By BBD Staff Writer: Erik Dolan
Welcome to the official BBD offseason series where we take the control out of GM Buddy Nix’s hands and put it in our own. After starting out red hot this season the Bills sputtered down the stretch and finished a very disappointing 6-10. The Bills after starting out 5-2 went 1-8 in their final nine games to lose any hope they had for the wildcard and ended up with yet another top 10 NFL Draft pick.
Anytime you have your team collapse the way this team did this season, changes need to be made and things need to be reexamined. We have already seen some of those changes happen as we have had some coaching turnover, a change in defensive philosophy (now a 43), and some early futures contract signings. In addition to these move we are only a few weeks away from the start of the free agency period and must figure out what we have before we begin to make moves to decide what we need.
The easiest way to do this evaluation is through a traditional grading system. In this article we will go through every position on the team and the unit as a whole, not on just one or two players. It’s important to keep in mind that this team isn’t just in need of starters but rather needs to add quality depth in some key positions as well.
Despite our desire to not extend Ryan Fitzpatrick before the season ended the team decided to do that. Unfortunately that happened under a prior administration and not our own so we will have to deal with it. The nice thing about his deal is that it’s not as bad as it once appeared to be, there are a number of clauses that will allow us to get out of the deal early if we so choose.
On the field Fitzpatrick was like Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde this season. He has weeks or games where he would come out firing, he’d have his timing down, he’d hit WR’s in stride and everything looked great. Then other games made you want to pull your hair out with the inconsistent accuracy, lack of decision making, and tendency to hold onto the ball. To put it simply you just can’t have a QB starting who is going to operate in such extremes if you want to make the playoffs. I know that’s not easy to stomach but Fitzpatrick is an ideal back-up or place holder till the future QB is found. He’s likely the starter for the 2012 season but beyond that is really up in the air.
Speaking of backups it didn’t get much uglier than what Tyler Thigpen showed us last year. A back up or developmental QB is badly needed for this team either through FA or the draft. I don’t know that I can watch a game where Fitz gets hurt and Thigpen has to play extended and meaningful minutes. I’m serious about that.
Plan of Attack: Identify the top level QB’s in this April’s draft and evaluate FA crop for potential veteran arm to be the #2 QB.
It’s hard to look at what the duo of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller did last season and not be excited for 2012. There is only one issue with that is that both players need a rather large amount of carries in order to be as effective as they were in 2011. Both players were successful as feature backs but neither was successful as a 5-7 carry a game guy. So we may need to have a shift in philosophy in order to get more carries into the ball game and find more ways to utilize a player like Spiller.
We also added Johnny White in last year’s draft and signed RB Tashard Choice to a one year deal. White got injured but offers a similar skill set to that of Jackson while Choice was suppose to offer a bit more bang to our running game. That added power however never seemed to materialize and Choice was often ineffective at moving the pile in the red zone.
It is difficult to put a grade on fullback in this offense as the position is just not utilized much. Corey McIntyre is a solid special teams player, but does not do much when in the backfield. He is not a threat catching the ball and he tends to miss his target as a blocker. I do not put a ton of weight on the position in this offense because of its lack of use, but it would be great to have a bigger threat option at the position.
Plan of Attack: We must develop a way in the offense to give both Jackson and Spiller enough touches to be involved in the offense. We also need to find a power based back to pick up short yardage and a fullback to lead the way in those situations and catch a few passes on the way there.
No player has received more love and hate from this fan base than Steve Johnson. On one hand, he put up his second consecutive 1,000 season with 7 touchdowns. Johnson is sneaky-good with deceptive speed and deceptive route running that frustrates the best corners he faces. On the other hand, Johnson has a propensity to drop the ball at the worst times and much has been made about his touchdown celebrations which have drawn penalties and frustrated fans and coaches. Still, Johnson is an extremely talented wideout who plays with confidence and fits well in the offense. While I do not expect us to break the bank on him, I do suspect that we will make him a fair offer and we hope he will end up staying in Buffalo.
The slot was manned with success by David Nelson. At 6’5” he’s a very big target with excellent hands. Nelson will not wow anybody with speed or athleticism, but he consistently finds open windows and displays admirable toughness as he goes up for every ball regardless of traffic. Nelson quietly put up good numbers and was often the go-to guy in critical drive-sustaining situations.
Once we get beyond Johnson and Nelson, there isn’t much to write home about. Roscoe Parrish was, again, supposed to be the dynamic guy with the “it” factor. Parrish started two games, had one catch, and was injured…again. I am a big fan of Parrish, but I have to fall in line with the consensus that this experiment is probably over. Naaman Roosevelt and Donald Jones are best as back-ups at this point, and the attempted use of Donald Jones as the deep threat receiver was a failed experiment as evidenced by the ten yard average.
The team and fans were excited about Marcus Easley coming out of camp the last two years, but he has yet to play a down since being drafted in the 4th round in 2010, having spent his first two seasons on injured reserve. The team remains committed to Easley, who showed promise in the preseason, and we understand why. At 6’2” and 220 lbs. Easley has been clocked under 4.4 seconds in the 40 yard dash. The thought of having a big and fast WR is always intriguing. Unfortunately we do not have the luxury of hoping for Easley’s triumphant return to preseason and, hopefully, to regular season.
The team signed David Clowney after the season in hope that he could become the consistent deep threat we so badly need. Clowney has shown flashes during his first four seasons, but has yet to put everything together. This is a zero-risk and cross-your-fingers signing that will not generate any buzz unless it turns out well. The bottom line is that we currently lack a true deep threat as well as complimentary receivers, and depending on whether Johnson signs, we may not have a number one or a number two on the roster.
Plan of Attack: Put emphasis on scouting the mid to late round WR’s with in this April’s draft and evaluate FA crop for potential savvy vet #2.