The 2015 Buffalo Bills came with a lot of high expectations set by the players and coaches. This should not have been a surprise to anyone considering the Bills hired bombastic head coach, Rex Ryan, the previous January. Seemingly like always, the Bills did not live up to those expectations going 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season.
However, all hope was not lost as some players exceeded expectations and played at a high level. Fortunately, those players were rewarded for their efforts by being elected into the 2015 Pro Bowl. First year quarterback Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Richie Incognito, and Eric Wood, were all awarded the “honor.”
The 2016 Buffalo Bills carry some talented players that have yet to make the Pro Bowl. Today, we are going to look at 5 Bills destined to make their Pro Bowl debut this upcoming season.
WR Sammy Watkins
The 6’1’’ 211 pound wide out from Clemson made his presence felt in his rookie season in 2014 with rather poor quarterback play from EJ Manuel and Kyle Orton. He often dominated games but at times would disappear as well. Watkins finished 2014 with 982 yards on 65 catches topped off with six touchdowns.
However, it is no secret the former fourth overall pick struggled early in 2015 making many question whether he was worth the hefty price it took to trade up five spots (9th overall in 2014, 2015 first rounder, 2015 fourth rounder) to select him. Through the first five games, Watkins (who played in only 3 of the games because of a calf injury) had just 7 catches for 99 yards. He voiced his frustration before game 6, saying:
“You came up to draft me and I’m not getting targets — that’s a problem. You’re making me look bad and you’re making yourself look bad. Why not make both of us look good?”
That is when Sammy Watkins exploded. In his final six games he had 679 receiving yards on 35 catches,19.4 yards per catch, six touchdowns, and four 100-yard receiving games. He also had at least 80 yards receiving in all six games. Watkins ended the season with 60 receptions for 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns receptions. He consistently beat teams deep and bullied opposing cornerbacks. Watkins proved irreplaceable to the Bills, especially late in the season.
Based on his late season tear in 2015, his emergence as a deep threat, and more chemistry with starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Watkins should earn his first Pro Bowl berth in 2016.
CB Stephon Gilmore
On April 26, 2012, the Buffalo Bills selected Stephon Gilmore 10th overall from South Carolina in the 2012 NFL Draft. Gilmore came out of college with good size (6’1’’ 190 lbs) and a 4.38 40-yard dash. After being drafted he was penciled in as the number one corner who would often face opposing team’s number one receiver.
During his rookie season he started 16 games and piled up 61 tackles with one interception. Gilmore also forced three fumbles throughout the season. Like most rookie corners he struggled at times, but he also showed, at times, the player he could become.
The following season came with high expectations as Gilmore was expected to break out, however his season was hampered by injuries and he never really played at the high level expected of him. He ended up missing 5 games due to injuries, despite this he racked up 35 tackles and two interceptions. The 2014 season was the year Gilmore really picked up his game and starting entering the conversation of the title “lockdown” cornerback. He had 3 interceptions and was consistently locking down receivers under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Gilmore played a major part in the Bills’ fourth ranked defense in 2014.
Finally, the 2015 season is the reason Stephon Gilmore is primed for a Pro Bowl debut in 2016. With the hiring of Rex Ryan came an aggressive, blitz heavy defense that would often leave the number one corner on an “island” by himself with no safety help. Stephon Gilmore thrives in this type of scheme and he did just that this previous season. According to Pro Football Focus Gilmore was the 10th best cornerback in the league last season despite suffering a season ending shoulder injury and missing the last 4 games of the season. He also had a career high 18 pass break ups.
CB Ronald Darby
Stephon Gilmore’s running mate at cornerback is the second year player known as Ronald Darby. He played just as good as Gilmore, if not better in 2015. The second round pick came in and immediately became the shutdown cornerback that every team covets.
The same people that graded Gilmore as the 10th best cornerback graded Darby as the 4th best cornerback. That is great, especially since he was a rookie. He lost the Defensive Rookie of the Year award to fellow corner who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, Marcus Peters. Darby does not get as much notoriety as Peters because Peters had 8 interceptions compared to Darby’s 2. Much like Gilmore, Darby thrives in the bump and run coverage that Rex Ryan’s scheme provides. Although his ball skills are not on par with some of the upper echelon shutdown corners his coverage skills are very much so.
Darby having an extra year of experience and having the benefit of the rest of the defense around him having an idea of what is going on should boost Darby to his first, of many, Pro Bowl appearances.
LT Cordy Glenn
Cordy Glenn has started 61 games for the Buffalo Bills in the four years he has been in here since being drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft. His only missed starts were during his rookie season due to injury. Throughout his tenure with the Bills, Glenn has proved to be a formidable run blocker and an superb blind side protector for his quarterback. Glenn did not receive much attention from around league, yet he continued to play at a high level for the Bills.
This past year Glenn played exceptionally well under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman. He was also a year removed from playing without one of kidneys. The aggressive power run game that Roman puts out is a perfect fit for Glenn. The emergence of left guard Richie Incognito also contributed to his solid play. The Bills noticed this great play and rewarded him with a five year $60 million dollar deal with $36 million guaranteed just a few months ago.
With his recent strong play and the national media finally recognizing Glenn, he is primed for his first Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
EDGE Jerry Hughes
Maybe the biggest steal in franchise history was the trade to acquire pass rusher Jerry Hughes from the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills only had to give up one asset to get him, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. Sheppard is on his third team in three years since the trade. Hughes, however, first two season in Buffalo resulted in 20 sacks and he cemented himself as a dominant force off the edge.
In 2013, Hughes played great off the edge playing alongside Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Kyle Williams. Most pundits contributed his success to his linemates, however he proved capable of being a force by himself.
The following year the Bills defense exploded because of the defensive line’s dominance in which they led the league in sacks with 54. His explosiveness off the edge was instrumental in the Bills high sack number and if he was not sacking the quarterback he was at least pressuring him. In the run game he held his ground and forced three 3 fumbles.
In his first year under Rex Ryan, Hughes played the Terrell Suggs role that Rex often had when he was the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. He was the pass rushing outside linebacker. Hughes proved to be the Bills’ best pass rusher in 2015 and racked up five sacks. Despite seemingly a down year his season should still be considered a good one because Rex’s defense has more of a focus on pressuring the quarterback, not necessarily sacks. With a revamped front seven in 2016 Jerry Hughes should play even better and earn his first Pro Bowl bid.