Over the course of the next three months, I’ll be offering up thirty-two contributions to NFL’s Future; each one detailing every NFL teams’ free agency/cap situation, offensive/defensive schemes, recent free agency/draft trends, and areas of weakness, so that we may have an idea of what each team’s shopping list might look like by the beginning of the Free Agency signing period in March. Let’s kick things off in the AFC East, with the Buffalo Bills.
Notable 2013 Unrestricted Free Agents: OLG Andy Levitre, CB/KR Leodis McKelvin, FS Jairus Byrd
Notable 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents: TE Scott Chandler, C Eric Wood, LDT Marcell Dareus, WLB Nick Barnett
Potential 2013 Cap Casualties: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson, WR Brad Smith, ORT Erik Pears, DE Chris Kelsay, RDE Mark Anderson, CB Terrence McGee, SS George Wilson
Offensive Scheme: Curtis Modkins is the offensive coordinator in title only. This is Chan Gailey’s show. Gailey’s attack features a quick-hitting spread that’s designed to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly and get the playmakers in space. In the running game, Gailey is able to exploit spread-out defenses with a healthy diet of draws and traps. Gailey’s attack has been hamstrung by Fitzpatrick’s physical limitations and the continuing absence of a viable deep threat; opposing safeties are too often able to cheat toward the line in anticipation of the run or screen game.
Defensive Scheme: Dave Wannstedt runs a relatively basic 4-3 scheme that relies heavily upon the defensive line to apply pressure. Athleticism and quickness take priority over size in the linebackers. The corners spend most of their time in press coverage.
In the War Room: Buffalo’s war room functions democratically. GM Buddy Nix considers input from Director of Player Personnel Doug Whaley, HC Chan Gailey, Director of College Scouting Chuck Cook, Director of Pro Personnel Tom Gibbons, and even 94-year old owner Ralph Wilson before making his final decisions…Nix and Gaileys’ southeastern roots are apparent on draft day; 17 of the 27 players that the Bills have drafted during Nix’s three-year tenure hail from southeastern schools…Over the last three years, six of Buffalo’s seven picks in the first three rounds have been defensive prospects…Under Nix, the Bills have showed an affinity for prospects who rise late in the predraft process (T.J. Graham, Torrell Troup, Alex Carrington, Marcus Easley, etc.)…The youthful Whaley is a highly-regarded personnel man. Should Nix get the axe, Whaley could be the in-house replacement.
2013 NFL Draft Picks: (7) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
Top Three Needs:
Most of what remains of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s regrettable six-year, $59 million contract is non-guaranteed. The Bills should cut their losses and move in a new direction after this season.
Should Gailey return in 2013, Michael Vick has to be a consideration for the Bills once he’s released by the Eagles. Gailey has a history of squeezing servicibilty from unlikely sources (Kordell Stewart, Quincy Carter), and the Buffalo braintrust isn’t afraid to take on a high risk/high reward venture (Vince Young, Terrell Owens, Shawne Merriman).
Regardless of who’s running the show in Buffalo on draft day, expect a QB to be selected within the first two rounds. West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson would be natural fits in the first round, while Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (Jr.) could be intriguing second day options.
2. Right Defensive End
Those 10.5 sacks by LDE Mario Williams represent the highest total in Buffalo since Aaron Schobel’s 14 in 2006, but no other DE on the roster has more than three sacks. Chris Kelsay’s age, injuries, and hefty contract guarantee him a one-way ticket out of town after this season, while Mark Anderson is an expensive, injury-prone, pass-rush specialist who could soon follow Kelsay. A three-down DE who can bring some heat should be a high priority in 2013.
The Bills could find themselves in a position to nab Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, Texas A & M’s Damontre Moore, or BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. FSU’s Cornellius Carradine could be a second day, risk/reward option following a breakout season cut short by a torn ACL. LSU’s Lavar Edwards, a long, rangy athlete who has often outperformed more heralded teammates Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, is a potential late riser who could intrigue Buffalo as high as the third round.
3. Athletic Linebackers
Buffalo’s linebackers have been eaten alive in coverage this season. MLB Kelvin Sheppard is a solid, two-down run-stuffer, but WLB Nick Barnett’s advancing age has rendered him a liability in coverage. Barnett is due $3.5 million in 2013 (the final year of his contract), so Buffalo could be looking to get younger and cheaper at WLB in the offseason.
Rookie SLB Nigel Bradham is an athletic, in-house option capable of switching to the weak side. If the Bills elect to keep Bradham at the SAM, Alabama’s C.J. Mosley (Jr.) could be a first-round target next April. Mosley is excellent in coverage and a natural leader. Rutgers’ Khaseem Greene and Florida’s Jelani Jenkins (Jr.) offer the athleticism Wannstedt prefers in his OLBs; both could be second day options. Buffalo could also target Baltimore’s Dannell Ellerbe when the free agent market opens. Ellerbe is a relatively young vet who’s like a safety in coverage and still offers some upside.
Of course, if Manti Te’o slips to Buffalo on April 25th…