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Roster Roundouts ’10: A Buffalo Bills Season Preview

See all of the previous LiveBall Roster Roundouts articles: BucsBrownsChiefsJaguarsRams, Seahawks, Bengals.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=brian+brohm&iid=8062910″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8062910/buffalo-bills-atlanta/buffalo-bills-atlanta.jpg?size=500&imageId=8062910″ width=”500″ height=”359″ /]

That picture probably writes this article for me, but I have a word minimum to uphold.

Buffalo Bills (projected finish: 3-13)

Team synopsis: The Bills would be fortunate to be half as good as they were last season.  Chan Gailey has a lot to prove as a head coach, but the Bills are merely trying to win some small measure of success under him.  If Gailey can get the Bills back to the playoffs at some point, he will have outperformed Dick Jauron, Mike Mularkey, and Gregg Williams, Buffalo’s three head coaches since Wade Phillips was fired.  If the Bills find a quarterback this season, it’s a big time win.  Their chances of that are somewhat slim, but the rewards could be big if they do: Lee Evans, C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and an offensive line featuring Eric Wood and Andy Levitre will all be in their primes next season (2011).  A non-rookie quarterback could be the piece that makes everything go.

Best Players

  • RB C.J. Spiller (drafted — Clemson/2010 1st round pick)
  • RB Fred Jackson (signed — Coe College/2006 undrafted free agent)
  • WR Lee Evans (drafted — Wisconsin/2004 1st round pick)
  • DT Kyle Williams (drafted — LSU/2006 5th round pick)
  • CB Terrence McGee (drafted — Northwest State/2003 4th round pick)
  • FS Jairus Byrd (drafted — Oregon/2009 2nd round pick)
  • SS George Wilson (signed — Arkansas/2005 undrafted free agent) [converted WR]

Best Prospects

  • QB Brian Brohm (signed — Green Bay/2009 waivers)
  • WR Marcus Easley (drafted — Connecticut/2010 4th round pick)
  • OT Jamon Meredith (signed — Green Bay/2009 waivers)
  • LG Andy Levitre (drafted — Oregon State/2009 2nd round pick)
  • RG Eric Wood (drafted — Louisville/2009 1st round pick)
  • NT Torrell Troup (drafted — USF/2010 2nd round pick)
  • DE Alex Carrington (drafted — Arkansas State/2010 3rd round pick)

Former head coach Dick Jauron embodied his job in so many ways.  He wasn’t given much to work with, his work always seemed to outperform his meager expectations, and ultimately his season started as an afterthought, and finished as an afterthought, though the Bills always turn a few heads in the middle of the year.

Jauron worked the final half of his tenure under Marv Levy.  Levy had two drafts as team president, making one of the most inexcusable picks in recent memory when he took Marshawn Lynch and forced himself into trading Willis McGahee.  The return on McGahee, two second round picks, was very much in favor of the Bills, but Lynch was never even the best runner on the Bills in three seasons.  Seeing as how Jauron didn’t work on that side of the ball, and never worked with much power anyway, it’s hard to see how Lynch was ever going to help the Bills.  He represented them at the pro bowl in 2008 when the AFC had no distinguished runners after Maurice Jones-Drew, but even a guy like Kevin Faulk would have been a better pick.

Leodis McKelvin was a better pick the next year, but all three corners from the same 1st round class other than McKelvin have turned into, or are on the fringe of turning into, number one corners: Antoine Cason in San Diego, Mike Jenkins in Dallas, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie in Arizona.  McKelvin will be the no. 2 corner and return man this year in Buffalo, but he’s best known at this point for fumbling against the Pats to cause the Bills to start 0-1.  He’s looking like the lone bust of the group.  The Bills also got James Hardy from this draft, who hasn’t done anything in two seasons, but is still tall and is scheduled to start opposite Lee Evans this year.  Don’t count on that happening for more than a week.

Levy was retired (again) for the 2009 draft, and then-COO Russ Brandon had final say, though the power in Buffalo was hardly concentrated at any point last year.  The Bills went heavy on offensive linemen in the draft after spending their first pick on a college pass rusher with way more sizzle than substance, Penn State’s Aaron Maybin.  Draft picks Eric Wood and Andy Levitre were sound players who lacked any sort of sizzle to their picks, and the cash strapped Bills needed to convince fans to keep watching their product, so they went and did the most ridiculous thing a Buffalo franchise has ever done.

They signed Terrell Owens.

Owens’ presence further undermined Jauron, although no fault of anything Owens did.  Jauron didn’t think he needed Owens, and certainly didn’t feel he helped the philosophy he was trying to instill.  The Bills had a season to market though, and could easily just fire anyone who didn’t want to join them in marketing one of the most prolific pass catchers in history, who as you might have guessed, spent the entire 2009 season getting targeted more than the far superior Evans.  Owens surely didn’t help develop anyone, but probably helped Jauron get fired about seven games before he otherwise would have, and was an afterthought in the hierarchy of NFL storylines.  Owens turned in the longest offensive play of the NFL season, a 99 yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick that ended up being the margin of victory against Jacksonville.  Excluding that one play/win, he was well below average on the season.

In the wake of Owens’ signing, the Bills were a trendy “second in division” pick to sort of backdoor a wild card playoff spot.  As pointed out in this weeks FNQB, that prediction would have been a first in the last seven years: the only team to start where the Bills did in 2008 and make the playoffs as a wild card team since realignment is the 2002 Falcons.  Bad teams can post better than .500 division records and make noise — this could have happened if the Bills had held off the Patriots in Week 1 — but once you pick someone else in the division, there’s no “rebound” coming for a bad team from a past year.  The wild card is far more competitive, and theres a huge gap between the Bills and the Texans, who also failed to grab the wild card.

One of the things that these predictions were predictions on was strong quarterback play from a developing Trent Edwards, but behind a paper mache offensive line, Trent Edwards was middling at best, and at worst, might have earned his benching.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was an unemotional replacement who probably didn’t improve the position and definitely limited it’s upside.

But the Brandon tenure wasn’t all bad.  What the Bills blew in terms of the last three drafts (one “best player” and two “prospects”, all from 2009), they started to account for in scrounging the waiver wire for legitimate talent.  They might have found two pieces of the next Bills playoff contender, both of whom made it out of youth-rich Green Bay in a roster crunch: offensive tackle Jamon Meredith (a 2008 5th round pick) flashed the ability to handle both tackle positions and should enter 2010 as the incumbent on one of the two sides.  The other was a developmental quarterback, Brian Brohm.  Brohm had a very distinguished career at Louisville, with talk of being the first overall pick in 2007, had he come out.  He dropped down to the second round in 2008, and was taken by the Packers, but played dreadful in the preseason, got demoted to third string (the Packers felt when he was drafted, he, not Aaron Rodgers, was their QB of the future), played poorly last preseason again, and didn’t make the 2009 team.  Brohm’s problems could be as simple as struggling to work with incompetent preseason players, so if he starts to light up the 2010 preseason with Lee Evans, it wouldn’t be such a shock.  By seasons end, Brohm could end up the number one piece of evidence that having four preseason games doesn’t actually help coaches develop young players, as the Packers gave up on him before ever putting him in a regular season game.

Edwards is probably a better player than Brohm, but he’s also contractually a poor play for the Bills.  Even if he breaks out, Edwards is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the year.  Unless the Bills have the benefit of a franchise tag (depending on the new CBA), Edwards can take his game elsewhere at the end of the year, and probably would.  If he has another middling year, he’ll land on his feet as a backup somewhere besides Buffalo.  It’s the same deal for Fitzpatrick, but he’s 1) not as good as Edwards and 2) already resides in the fraternity of backup quarterbacks.  With movement on Brian Brohm restricted for the 2011 season, he makes the most sense as a high ceiling player, because the Bills retain his rights going forward.

Will any of this work?  Probably not.  My 3-13 projection for the Bills suggest that everything they are doing, from talent development, to a switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme, to rebuilding their offensive line on the cheap, to loading up with talented RBs and CBs, and skimping at LB, it’s all shot-in-the-dark behavior.  The quantity of prayers towards greater powers from the Bills organizations aren’t the issue here, but clearly, knowing the words would make those prayers seem more sincere.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

Levi Brown is another long-term quarterback project who the Bills will likely slip through to the practice squad, and then bring to the active roster next year as the third quarterback if Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick are elsewhere.  He’s unlikely to get signed to someone elses active roster as a rookie, but there are only so many reps to go around.  Seriously, they’re finite things, Buffalo.

Rookie Joique Bell (Wayne State) and waiver pickup KR/RB Chad Simpson are both more valuable players than Marshawn Lynch, and really should combine to push the first-round bust off the roster.  Gailey has paid lip service to having Lynch carry some of the load this year, but hasn’t actually spoken to Lynch about this.  Marshawn is doing a good enough job de-railing his own career, so as soon as he loses Gailey’s faith, his quest to play in the UFL should be satisfied.

Steve Johnson will probably find his well-earned starting spot aside Lee Evans this year, as the Kentucky product averaged 10 yards per catch as a rookie before being phased out of the offense entirely last year so Terrell Owens could drop passes.  He’s got to pass James Hardy on the depth chart, which he will.  Roscoe Parrish has been an afterthought for the Bills, at least he was after being trade bait, but he should be an above average third receiver in this offense.  Then I think rookie Marcus Easley, a true deep threat, can surprise a lot of Bills fans by being the fourth receiver.  Patriots bust-second rounder Chad Jackson is also in camp, but I think he’s the cut here so that the team can keep Hardy on for one more season, though Hardy is merely another Chad Jackson at age 24 instead of 27.

You don’t know who will start for the Bills at Tight End and neither do I.

The interior line is going to be Levitre-Geoff Hangartner-Wood, but the tackle positions are up for grabs.  Meredith and FA pick-up Cornell Green are the veterans, but Green was by all rights a terrible pickup, and makes the team this year on contract alone.  The Bills have two solid rookies in 5th rounder Ed Wang and 7th rounder Kyle Calloway.  Both profile as RTs, although for the future, one is likely to end up at RG with Eric Wood bumping down to Center.  If Meredith can solidify the LT position, this gets a lot clearer.  If he ends up as the long-term RT, then there’s still a huge hole on this line — named Cornell Green.

There’s not much competition on the DL if they keep seven guys, but the linebackers need to be really good for a strong 3-4.  These guys pretty much are not.  Aaron Maybin and Chris Kelsay are the starting outside linebackers.  Kelsay might be cooked as a pass rusher.  Kavika Mitchell is capable of playing outside, and probably will if he can’t win a starting position inside (he won’t).  But the Bills drafted two outside rushers with late round picks: Arthur Moats and Danny Batten.  Moats could be an instant impact guy, but he also may be strong enough to keep Batten off the team and on the practice squad, which would be unfortunate.  Reggie Torbor could play inside or outside.  Then Paul Posluzsny will probably hold down an interior LB position with Andra Davis, meaning that there’s not room for both Nic Harris and Keith Ellison.  This is a group that’s trying to make up for it’s lack of talent with some depth, which usually doesn’t work (and never works in a 3-4).

The Bills are actually quite strong at corner, with McGee, McKelvin, Corner, and Florence all capable of being starters.  Ashton Youboty should hold on as the 5th corner, though his upside is limited.  The bigger story in the secondary is that it could be the end of Donte Whitner’s time in Buffalo.  The 8th overall pick in 2006 was a big-time reach, doesn’t have elite cover skills, and plays in a defense which could limit his ability to get in the box.  Jairus Byrd and George Wilson are both much better cover guys, and along with Bryan Scott, complement each other much better.  With no need to keep five safeties, Jon Corto and Cary Harris both had pretty good seasons, and should fight for that 4th safety spot.

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