee Harris of Alabama are still on the board, Beane might be tempted to go that route. Both are versatile and explosive.

 

Defensive Tackle

 

Star Lotulelei’s decision to opt out of the season left a hole in the Bills’ defensive rotation that hurt their ability to contain the run. Buffalo might not want to wait to see what kind of condition Star, a big man, is in after not playing all year, and one name on the free agent market that stands out as a perfect fit for his spot is Dalvin Tomlinson of the Giants. He is a solid space-eater type of lineman with a high motor who would make the players around him, including Ed Oliver and the linebackers, so much more effective. It will take some salary cap finagling to be able to sign him, but I would like to see him be a top priority. In the draft, a couple of those space eating type tackles could potentially fall to the second round. They are Alabama’s Christian Barmore and Marvin Wilson of Florida State. In the middle rounds, an intriguing name is Tedarell Slaton from Florida, who is a mountain at 6’5 and 358 pounds.

 

Edge Rusher

 

Premier edge rushers in free agency are rare and usually expensive, and require an investment the Bills can’t afford at this point. There are some names on the list that stand out, but they are either 30+ years in age or will command dollars Buffalo doesn’t have, even if they cut ties with Trent Murphy and save some cap cash. That leaves the draft again. Edge rushers who project to be available when the Bills pick are Patrick Jones II of Pitt and Carlos Basham out of Wake Forest. Mid-round possibilities include Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Shaka Toney from Penn State. Buffalo might also consider a late round flyer on a local product, University of Buffalo’s Malcolm Koonce.

 

Cornerback

 

In today’s NFL you can never have enough cover corners, and although late round 2020 pick Dane Jackson could be a candidate for a breakout season, Buffalo could go CB as high as their first round pick if he’s the best player available. Aaron Robinson of UCF has been projected to the Bills at that pick by Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network. Asante Samuel Jr. could fall to them at pick 30 also. He has NFL bloodlines as his father played in the league. If the Bills are looking for length at the corner, a later round gem might be found in Washington’s Keith Taylor or Robert Rochell from Central Arkansas. The free agent CB list is mostly older players over 30 or Buffalo retreads like Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey-Coleman.

 

Offensive Line

 

Among free agent tackles on the market, the Bills’ best option looks like re-signing Darryl Williams to man the right tackle spot for another year. Also, their best and least expensive FA choice at guard appears to be their own Jon Feliciano. That leaves the college ranks again. Using the best player available formula, if Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood or Tennessee guard Trey Smith fall to 30, either could be picked. There are plentiful choices from rounds 2-6 available among O-line prospects. The team would do well to look at players like Ben Cleveland from Georgia, Notre Dame’s Aaron Banks, Walker Little from Stanford, Dillon Radunz, a North Dakota State stud, and Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa.

 

Wide Receiver

 

This is definitely not a position of need for the Bills. However, should the team look to save cap space and add speed by not bringing back return specialist Andre Roberts, they might look for a cheaper and faster option like D’Wayne Eskridge of Western Michigan, who comes highly recommended by Rayonsports contributor and draft guru Josh Pohlman. Shi Smith from South Carolina and Dazz Newsome out of North Carolina are other later round possibilities.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 3

27 Jan

Part 3 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review deals with the defense and special teams. It was a tale of 2 seasons for the defense. They struggled to find their footing early in the year as they worked in some new players on the front line, then became a unit that forced turnovers in a late season run in which they wrapped up the team’s first AFC East title in 25 years. They then reverted to that early season form in a brutal championship game loss to the Chiefs. Here’s a position-by-position assessment of the defense and special teams for 2020:

 

Defensive Line

 

The Bills walked away from 2 of their mainstays of the 2019 D-line when they lost Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips to free agency. In their places, they brought in Vernon Butler, Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson, and got mixed results. Addison was a force in the pass rush while Butler and Jefferson were adequate at times and invisible other times. Ed Oliver’s play seemed to regress some from the previous year. He was beginning to emerge as a force late in the 2019 season but never showed the ability to be a consistent disruptive player this past season. The loss of Star Lotulelei, who played next to him but opted out of the season, probably was a factor. Justin Zimmer, a street free agent who fought his way into the D-line rotation, made more impact plays throughout the year than Oliver. Harrison Phillips came back from a serious injury and slowly worked his way back as the season progressed, and should improve even more next year with a full year of healing behind him. Besides Addison, the defensive end spots were manned by old reliable Jerry Hughes, veteran Trent Murphy and youngsters Darryl Johnson and A.J. Epenesa. Hughes was the team’s best pass rusher even if his sack numbers don’t show it. Murphy spent a lot of 2020 as a healthy inactive on game day and the likelihood of him returning next season is slim to none. Johnson is still an interesting prospect. He is a key contributor on special teams and a regular in the D-line rotation, and should only get better with experience. The same can be said for Epenesa. He looked like a green rookie early in the year but worked his way into regular duty also with solid if not spectacular play. The practice squad has 3 players who all were recalled for games during the season and will be back competing for jobs again in 2021 – Mike Love, Brandin Bryant and Bryan Cox Jr.

 

Linebackers

 

The amount of time NFL teams play standard 4-3 defenses that keep all 3 LBs on the field is almost as extinct as the fullback position is. In today’s pass-happy game even the linebackers who play regularly have to have special skills. The days of snarling physical monsters like Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke have long passed into history. Buffalo’s main pair of linebackers possess those necessary modern day skills. Tremaine Edmunds is an interesting case. He is still very young and has been a twice-named Pro Bowler, yet his game still has a ways to go to reach elite status. He has great physical tools – tall, rangy, quick and intelligent. Yet his playmaking ability still needs improvement. The other backer, Matt Milano, is similar. He can tackle with the best of them and is great in coverage, and until the title game fiasco the team was unbeaten in 2020 in games he played in. He’s also due to be a free agent and hopefully his skill set and still untapped potential make him a top priority to get re-signed. A.J. Klein was an enigma in 2020. He had a target on his back from fans early in the year as a reason the defense was struggling, then shined when Milano was hurt and he replaced him, almost playing at a Pro Bowl level himself. When Milano returned, Klein pretty much went back into obscurity. The rest of the linebacking corps consists of mainly special teams players – Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith and Tyrel Dodson. Lurking on the practice squad is an interesting name to watch for next season – Darron Lee. He is a former high draft pick with the speed and skills that translate to the modern game if the Bills’ coaches can harness them.

 

Defensive Backs

 

Overall in 2020 the Bills’ pass defense was a strength, but appeared lost and completely overmatched against the Chiefs in the title game. It’s uncertain if that poor showing was due to a lack of speed and ability from the players, or a massive failure of the scheme used that day. (Who leaves the best tight end in the NFL, Travis Kelce, virtually uncovered the entire game?) In any case, Buffalo has a good mix of youth and experience in their secondary. Starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are one of the top duos in the league, and have a capable mix of youth and experience behind them in Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal and Jaquon Johnson. Neal especially is a valuable, versatile piece of the roster as he can play corner or safety and is a top gunner on coverage teams. Josh Thomas is on the practice squad and has been signed to a futures contract for 2021, so the team sees some value in him also. At cornerback, the Bills have an All Pro in Tre’Davious White, and have him locked up contractually going forward. The annual attempt to unseat Levi Wallace at the other CB spot failed again in 2020, and at this point it’s time to admit that he has been an overall good player for the club. That doesn’t mean the Bills won’t welcome a better option again next season, and one player who will get the opportunity to take that job is 2020 seventh round draft pick Dane Jackson. He was a PS fixture this season but made some impact plays when his chance came as a recall on game days a couple of times this season. Slot cornerback has evolved into a starting position nowadays in the NFL, and the Bills’ player at that spot, Taron Johnson, cemented himself as a prime time star in 2020 with a pair of pick-six touchdowns. The Bills got mixed results from the free agent signing of veteran Josh Norman. He was hampered by injuries and was never completely able to take over Wallace’s job. He would appear to be an unlikely candidate to return next season, especially with Buffalo looking to add speed to the secondary to compete with Kansas City’s track star receivers. Two other players to consider for competition next year – Cam Lewis, a University of Buffalo product who spent the season on injured reserve, and practice squad member Duke Thomas.

 

Special Teams

 

The “bomb squads” made some improvements in 2020. There weren’t many game-changing plays but the units went from hurting to helping the Bills’ effort to win games. The team’s decision to jettison Stephen “Hausch Money” Hauschka in favor of rookie Tyler Bass as their placekicker was surprising, but turned out to be exactly right. Bass set a club record for points and is set as a mainstay for the future. He provided 2 of the few bright spots in the team’s loss in Kansas City with a pair of 50+ yard field goals. Punter Corey Bojorquez joined in the mediocrity of the team’s title game effort, but had a solid season overall. He also teamed with Bass and long snapper Reid Ferguson to form a nearly flawless extra point and field goal tandem. Andre Roberts, who is a free agent, delivered a Pro Bowl effort as the team’s kick returner, regularly providing the offense with good field position to start drives. His backup, Isiah McKenzie, returned a punt for a touchdown in the regular season finale rout of Miami. The coverage teams were pretty solid also all season. Undrafted free agent Reggie Gilliam was a part of those teams. He blocked 6 kicks in college at Toledo, including 4 in one season alone. If the Bills want to follow coach Sean McDermott’s edict to “improve in all areas in 2021”, then special teams coordinator Heath Farwell would be wise to try to take advantage of Gilliam’s unique skill.

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 2

26 Jan

Part 2 of our annual Buffalo Bills’ season review will focus on the offensive side of the ball. Surprisingly, the offense was the strength of the team all year, mainly due to the play of quarterback Josh Allen. Here’s a position-by-position critique of the Bills’ offense:

 

Quarterbacks

 

Josh Allen’s play in his third season drew rave reviews around the NFL due to an improvement level rarely, if ever, seen before at the game’s most important position. He solidified his spot as a franchise QB by leading a dominant passing attack that thrived despite the lack of a consistent run game. Allen has established himself as one of the game’s rising stars. Veteran Matt Barkley was the backup again in 2020 but rarely saw action due to Allen’s durability. He did impress in the club’s final regular season game against Miami in which they rested their starters. His contract is up now, so the question is, will he be back or will Buffalo turn to a younger option. They have 2 of those on the roster. Davis Webb and 2020 draft pick Jake Fromm. Since the pandemic wiped out the NFL’s preseason, neither Webb or Fromm has truly been evaluated yet.

 

Running backs

 

This is a spot that is in need of an upgrade if the Bills hope to take the jump to championship level. Devin Singletary was average at best as the starting back, and is not an explosive runner. Rookie Zach Moss, in my opinion, surpassed him as the lead back before a late-season injury ended his season. The Bills could be looking at a feature back early in the draft if one turns out to be the “best player available” when they get their turn at pick 30. Veteran T.J. Yeldon has served strictly as an insurance policy since he joined the team. He’s flashed some brilliance when he’s gotten a chance to play, but the fact that he’s almost always inactive and his contract is up leads me to believe that his days are numbered here, probably by his own choice. There are a couple of other interesting options on the roster. Undrafted rookie Antonio Williams became a fan favorite and a realistic possibility to make the regular roster when he was recalled from the practice squad for the finale against the Dolphins and played great. Former rugby player Christian Wade will get his final shot at making the team in 2021. He has also shined in limited preseason showings and has gotten to learn the nuances of the game the last 2 years. Taiwan Jones is on the roster strictly for special teams. Veteran Devonta Freeman was added to the practice squad after Moss was hurt. Was he just season-ending insurance or will he be back in 2021?

 

Receivers

 

The receiving corps was a major strength of the Buffalo attack in 2020. After adding veteran free agents John Brown and Cole Beasley in 2019, GM Brandon Beane made a bold trade to acquire Stefon Diggs from the Vikings to round out the starting 3 wideouts. He then proceeded to add another valuable receiving weapon in the fourth round of the draft when he “stole” Gabriel Davis. Beasley had a career year working out of the slot, while Brown’s production dropped, partly due to Diggs’ arrival as the main target of the passing attack. Isaiah McKenzie is a Swiss Army knife of a player who adds versatility to the unit, and is also the backup kick returner. He is due to be a free agent, and is one name the Bills should pursue, given his value in different areas. Andre Roberts, also an impending free agent, makes minimal contributions as a receiver but is an All Pro kick returner. The Bills also have some interesting prospects for the wideout position on their injured reserve/practice squad lists. Isaiah Hodgins, a 2020 sixth round draft pick, never got a chance to show his worth as he wound up on IR at the final cutdown. He is a rangy 6’4 receiver who is said to have excellent hands. Beane loaded up with extra insurance on the practice squad near season’s end. Kenny Stills is a veteran speedster known for his ability to go deep. Jake “Touchdown Jesus” Kumerow got some game action at Denver and scored a touchdown to put his name on the map. Duke Williams has been on the PS for 2 seasons now and has occasionally gotten a shot to play, but hasn’t cracked the full roster yet. Another interesting late season signee was Tanner Gentry, Josh Allen’s favorite target in their college days at Wyoming. Kumerow and Gentry have already been signed to future contracts for next season, while it remains to be seen if Stills is considered an option for 2021 or was merely a 2020 insurance policy.

The Bills carried 4 tight ends on their roster in 2020. Dawson Knox emerged as the undisputed starter during the season after battling injury and Covid issues early on. In his absence, Tyler Kroft filled in admirably but as the season progressed he was inexplicably relegated to inactive status on game day each week. Lee Smith, who is basically a tackle playing tight end, was used more often, mainly to help a rushing attack that never really meshed all year. The fourth tight end is undrafted rookie Reggie Gilliam. He contributed on special teams and was used as a blocking back on short yardage plays. Like Duke Williams, Nate Becker has been a practice squad regular for 2 seasons but seems to have not much of a future with the club. Speaking of future, Tommy Sweeney’s is a question mark going forward. He contracted Covid-19 and then developed a heart issue from it that could jeopardize his career going forward.

 

Offensive Line

 

The Bills solidified the offensive line as the season went on after some early shuffling, but after a disappointing finish at Kansas City in the title game and with some free agency pending, there may be some reshuffling going on in the offseason. The only spot set in stone at this point is left tackle, where Dion Dawkins is the man, freshly signed to an extension. Two starters, Jon Feliciano and Darryl Williams, are free agents. Williams was solid most of the year but played poorly against the Chiefs so his return is no sure thing, especially with Cody Ford returning from injury. There is speculation that the Bills could part with center Mitch Morse to save cap money. He was benched for a short time during the season so that speculation might have some truth to it. If Morse is let go, signing Feliciano becomes a priority since he would be the player to slide into the position. Ike Boettger quietly took over the left guard spot as the season progressed, and was decent, but with Beane always looking to upgrade the roster, his starting position is tenuous. As for the depth, there is versatile Ryan Bates, who can play any position, a skill the coaches value. Swing tackle Ty Nsekhe is a fine backup, but he’s also 35 years old. Brian Winters is an impending free agent. He had multiple chances to move into the starting lineup and couldn’t stay there, so I don’t see him being a priority to resign. Jordan Devey, a late season insurance add to the roster, is 33 and not a long term prospect either. The practice squad has a couple of interesting prospects. Jonotthan Harrison was a “protected” PS player most of the year, so the Bills must see some value there. Trey Adams is a big tackle prospect who was highly rated coming out of college until injuries hampered him. There is certainly room for improvement and an infusion of youth along the O line.

 

 

 
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NFL – Buffalo Bills’ Season Review – Part 1

25 Jan

The 2020 Buffalo Bills’ season extended quite a ways past where it usually has in other years, yet came 2 weeks short of where fans hoped it would end. Nevertheless, it’s time to publish our annual four part season review of the team. Part 1 deals with the Bills’ management and coaching staff. General Manager Brandon Beane deserves an A+ for the job he’s done in constructing a playoff caliber roster, and he’s been rewarded with several Executive of The Year honors. He purged the roster of selfish players who were deemed to be not buying in to “the process”, drafted a sure-fire franchise quarterback in Josh Allen and then surrounded him with the talent to help him succeed. In the last off-season Beane did some of his best work. He sacrificed the club’s top draft choice in a trade that yielded a player who turned out to be the top wide receiver in the NFL in Stefon Diggs. His work with the remainder of his 2020 draft picks left the team with players who either contributed on some level to the winning year or have the  potential to be part of the Bills’ future success. Beane’s next challenge will be his toughest – raising the team to championship level by continuing to add depth pieces and recognize where he needs to freshen the roster with young talent that can improve a club that won 15 games this season but still came up short of the ultimate goal. The Bills lost a rather one-sided AFC Championship game to Kansas City to end the season, so there’s now a clear barometer of where they need to get to in order to climb the final mountain.

Head coach Sean McDermott has established much more than just a winning culture in Buffalo. His players have banded together into a brotherhood where they all play unselfishly for each other and for the team’s die-hard fans. There’s a lot of love in the locker room, and that has been noticed around the league, as the Bills are now respected as a winning organization that other players will be willing to come and join. That helps Beane do his job. One of my criticisms of McDermott in past reviews was that at 0-6 against Bill Belichick he had yet to beat the AFC East’s dominant team. He slayed that dragon in 2020 by sweeping the Pats, including a convincing win in Foxborough near the end of the regular season. His assistant coaches have become hot properties around the league as both coordinators, Brian Daboll and Leslie Frazier, have gotten interviews for head coaching openings, and quarterback coach Ken Dorsey has been rumored to be a candidate for offensive coordinator jobs. McDermott, a serious candidate for Coach of The Year for his work, hasn’t been perfect. His challenge decisions haven’t always worked, and his team overall looked overmatched and outcoached in the title game against the defending champion Chiefs.

With 3 playoff appearances in 4 seasons, the Bills’ management and coaching is in a solid and stable position for years of future success. There still needs to be improvement as standing pat usually leads to staleness and regression, but the Beane/McDermott partnership is well equipped to accomplish that.

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Breaking The Moulds

31 Dec

The NFL regular season of 2020 wraps up this weekend, and a pair of old AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, square off with both having positive seasons. Both made the playoffs in 1998 also, and our final Throwback Thursday feature will go back to that season, and a wild card playoff game held at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium on January 2, 1999. The teams had identical 10-6 records for the year but the Dolphins won the division based on tiebreakers. The Bills were already a couple of years removed from the Jim Kelly era, and were quarterbacked by Doug Flutie, who they signed after he had an illustrious career in the Canadian League. Dan Marino was still leading the Dolphins’ passing attack, but was past his prime and nearing the end of his long career.

The first half was relatively quiet offensively as far as scoring went. Olindo Mare kicked a pair of field goals for an early Miami lead, then Flutie led a drive that culminated in a 1 yard rushing touchdown by veteran Thurman Thomas to put the Bills up 7-6. In the third quarter the Dolphins regained the lead at 14-7 when Karim Abdul-Jabbar scored on a short run and Stanley Pritchett ran in for a successful 2 point conversion. Throughout the game, Flutie enjoyed tremendous success hooking up with his favorite target, wide receiver Eric Moulds, to highlight Buffalo’s offensive attack. Moulds, who had a record-setting day with 9 receptions for 240 yards, hauled in a Flutie aerial and turned it into a 32 yard touchdown to tie the game after 3 quarters. Miami took control in the final stanza by scoring twice, on another Mare field goal and a 12 yard touchdown toss from Marino to Lamar Thomas. The Bills could only muster a late Steve Christie field goal and fell to their AFC East rivals, 24-17. Buffalo was done in by their own mistakes in the contest. Despite the success with Moulds and throwing for 360 yards overall, Flutie had 3 turnovers, an interception and a pair of fumbles. Moulds also had a black mark on his day as he fumbled once, as did long-time Bills’ legend and future Hall of Famer Andre Reed. Those 5 turnovers were the death knell for Buffalo in the game.

In some ways this game was the beginning of the end of the Bills’ dominant run in the AFC in the 1990s. After one more season of playing together, on February 10, 2000, Buffalo released 3 of their star performers from that era, all on the same day – Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith. The franchise was about to enter a 17 year drought of missing the playoffs after the 1999 season.

 

Bills’ WR Eric Moulds has a record-setting day in a losing cause

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Growing Pains

24 Dec

It’s week 16 for the NFL season and the battle for playoff positioning is on. One of the important matchups with playoff implications is between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. We’ll feature these 2 franchises in this week’s Throwback Thursday post. The game chosen was played on Halloween, October 31, 1971. It was played at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, where the Colts were located at the time. Baltimore was enjoying another fine season after having won the Super Bowl the previous year, while the Steelers, perennial losers in the 1960s, were in their third season under coach Chuck Noll. The team would gradually be built into the dominant force in the NFL in the 1970s, but at this point were still suffering some growing pains, and were a couple years, plus a couple more excellent drafts, from reaching that status.

The Colts opened the scoring on a 1 yard plunge by Norm Bulaich, then added a pair of field goals by their Super Bowl hero of the previous season, kicker Jim O’Brien, to go up 13-0. A young Terry Bradshaw engineered a drive that he climaxed himself with a short touchdown run to get Pittsburgh on the board. The Colts proceeded to own the rest of the first half as their veteran quarterback, Earl Morrall, connected with Willie Richardson on a pair of touchdown throws of 19 and 49 yards. Morrall continued Baltimore’s dominance in the third quarter as he hit Ray Perkins for a 60 yard touchdown. The Steelers now found themselves in a 34-7 hole that they weren’t capable of digging their way out of. In a sign of things to come in the future, Bradshaw showed some growth in his game as he continued to fight the battle against heavy odds. He found Ron Shanklin for a 31 yard touchdown, then scored on a short run by himself for the only score of the final quarter to make the final score a somewhat more respectable 34-21 margin for the Colts.

A look back at that season finds that the outcome of this game was fairly predictable. Baltimore was a seasoned veteran team, with players like Morrall, John Unitas, Tom Matte, John Mackey, Mike Curtis, Rick Volk and Bubba Smith to lean on. Pittsburgh’s future dynasty was still in its infancy. Bradshaw’s offensive options were backs Frenchy Fuqua and Preston Pearson, and his receivers the likes of Shanklin, Jon Staggers and Frank Lewis. Super Bowl stalwarts like Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were still a few years away.

 

A young Terry Bradshaw leads his Steelers against the Colts

 

 

 

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: A Century Shootout

17 Dec

The Cleveland Browns and New York Giants clash on this week’s NFL schedule, so for the Throwback Thursday feature we’ll explore a game played on October 29, 1967 between these 2 franchises, back when they were bitter rivals in the league. They had long been Eastern Conference opponents who battled each other for supremacy, but things were slightly different in the ’67 season. The NFL had merged with the American Football League the prior year, with the 2 leagues becoming one starting in 1970. With that being the case, along with the addition of Atlanta and New Orleans as expansion franchises, the league split their 16 teams into 4 divisions with names that all began with the letter “C” – Century, Capitol, Central and Coastal. The Browns and Giants, and also the Cardinals and Steelers, were assigned to the Century. The Cardinals were on the decline and the Steelers were perennial losers in the 1960s, so it was left to the Browns and Giants to renew their rivalry, now as Century Division opponents.

The Browns came into Yankee Stadium sporting a 4-2 record while the G-men were right behind them at 3-3. Cleveland, with most of their championship club intact from a few years earlier, came in as the favorites. Jim Brown had been retired for a full year, but the Browns replaced him with another future Hall of Famer in Leroy Kelly. The Giants were in the midst of a dismal period, but made a bold attempt to improve their standing in the off-season by trading for scrambling quarterback Fran Tarkenton. The Browns owned the opening quarter. With New York’s defense concentrating on stopping Kelly and the ground attack, Cleveland quarterback Frank Ryan went to the air, connecting with flanker Gary Collins for a 14 yard touchdown. Lou “The Toe” Groza, the Browns’ aging placekicker, added a short field goal to put his club up 10-0. Tarkenton and the Giants’ offense came to life in the second quarter. The mad scrambler ran 15 yards for his team’s first score, and Tucker Frederickson scored from 3 yards out to give New York a 14-10 lead. Kelly’s 8 yard touchdown run put Cleveland back on top, but Tarkenton was just getting warmed up.

He found his tight end, Aaron Thomas, open for a 32 yard touchdown and a 21-17 Giant halftime lead. Tarkenton never missed a beat as the second half unfolded. He threw a pair of touchdown passes, of 30 and 12 yards, to Joe Morrison and, now holding a 35-17 lead, it looked like a New York rout was on. The Browns were a proud club in those days, and they were far from finished. Groza cut into the lead with another field goal, then Ryan turned to his other receiving threat, Paul Warfield. The cerebral Cleveland signal caller hit the future Hall of Fame wideout on consecutive scoring throws of 33 and 32 yards, and suddenly the Giants’ lead was cut to a single point at 35-34. New York’s defense stiffened after that, and Pete Gogolak added a late field goal to secure a 38-34 win. The victory moved the Giants into a tie in the standings with Cleveland at 4-3, and celebrated contributions from Thomas, who snagged 5 Tarkenton aerials for 110 yards, and their ground game, with Tarkenton’s scrambles and hard running from Frederickson and Ernie Koy totaling 137 yards on the ground. Cleveland got a huge game from Warfield, who burned the Giants’ secondary for 126 yards on 5 receptions, but bemoaned the fact that 4 turnovers had likely cost them the game.

The Browns extracted revenge later in the year with a 24-14 win over New York on their way to the Century Division crown, while New York fell to 7-7 and a second place finish. Still, it was a major improvement from their 1-12-1 mark of the previous year, and the acquisition of Tarkenton was a major impetus for that.

 

Tarkenton upgraded the Giants in 1967

 

 
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NFL – Throwback Thursday: Coaching Legends Collide

10 Dec

On this week’s NFL schedule the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Football Team face each other. For Throwback Thursday, we’ll highlight the NFC Championship game for the 1983 season, played between these 2 teams on January 8, 1984 that was a matching of wits between a pair of future Hall of Fame coaching legends – Bill Walsh of the 49ers and Washington’s Joe Gibbs. The Redskins entered the title game as the class of the NFC for the ’83 season, winning the NFC East title with a stellar 14-2 record. The Niners, on the other hand, had gone through a stretch where they lost 4 of 5 games, then rebounded to win their final 3 to clinch the NFC West crown at 10-6. A one point 24-23 win over Detroit advanced San Fran to the title game, while Washington had destroyed the Los Angeles Rams 51-7 to earn their title game berth.

The Redskins were heavy favorites, and played like it for the first three quarters of the contest. John Riggins, Washington’s hard-nosed back who would grind out 123 yards rushing on 36 carries for the day, scored a pair of touchdowns from 4 and 1 yard out to put the ‘Skins ahead 14-0. When Joe Theisman connected with Charlie Brown on a 70 yard touchdown pass to up the lead to 21-0 after 3 quarters, it looked like it would be smooth sailing to the Super Bowl for Washington. The 49ers were a proud franchise and weren’t about to go down quietly. They had won the Super Bowl just 2 years prior and although this was the pre-Jerry Rice, John Taylor, etc. era, Walsh had one potent weapon at his disposal, his unflappable quarterback, Joe Montana.

Joe Cool proceeded to mount a furious fourth quarter comeback. He guided 3 touchdown drives which he ended with scoring passes. A 76 yard hookup with his favorite target of that season, Freddie Solomon (4 catches for 106 yards on the day), was sandwiched between short scoring tosses to Mike Wilson. The stunned Redskins now found themselves in a 21-21 deadlock. With time running out, Theisman engineered a drive downfield, helped by some questionable penalty calls against the Niner secondary, the most costly being a defensive holding call against Ronnie Lott that prolonged the drive, cost San Francisco precious time when they got the ball back, and set up the game winning points. They were provided by the Redskins’ Mark Moseley, one of the last of the NFL’s straight-away kickers. Moseley, who had missed 4 field goal attempts in the game already, knocked a 25 yarder through the uprights to give his team a 24-21 win.

The 49ers felt they were robbed by the dubious penalties, but nevertheless Washington earned their second straight Super Bowl appearance. The defending champs may have been better off not advancing, as they were throttled 38-9 by the Raiders on Super Sunday.

 

John Riggins eyes the end zone vs. 49ers (Sports Illustrated photo)

 
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