With the change in ownership and management, the Buffalo Bills have assembled a talented roster over the last few seasons. Although we’re still dreading the possibility of the playoff drought extending for a 17th straight season, it’s believed that the Bills have the difference-makers on both sides of the ball to end the drought.
Who exactly will step up and lead the charge? They’re a lot of play-makers on the Bills’ roster that can contribute towards successfully reaching the playoffs. Whether that’s All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, or perhaps the duo of Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby in the secondary, it’s a surprise that with the plethora of talent the Bills possess they still can’t get over the hump.
With that being said, here are the top five play-makers on the Bills roster that will be crucial for their playoff push in 2016:
QB Tyrod Taylor
After signing a very reasonable three-year deal valued at $3.35 million, no one knew what to expect from Tyrod Taylor. Being labeled the “unknown”, or the “wildcard” in the quarterback race, Taylor capitalized on the dual threat ability that he displayed in training camp and in the preseason to secure the starting job—beating out the likes of Matt Cassel and EJ Manuel.
After posting 20 touchdown passes, six interceptions, 3,035 passing yards, a 99.4 QB rating, and 568 rushing yards to go along with four rushing touchdowns in 2015, Tyrod Taylor has quickly emerged as one of the Bills top play-makers. Tyrod Taylor found home in Greg Roman’s quarterback-friendly offense. Taylor’s strengths were highlighted in his first season through the utilization of run-option plays and multiple deep shots down the field.
As the season wore on, Taylor grew more comfortable within the offense. Complemented by the backfield presence of LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, Taylor would deploy his rushing ability to keep defenses off balance on the ground. In the passing game, after a slow start, the connection between Taylor and Watkins began to ensue down the stretch of the season. Taylor’s arm strength and impressive touch on his deep throws lead Watkins to lead the league in average yards-per-catch and average yards-per-target. As a result, the combination of Taylor and Watkins forced defenses to respect the deep ball, while opposing defenses still had to account for the Bills top ranked rushing attack.
This is the balance the Bills should constantly be looking for—bashing teams in the run game while exploiting any potential mismatches on the outside. This offensive balance will be key for the Bills in 2016. In a pass-happy era, it’s critical for the quarterback to be one of your elite playmakers. It appears the Bills have found a dynamic quarterback—something they’ve missed since Jim Kelly was at the reigns in the 80’s and 90’s. Look for Tyrod Taylor to elevate his game and become a top 10 quarterback in 2016.
DT Marcell Dareus
The 6’3″ 331 pounder out of Alabama has been a dominate force in the trenches ever since he entered the league. Marcell Dareus has been the play-maker the Buffalo Bills have imagined when they selected him No. 3 overall in the 2011 NFL draft. His ability to control the line of scrimmage in the run game, while powering through interior offensive linemen in the pass game has resulted in Marcell Dareus ascending into one of the top defensive tackle’s in the NFL.
Marcell Dareus’ primary strength is stopping the run. Not only does his massive frame clog up running lanes, but his ability to maneuver and shed blockers is among the best in today’s NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Marcell Dareus was one of only three players to have back-to-back seasons in the top 15 in run-stop percentage in 2013 and 2014. Those other two players? J.J. Watt and Damon Harrison. That puts Dareus into elite company right there. The 4-3, one-gapping concepts of Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz, allowed Marcell Dareus to utilize his power and rare athleticism for a defensive tackle of his stature.
Dareus’ impact on the stat sheet took a step back under Rex Ryan’s first season as head coach Rex Ryan asked him to play nose tackle, where he constantly faced double teams and was responsible for two-gapping. Still, Dareus was able to make an impact against the run, notching 40 tackles in that department—the fifth-most among defensive tackles, with 28 counting as “stops” which was sixth-most at the position.
It doesn’t stop there, however. Dareus is also one of the best interior rushers in the league as well. Dareus graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked defensive tackle in 2014, while finishing 6th in 2013. In addition, before the 2015 season, Dareus was averaging just over seven sacks a year. With 30.5 career sacks, Dareus is not only an elite run defender, but a very good pass rusher as well.
Evidently, it doesn’t matter where Marcell Dareus is lined up on the defensive line. His combination of size, strength, athleticism, and versatility is what separates him as one of the top defensive tackles in the entire league. Based off his age, it’s scary to think that his best football may be ahead of him, which made him worthy of a six-year, $100+ million contract. Overall, Dareus is crucial to the Bills’ success on defense, which makes him one of the Bills top play-makers on their roster.
RB LeSean McCoy
It’s no surprise that one of the most shifty, elusive backs in the entire league is on this list. At 27 years of age, LeSean McCoy is a four-time pro bowler and a two-time First-team all-pro.
After Doug Whaley pulled off a major player-for-player trade with the Philadelphia Eagles that included a swap of Kiko Alonso for LeSean McCoy, McCoy instantly brought stardom to the Bills backfield. In the 12 games he played, McCoy racked up 895 rushing yards on 203 attempts for a 4.4 yards-per-carry average to go along with three touchdowns. McCoy also showed off his versatility as a pass-catcher with 292 yards receiving on 32 catches for two touchdowns as well. What’s impressive is he nearly hauled in another 1,000 yard rushing season while missing four games. Lead by the combination of Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito, the Bills offensive line constantly opened up holes for LeSean McCoy, and the other Bills’ running backs, to eventually lead the league in rushing yards, rushing attempts, and rushing yards-per-carry. On a final note, only three running backs have average over four yards-per-carry since 2010: Jamaal Charles, Chris Ivory, and LeSean McCoy.
We all know Rex Ryan loves to play a stingy defensive game while offensively mauling opponents in the run game. This is evident as Chris Ivory and LeSean McCoy have now been coached by Rex Ryan, in which two out of those three backs I mentioned have averaged over four yards-per-carry since 2010. Continuing into 2016, Rex will keep feeding LeSean the ball as many times as possible, as he’ll be the the engine and one of the more critical players the Bills will rely on. This makes LeSean McCoy one of the top playmakers on the Bills roster, and in the entire league, to-date.
WR Sammy Watkins
Where LeSean McCoy is the engine to the running game, Sammy Watkins is the engine that sparks the passing game. The dynamic playmaker out of Clemson has been everything the Bills have hoped for in a No. 1 wide receiver. His size, speed, physicality, and release off the line of scrimmage has made Sammy one of the most explosive receivers, and one of the best deep threats, in the NFL.
In his first two seasons, Watkins gathered 2,029 receiving yards on 125 receptions to go along with 15 touchdown receptions—putting him up there with other top wideout’s throughout the league.
Watkins’ explosiveness and play-making ability has been on display ever since college, and those skills have transferred to the NFL. 2016 will be a big year for Watkins to prove he should be considered among the elite receivers in the NFL next to Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. In fact, over Buffalo’s final nine games, Watkins produced 900 receiving yards and seven of his nine touchdowns over that span. That production over the last nine games only trailed, guess who, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown.
It appears Watkins has already taken another step towards dominance. The only factors that stand in his way towards greatness is his health and the amount of targets he receives. Heading into 2016, Watkins should very much be involved in the game plan week-in, week-out. Sammy Watkins is one of, if not, the top play-makers on the Bills’ roster.
EDGE Jerry Hughes
With the Mario Williams era in the rear view mirror, Jerry Hughes is the only proven, pure pass rusher left on the Bills roster.
After coming over in exchange for Kelvin Sheppard,Hughes broke out by racking up 20 sacks in two seasons after producing minimal results for the Colts. The 4-3 concepts of Mike Pettine and Jim Schwartz utilized Hughes athleticism on the outside in rushing the quarterback from the blind side. More often than not, the front four combination of Hughes, Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams simply overwhelmed offensive lines, and became one of the more disruptive defensive lines in recent memory.
2015 saw a set back for not only Hughes, but the entire Bills defense. Hughes production was cut in half, as he only mustered five sacks. As a result, the Bills were given credit for only 21 sacks, the second fewest in the entire league. Another surprising statistic is that the Bills were one of the worst teams generating pressure, according to Pro Football Focus. Although Rex Ryan promised a lot of blitzing, Pro Football Focus’ grading showed that they were generally ineffective.
For the first time in many years, the Bills defense will be operating under the same defensive system. It’s should benefit not only Hughes, but the defense as a whole. With the defense looking to get back to their efficiency from 2014, I’d expect Jerry Hughes to become one of their leaders on defense and take command of the pass rush. With Rex Ryan’s blitzing presence, Hughes should be back on track for another 10+ sack season. Transitioning into 2016, it’s time for Hughes to get the credit he deserves, as he’s going to be one of the Bills most important play-makers on defense.