With the conclusion of the team’s Offseason Training Activities, the Buffalo Bills have a month to get ready for Training Camp. The small tease of excitement fans had with reports and clips of the team back on the field ended quickly, so I decided to make some way too early predictions as to how things could shake out in training camp, answering questions about who’s on the bubble, which players will underachieve and overachieve, etc.
In this edition, I’ll pick apart the offense. Feel free to provide your thoughts to these topics in the comments!
Who will be the biggest Buffalo Bills offseason acquisition on offense in 2016?
After adding LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay, Tyrod Taylor, etc. during the 2015 offseason, the Buffalo Bills didn’t have much cap room to make significant free agent additions this year. They brought in several wide receivers that will fight for playing time, but there’s one name that intrigued me for a variety of reasons. That’s Fernando Velasco.
Fernando Velasco is a seven-year veteran that’s had stints with the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers and most recently, the Carolina Panthers. Velasco has the versatility to play both center and guard, which could prove valuable after right guard John Miller struggled mightily in his rookie year.
Who will rise above the level expected of them in 2016?
The Bills signed a handful of veteran, journeyman wide receivers in Jarrett Boykin, Leonard Hankerson, Greg Little and Greg Salas as free agents, but the team’s seventh-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Dez Lewis, drew rave reviews from his performance in OTAs. Now, it’s important to remember that these are pad-less practices, but the team’s wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal was impressed with his growth, both in skill and size, stating.
“(He needs to) do everything he’s done better, even better. More physical, faster, come back to the ball even stronger, catch every ball,” Lal said. “The more we get, the more we want, so we’re never satisfied.” Sanjay Lal WR Coach
When Rex Ryan was asked which receiver caught his eye the most during practices, he casually stated,
“For my money I think Dez Lewis, consistently, has done a great job. You saw him. As the year went on, he kept getting better and better, but I think he’s made strides even from that point to now. Here’s a guy, a young man that came in from a small college, but man, has he really taken off. And you can talk to any of our guys in the weight room and all that. He’s done a phenomenal job there, getting stronger, faster, and then, [the offense is] not Chinese to him anymore. Last year, I think there was a little of that.”
Which offensive player will fall below fans’ expectations in 2016?
When any player—let alone a running back—signs a $40 million contract, expectations are high, and justifiable. In his first year with the Bills, McCoy flashed his ridiculous agility, stop-and-go ability and the cutting ability to fold a defender up like a lawn chair. However, he finished the year with just 895 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry in 12 games.
McCoy will turn 28 on July 12 and the seven-year veteran already has 2,152 career touches under his belt. With another decreased workload at the goal-line and in short-yardage situations, coupled with a stable of talented backs in Karlos Williams, Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams behind him, McCoy could struggle to achieve the statistical dominance that once was expected of him.
Now, from an on-field perspective, LeSean McCoy should still provide the highlight-reel moves and big runs that he’s made throughout his career, but for the box-score watchers, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he was a disappointment in that department.
Which Bills’ player is under the most pressure to stand out?
First impressions are everything and second-year running back Karlos Williams’ definitely didn’t impress anyone when he showed up to the Buffalo Bills’ OTA’s. Standing 6’1”, Williams reportedly played between 235 and 240 pounds last year and reportedly showed up to the facilities 20-pounds overweight, which would put him in the Eddie Lacy Danger Zone.
Williams justified this lightheartedly with an anecdote about his wife being pregnant, telling reporters,
“I like to eat and then her being pregnant gave me an excuse to eat, so eating anything and everything. She’d wake up, one or two o’clock, ‘I want a snack.’ Well I’m not going to sit here and watch you eat because I don’t want you to feel bad.”
Rex Ryan didn’t share the same tune.
“Obviously he’s not anywhere close to where he needs to play at a high level,” Ryan said. “So we’ve got to get some weight off him and he certainly understands that. You guys can see him as well as I do; he’s clearly overweight. You wish that he was in much better shape, there’s no question about it. I think in the future I’m sure he’s got to realize that what he did this offseason is far from what you want. He’s a young guy, hopefully he’ll learn from it.”
Williams, who was selected in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft took the league by storm, taking his first carry 26-yards for a touchdown and proceeding to score in each of his first six games. He finished the year with 517 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns, averaging 5.5 yards-per-carry, adding another 96 yards and two receiving touchdowns on 11 carries.
He exited the 2016 season just short of having his name written in sharpie as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart, but after spending the majority of the week on the sideline bicycle, he allowed Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams—the team’s rookie fifth-round pick, who was in his same position this time last year—to be the ones catching the coaching staffs eyes.
Which player is in jeopardy of losing their roster spot?
Just minutes after the Buffalo Bills selected Cyrus Kouandjio in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Doug Whaley sat at the podium and stated that he expected him to come in and start at right tackle in place of the departed Erik Pears. Instead, it was seventh-round pick Seantrel Henderson who started every game at right tackle during their rookie year. Last season, Seantrel Henderson started and when he was injured, it was Jordan Mills, signed off the street, who made the start. Kouandjio played 234 snaps last season, starting two games when both Mills and Henderson were injured, with the remainder of his snaps coming as the sixth lineman in unbalanced formations.
Entering his third season, Kouandjio may have a chance to secure the backup right tackle job, as Henderson underwent surgery on his intestines to treat his Crohns’ Disease. However, the team has been doing their diligence on tackles, signing Marquis Lucas and Keith Lumpkin as undrafted free agents, only to release Lumpkin and sign two more tackles in Sean Renfrow and Chris Martin.
Kouandjio needs to put it all together this offseason and make the most of every opportunity before the one time prized high school recruit and collegiate All-American fades into the sunset as just another bust.
Who will be the breakout star on the Buffalo Bills’ offense this year?
Last offseason, the Buffalo Bills made tight end Charles Clay one of the highest-paid players at his position when they agreed to five-year, $38 million deal with $24.5 million in guarantees. Clay didn’t put up the gaudy receiving numbers one would expect out of one of the five highest-paid players at his position, catching 51 passes for 528 yards and three touchdowns in 12 ½ games before being placed on Injured Reserve.
Entering his second season with the Bills, Charles Clay hasn’t seemed to generate much excitement among the fan-base, but all signs point to him making a much bigger impact than he did in his first, especially on the stat sheet.
Sammy Watkins suffered a foot injury that required surgery, and the timetable for his return is still up in the air. Additionally, a big talking point surrounding quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s looming free agency and potential contract extension has been regarding his ability to work the middle of the field and be more effective in third-down or red-zone situations.
Clay and Taylor worked out together during the offseason, but even Greg Roman hinted at an expanded role for the tight end when he mentioned expanding the offense to use the middle of the field more.
“I think we are just opening up, expanding our offense a little bit,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman told Ty Dunne of The Buffalo News. “I definitely think that is something we did not focus on as a staff last year. As for a critical look at ourselves I think we decided to open up things a little bit more in the middle of the field.”
Next week I’ll give my predictions on these topics for the Buffalo Bills’ defense