This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Tim Schuler
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
This is getting to be a little like Groundhog Day. Bills fans gather at their favorite
chicken wing hot spot prior to the season. They talk about how this isn't the early
1990s any more, but hey, there's some real potential out there and the new coach is a
man with a plan. They say that while there's no shot at competing with the Patriots,
things might come around enough to land a wild card. As the season plays out, there's enough of
a flicker to keep people interested, but inevitably things fall apart due to lack of experience – or
truthfully, talent – and the team ends up missing the postseason dance. Seven straight seasons
and counting. Rinse and repeat.
The 2006 campaign saw some
decent strides where at one point
the Bills were nibbling at the playoff
bubble, and fans were expecting
some of that promise to be
leveraged into a fruitful offseason.
That didn't happen, as the team
decided to only spend "cash to the
cap" and not defer salaries past that
point. Buffalo lost two big names
to free agency in Nate Clements
(San Francisco) and London
and two more via trade in Willis
McGahee (Baltimore) and Takeo
Spikes (Philadelphia). The Bills
did replace some of that star power
with what looks to be a good draft,
as first-rounder Marshawn Lynch
will fill the running back hole and
second-rounder Paul Posluszny may eventually replace Fletcher-Baker's production.
Fantasy-wise, you'll know what you're getting here, but it isn't going to be too sexy. The
offense – while having an improving J.P. Losman, what looks to be a good line, a budding
star in Lee Evans and promise in Lynch – will always be more Honda Civic than Porsche
Boxster under the conservative eye of coach Dick Jauron. And the defense – which was
comfortable with its secondary and linebacking crew the past several seasons – will have
to rely on smallish youngsters to fill the holes.
The reality is this franchise has only has two or three stars, lacks depth at linebacker,
cornerback and safety, and is still looking for a consistent second wideout. It's also headed
by an owner and GM who will have a collective 171 candles on their birthday cakes before
the season is over. That said, we give wise and classy Marv Levy credit for setting a plan
and sticking to it, focusing on smart, speed-oriented, high-character players. It's probably
enough to put the Bills barely on the playoff bubble – if Losman continues to develop
and the lines prove as strong as we think they could – but this is a group still light years
behind the mighty Patriots. Second place in the AFC East and nine wins seem like the max
upside for 2007.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (12) Marshawn Lynch, RB, California
Only a matter of time before the versatile
Lynch takes over the No. 1 job.
2. (34) Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State
Should start right away. He'll get more
tackles if the Bills let him play the middle.
3. (92) Trent Edwards, QB, Stanford
The strong-armed Edwards may have
more pro upside after running for his
life in college.
4. (111) Dwayne Wright, RB, Fresno State
"Tall on strength but short on speed" rookie
has a chance to earn the short-yardage role.
6. (160) (184) John Wendling, S, Wyoming
Unattractive schemes in college curtailed
his game, but he's a workout freak.
7. (222) Derek Schouman, TE, Boise State
Possible H-back will probably end up
being remembered most for his role in
2007 Fiesta Bowl.
7. (239) C.J. Ah You, DE, Oklahoma
Schouman's smile contrasted Ah You's
frown in that game for the ages.
1. Derrick Dockery, G (Redskins)
$49 million price tag, but with Jason
Peters could form an impressive left
side of the line for years.
2. Darwin Walker, DT (Eagles)
Should do well in Buffalo's Tampa-2 system.
3.Langston Walker, G (Raiders)
Two out of three players listed here are
guards, telling you all you need to know
about the Bills' offseason.
1. Nate Clements, CB (49er's)
Bills loved Playmaker's play, but no way
were they going to pony up $10 million per.
2. Willis McGahee, RB (Ravens)
Never liked playing in Buffalo. The city and
coaching staff weren't completely sold on
3. London Fletcher-Baker, LB (Redskins)
Won't be easy replacing the 725 tackles
he accrued in five dependable seasons.
1. A YEAR WITHOUT A QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY
For Bills backers who labored through the Doug Flutie/Rob Johnson, Todd Collins/
Billy Joe Hobert or Kelly Holcomb/J.P. Losman debates, this summer should be carefree.
Losman is now the clear-cut starter after exceeding expectations in 2006 (3,051 yards, 19
TDs, 84.9 rating). Although he muddled through minor throwing elbow and right knee
ailments last season, he's back to full strength and reportedly looked quite fit for the
team's offseason workouts. The Bills also spent a lot of offseason money putting together
what looks like a decent offensive line. They'll never throw enough under Dick Jauron for
Losman to be a fantasy superstar.
2. A BEN STEIN OFFENSE
While the brass likes Jauron's approach, offensive fireworks will never be part of the
game plan. They'll run the ball often and, until Marshawn Lynch matures, might even use
two or three backs to do so. There's really only one offensive stud in the lineup – Lee Evans
(82/1,292/8). Outside of him, Losman, Lynch and Rian Lindell (102 or more points the last
three seasons) will provide adequate production, and everyone else is a long shot. The team
simply plods along with an emphasis on the run while working several different folks into a
conservative game plan, with the occasional strikes to Evans keeping people interested.
TIME FOR A LYNCHPIN?
Marshawn Lynch is coming off a fantastic career at Cal, and is exactly what the Bills
were looking for. He can catch too, an area where Willis McGahee struggled. You know
what they say about rookies in fantasy – if you're going to take the risk/reward plunge,
might as well do it with a running back. While we see Anthony Thomas being part of the
mix because of his experience and blocking skills – plus Jauron and him go back a ways
– if the Bills struggle, there's going to be a point during the season where they let the rookie
be the workhorse. If he slips too far in your drafts, grab him.
4. IT'S IN THE TRENCHES, SILLY
Both lines look to be areas of strength. The aforementioned D-line looks fast and deeper
than last year, and the O-line – seeking an identity for years – finally has the look of a
reliable unit under respected line coach Jim McNally. Jason Peters and Derrick Dockery
stack up with any left side in the league, and chess maven Melvin Fowler is a fine, heady
center. Langston Walker could be a decent pickup and there's some depth on for a change.
Give the skill players a slight boost if you're in a situation where you're choosing between
comparable players and one of them plays with a weaker O-line than the Bills.
Rising:J.P. Losman is starting to look like
a winner, and should keep improving. The
conservative coaching staff needs to turn
Falling: At one point this offseason
Anthony Thomas was the lone starter, but
he's 29 years old and now it's only a matter
of time before Lynch is the main man.
Sleeper: This offense lacks hidden gems,
so if you're going to take a chance go with a
promising rookie like Marshawn Lynch.
Supersleeper: During the final month, Robert Royal
became a bigger factor while scoring all three
of his touchdowns. He may not have to block
as much in 2007, either.
1. Aaron Schobel, DE
Finally got his due with a trip to Hawaii…26
sacks the last two seasons.
Article first appeared 6/14/07