The Bills have been knocking on the playoff door for a couple of years. What will push them over the edge into contention?
As we go on through the 2016 NFL season, we see which teams should consider a rebuild, and which teams can establish themselves as legitimate contenders. There are always teams in the middle, but they are not focused on as much as the ones on the ends of the spectrum. Here we can focus on any team that isn’t a top-tier Super Bowl favorite this year. After writing about the Browns last week, the middling Buffalo Bills are in the eyes of Engage Eight now. In the past two seasons, the Bills have been coming within a game or two of reaching the playoffs, while squandering the opportunity at the end of each season. While stuck behind the New England Patriots for the AFC East title, they can still come in by way of the wild card, and if all else goes well, they can win the division from the Patriots eventually. Below are some ways they can work on fixing their team and finally breaking down the door to the playoff scene.
Coaching and Front Office: Out with Rex
While the front office has been spot on with numerous players in recent drafts and free agency periods, hitting on guys like Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor, Lorenzo Alexander, and Zach Brown, there’s one thing they haven’t done right: the team must fire Rex Ryan. While he may instill some passion in some of his players, Ryan is not a good head coach, and he does not foster a culture within the team that can produce a winning mentality. After removing Rex from his post, the team should promote Anthony Lynn from offensive coordinator to head coach. Lynn was interviewed by the Jets and the Dolphins for a head coaching spot last year, and should be considered as a prime candidate for the team to look at, considering how the offense has turned around under his command after the removal of Greg Roman. Other names to consider are Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Offense: Depth is a must
The Bills’ offense has been reawakened by the promotion of Anthony Lynn. LeSean McCoy has racked up 566 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns in the 6 games since the coordinator change. Tyrod Taylor has 1,361 passing yards and 7 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. Though these two players have been the stars of the offense, the lack of depth behind some of the offensive weapons has caused problems for the team that won’t allow them to keep competing when injuries occur. Behind Sammy Watkins and Marquise Goodwin, who have both been injured, the receiver depth chart consists of Robert Woods, Walter Powell, and the once-retired Percy Harvin. After Shady McCoy, there lies Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush, and the rookie Jonathan Williams. These players will not cut it for the offense, and the team should look to add better, more talented depth at these positions. They should also look to invest more in the offensive line, as Eric Wood and Richie Incognito start to reach the end of the road.
Defense: Not much to change
The defense has always been the strongest part of the Bills’ game, and that hasn’t changed for some time. As some of their players in the front seven start to age, they find highly talented players in the draft, with guys like Shaq Lawson, Kiko Alonso, Adolphus Washington, and likely Reggie Ragland coming in to fill the holes. While their secondary used to be a weak point at times, a lot of good drafting has helped them fix that, with the likes of Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Stephon Gilmore joining their ranks. There is not much to fix on this side of the ball, but some help could be used at both safety spots to replace Robert Blanton and Duke Williams. The interior of the line might need a boost as Kyle Williams approaches retirement, but Washington and co. will likely be able to fill the role.
2017 Free Agents of Note: CB Stephon Gilmore, RT Jordan Mills, LB Zach Brown, WR Robert Woods, LB Lorenzo Alexander, S Robert Blanton, WR Marquise Goodwin, LB Brandon Spikes, WR Brandon Tate, WR Justin Hunter, S Duke Williams
Positions of Need: WR, FS, SS, CB, LB, RB, OT, C, DT
2017 NFL Draft*:
Round 1, Pick 13: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
Round 2, Pick 13: WR Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
Round 3, Pick 13: SS Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville
Round 5, Pick 13: FS Jonathan Ford, Auburn
Round 5, Pick 30 (from DAL): OT Levon Myers, Northern Illinois
Round 6, Pick 13: C Deyshawn Bond, Cincinnati
*Compensatory picks not included at this time