Buffalo Bills State of the Roster: Offense

The progression of the Buffalo Bills offense going into 2014 will revolve largely around quarterback EJ Manuel. (Photo: Melina Vastola — USA Today Sports)

BBD Staff Writer: Ryan Glaze

After a six-win season in 2013, the Buffalo Bills’ brain trust of general manager Doug Whaley, head coach Doug Marrone and team president Russ Brandon will look to lead the team to improvement in 2014. A major part of that process will play out this offseason as the Bills look to add talent to their roster through the NFL draft, free agency and possibly trades.

The Bills especially need to improve the talent of their offense, which ranked 19th in the NFL in total yards (338.1 per game) and 22nd in points scored (21.2 per game). Still, from quarterback EJ Manuel to left tackle Cordy Glenn and others in between, the Bills have some core pieces to continue building around this offseason.

Quarterbacks

The Bills had a strange 2013 season at the quarterback position, and that’s an understatement. EJ Manuel, the man the Bills hope will eventually be their franchise signal caller, suffered multiple knee injuries. That left the Bills with a revolving door of retread journeyman placeholders, though one somewhat surprising revelation of a backup quarterback.

While it’s difficult to feel too comfortable with the current status of the position, it’s also not hard to see what could be. Given the investment made in him and the flashes of potential he showed, 2013 first-round pick Manuel will be given at least one more year as the incumbent. However, with lingering questions about his ability to stay healthy, grasp the entire playbook and make solid decisions as a passer, Manuel has a long way to go to prove he’s the long-term answer.

The good news for the Bills is that while the rookie was sidelined in 2013, Thad Lewis looked like a quality long-term backup capable of manning the helm in emergency relief.

Moving into the 2014 season, Manuel and Lewis figure to sit atop the depth chart. It would not be surprising, however, if Buffalo makes a move to hedge its bets on Manuel. Bringing in a high-potential, developmental prospect like Logan Thomas or Tajh Boyd late in the draft could provide the Bills a backup plan at quarterback if Manuel sputters in 2014.

Running Backs

Though the Bills running back group went into the 2013 season with high expectations, Buffalo’s situation at that position enters the offseason in a similar spot to the quarterback situation.

Despite sky-high expectations, driven by grandiose claims from offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett about feeding budding star C.J.

In 2014, C.J. Spiller will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season. (Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig — USA Today Sports)

Spiller with carries “until he throws up”, Spiller’s 2013 season was a disappointment. He was derailed early by an ankle sprain that would linger for most of the season.

Though his output (927 rushing yards, 185 receiving yards) was nowhere near what Bills fans and fantasy owners were expecting, Spiller should be credited for showing a lot of heart, as he played 15 games despite evidently not being 100 percent for most of the season. At 26 years old, Spiller is still the closest thing the Bills have to a star running back. When healthy, Spiller looked like he was comfortable in Marrone’s offense. It will be a shot in the arm if, like Manuel, Spiller can shake the injury bug and have a strong, healthy season in 2014.

Fred Jackson ran for 896 yards and led the Bills with nine rushing touchdowns as he continued to overcome “Father Time” in 2013, but he will enter the 2014 season at 33 years old. Even as a “young” 33, the ageless wonder and emotional leader’s body will break down at some point, and thus far, Spiller hasn’t proven to be a guy who can handle a full workload.

While Jackson may have another few years left in his tank, it would be a mistake to rely on that with so many other questions in the backfield. The Bills called up one young backup late in 2013 in Ronnie Wingo, but they should shop the market to add another young running back.

Wide Receivers

There may not be a more interesting position on Buffalo’s roster than wide receiver.

On the bright side of things, rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin at least met expectations, if not exceeded them, in 2013. Woods’ reliable hands, underrated athleticism and precise route running looked the part of a dangerous No. 2 receiver, if not more of a 1-B. Goodwin also showed glimpses of being a long-term playmaker; he led the Bills in kickoff return yardage and average yards per reception, and displayed the type of explosion that made him a US Olympian in track and field.

The rest of Buffalo’s wide receivers, however, were disappointments.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson had a significant drop-off in production in 2013. (Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig — USA Today Sports)

Entering the 2013 season, Stevie Johnson was unquestionably Buffalo’s go-to receiver, but there is reason for doubt heading into the 2014 season. Though some of his lack of performance can be attributed to poor quarterback play, Johnson posted his worst statistical season since 2009, and simply didn’t do enough on the field to justify the bonehead penalties, inexcusable drops and media storms that come with his play.

Johnson has always been more of a 1-B receiver than a 1-A, and Woods’ presence might get the Bills thinking about moving on from the enigmatic Johnson. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bills shopped Johnson this offseason, though general manager Doug Whaley said following the season that he was “taken aback” by a question about Johnson’s future and expects him to be back next season, according to Buffalo Rumblings.

The oft-injured Marcus Easley also entered 2013 with high expectations. Finally healthy, Easley looked explosive in the preseason, and some thought the Bills would finally see the player deemed worth hanging onto for two seasons of zero productivity. Instead, however, he was unable to break into the depth chart all season and recorded just two catches on the year. He should be a longshot to make the 2014 roster.

Second-year wideout T.J. Graham also failed to impress. Though blessed with plenty of deep speed, Graham struggles to separate, has subpar hands and a knack for coming up small in clutch situations. Graham’s speed is an asset in opening up the offense, and he’ll likely be brought back for a third season in Buffalo, but he needs to rededicate himself to running more precise routes and improving his ball skills if he hopes to stay in the league.

There’s a lot of good in the NFL, there’s not a lot of great. While Woods and Goodwin are a nice start, the former Trojan is best suited as a Robin rather than a Batman, and the Olympian is more of a gadget player in the Tavon Austin mold.

Though not a huge splash, the signing of former New York Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden to a futures contract could be significant. Whether combined or separate, the Bills should be looking for a true No. 1 receiver and a red zone presence at wideout. If signing Barden gives them the latter, it could allow Whaley to shop for the best talent in a No. 1 wide receiver, rather than being pigeon-holed in making that receiver a player with elite size.

See page 2 for a look at the rest of Buffalo’s offensive personnel.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, 2014 Offseason, Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Cordy Glenn, Doug Legursky, EJ Manuel, Eric Wood, Erik Pears, Fred Jackson, Free Agency, Kraig Urbik, Marquise Goodwin, Offense, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler, State of the Roster, Stevie Johnson, Team Needs, Tony Moeaki

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