No team in the NFL is perfect. No team has the perfect coaching staff, perfect offense, and perfect defense. It is not possible into today’s NFL. Many teams head into the upcoming training camp and preseason with holes that could bring them down come season’s start. Here at Building The Herd I am going to highlight some of the position groups on the Buffalo Bills roster that should be of the most concern heading into 2016.
Maybe the worst kept secret to all Bills fans is that outside of up-and-coming star, Sammy Watkins, along with No. 2 wideout, Robert Woods, the team has some serious question marks at the position. Leonard Hankerson, Greg Salas, and an injury prone Marquise Goodwin do not exactly inspire much confidence. Even though Dezmin Lewis turned heads during the Bills’ Offseason Training Activities, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will keep it up once pads come on.
If Watkins suffers another injury that causes him to miss time during the regular season, the Bills could be in trouble, as no rostered wide receiver has proven worthy of being a No. 1 option, which could potentially be the difference in winning or losing a game.
Chris Hogan proved to be a solid target last year, but signed with the New England Patriots this offseason when the Bills did not match the offer sheet he signed. They also bypassed taking a pass catcher in the first five rounds and instead waited until the sixth round to select Kolby Listenbee, a raw, yet speedy wide receiver out of Texas Christian University.
This neglected position group might wind up being costly to the Bills.
After a solid rookie season in 2014 under Jim Schwartz, Preston Brown regressed mightily in 2015 with the arrival of new head coach Rex Ryan. According to Pro Football Focus, Preston Brown was graded out among the worst inside linebackers in the league. Now that might be a little bit of a stretch, but Brown did have a pretty rough season. Fellow inside linebacker, Nigel Bradham, departed in free agency during the offseason. Bradham’s play wasn’t quite as bad as Brown’s, but he was extremely inconsistent and definitely didn’t look like the same player we saw the year before.
When Bradham went down late in the season, his replacements struggled mightily. First, it was Tony Steward who was also injured not even five minutes into his first opportunity to see the field. He is no longer on the team. Kevin Reddick and A.J. Tarpley also saw playing time in his absence, but neither inspired confidence and Tarpley surprised fans with his unexpected retirement. After Bradham fled to the Philadelphia Eagles, this left just Brown as the only viable option to start before the Bills traded up to select Reggie Ragland in the second round.
Ragland was immediately pegged in as the starter next to Brown for the upcoming season. Zach Brown was signed as an unrestricted free agent and it appears as if the team has moved Randell Johnson from the strong-side linebacker position to inside linebacker, where he saw reps in OTAs. Zach Brown is an athletic linebacker that’s been solid in pass coverage but inconsistent against the run. Reddick has already proved that he is not good enough to play at a high level in this league.
In the situation that either Reggie Ragland or Preston Brown get hurt, the Bills can not be confident in their small pool to pick from to replace them.
Last but not least is another depth issue, this time on the defensive line. Viewed as the team’s bread and butter leading into the 2015 season, the Bills’ defensive line regressed mightily. The team finished 31st in the league in sacks with just 21 (16 by defensive linemen) after recording 54 (48.5 by DL) the year before. Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, and Kyle Williams were considered the best defensive line in the league when together.
The Bills released Mario Williams during the offseason, but selected Clemson EDGE defender, Shaq Lawson, with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, but he’s expected to miss much of his rookie season while he rehabs a shoulder injury that required surgery. They selected a versatile defensive end/tackle in Adolphus Washington out of Ohio State with their third-round pick and he’ll compete with Corbin Bryant, among others, for snaps.
Washington, Dareus, and Williams look pretty good on paper. If they can stay healthy that is. Kyle Williams has dealt with a lot injuries the last few years and is not necessarily reliable. Behind those three there is not much, as Corbin Bryant is the only one that has shown promise in limited playing time. Justin Zimmer, the undrafted free agent out of Ferris State, could provide some depth at several spots along the defensive line, while others like Jerel Worthy, Leger Douzable, IK Enemkpali, etc. will be competing for reserve roles.
Which position group on the Buffalo Bills concerns you the most heading into the 2016 NFL Season? Leave your thoughts in the comments!