Early Offseason Evaluation – Offense & ST

Though the season may not be officially over with the Pro Bowl and Superbowl still upcoming, for the 2010 Buffalo Bills, the offseason preparations began weeks ago. Individual player, positional group, and entire roster evaluations have been ongoing throughout the entire year, but now is the time that all the hard work put in by this staff begins to come to fruition. Since there are no official, entirely accurate listings of this information – and truly cannot be until the CBA decision has been made – the free agency predictions are only relative to information I already had on hand. Without any further introduction…

QUARTERBACKS

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, Levi Brown

Ryan Fitzpatrick, the incumbent starter, definitely turned himself around throughout this past season, fully adapting to and becoming integral in the offensive scheme that Chan Gailey brought Buffalo after a postseason of curiosity over whether or not he’d even make the team. Fitzpatrick parlayed a successful 2010 season into a vote of confidence from Gailey going forward, virtually ensuring that he will be the team’s starter for the 2011 season, possibly longer. The same cannot be said for current backup Brian Brohm – a former second round pick of the Green Bay Packers, who began the season as the #3 behind Fitzpatrick and early starter Trent Edwards (now a Jacksonville Jaguar) and did not perform well in his limited action this season. It would be counterproductive for the team to bring back Brohm, whose contract is up in March. He qualifies as a restricted free agent, and I fully expect the team to tender him fairly low, hoping for some compensation from a curious team. I wish Brian the best of luck going forward, but I just don’t see him as a Buffalo Bill in 2011 – I believe the team wants to develop their quarterback of the future, and I also believe that this player is not currently on the roster (or in the league at all, for that matter). Levi Brown, a 7th round pick by Buffalo in 2010 from Troy University, found his way back to the team after being released just prior to the start of the season when the team parted ways with Edwards and needed a 3rd quarterback. Simply due to the fact that, as the 4th QB in camp, they saw very little of him, and during the season saw even less, I believe that Brown will stick as a Bill for 2011 to compete for the backup job with whoever is brought in with that role in mind. That said, I believe that the quarterback void left from Brohm’s departure will be filled by a draft selection – likely somewhere between the second and fourth rounds. Before anyone asks, I see no possibility of trading for a Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer, or pursuing a free agent QB in the offseason. Nix and Gailey seem dead set on grooming their own signal caller and are comfortable with Fitzpatrick holding the reins for the time being. Be ready to see the future face of this offense drafted in late April.

RUNNINGBACKS

Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Quinton Ganther, Corey McIntyre, Jehuu Caulcrick

The versatile Jackson will turn 30 before the draft arrives, but he is still effective and under contract for two more seasons, so don’t expect to see him go anywhere this offseason. His past two seasons have been notable for an offense that we have attributed to being bland and uninspiring for the better part of the past decade and I expect his production to continue in 2011 as the starting tailback unless second year man CJ Spiller truly embraces his role as a blocker and manages to wrestle some carries away from Jackson. Runningback isn’t a position of great need, but I truthfully don’t see Ganther, whose contract is up, returning if the Bills find themselves a decent young power back in the offseason through free agency or, their 2010 bread and butter, undrafted free agency. He didn’t seem to provide much more than a warm body to take a few carries in relief this year and I’m sure they’ll look to find someone who can do what he does – and more – better going forward. McIntyre’s special teams play has secured him a roster spot and truthfully, with how little the fullback position is utilized in this offense, likely has safely held on to the starting role. Caulcrick, a local product, is likely in a similar position as Ganther. There isn’t much need for two fullbacks on a team that barely uses one, so I don’t have full confidence on his return in 2011.


TIGHT ENDS

Jonathan Stupar, Shawn Nelson, David Martin, Scott Chandler, Mike Caussin

I can’t fathom a scenario in which Buffalo retains any more than three tight ends on their active roster this year. As of yet, they still need a true impact player at the position. Stupar didn’t get the job done, though he was the one getting the most action out of this group all season, and Fitzpatrick needs a reliable target underneath who can also help out in protection. That player is not on the roster currently. I believe that Nelson isn’t long for this uniform, as he seemed to work his way into Gailey’s dog house early and never really found a way out. Look for him to be dangled in a trade in early April. I’d like to see what the only impending free agent in Chandler can do, as he has the size and blocking capabilities to succeed here, but we never got much of a chance to see what he could do in the passing game. Martin was mediocre at best when he was on the field and was clearly the most reliable receiver, whereas Caussin didn’t seem to fit what the team was looking for in any formation this year. I don’t expect Caussin back with the club, and Martin only if we do not acquire the big-time tight end that should be coveted this offseason. While drafting a hulk of a man to play that position is a possibility, I think that grabbing a vested veteran in the Free Agency period is much more probable, where there should be a flux of talent this year.


WIDEOUTS

Steve Johnson, Lee Evans, Roscoe Parrish, David Nelson, Marcus Easley, Donald Jones, Naaman Roosevelt, Felton Huggins, Paul Hubbard, Bobby Williams, Rod Windsor

On first thought, I doubt you would have realized that we had 11 wide receivers on the roster. With Evans, Easley, Parrish, and Huggins on IR it was easy to forget about them. Williams and Windsor were late-season additions to the practice squad that likely won’t stick. With Johnson’s emergence as a starter in this league, Parrish looking reliable on the outside, and Nelson proving more-than-serviceable in the slot, it shouldn’t be a far stretch to imagine Evans being sent packing, especially with the potential that Easley’s return poses. I wouldn’t be against this, as he’s clearly on the decline and I don’t think he’s far from trying to force a trade anyway. I’d like to see what he could do in another jersey, with a decent supporting cast. Still, with the young depth we have, I think a veteran presence would be necessary. Jones and Roosevelt should be borderline players, depending on whether or not Evans returns, and I don’t see Hubbard making the active roster, but could hit the practice squad again. I can’t imagine us drafting a wideout at all unless it’s a game breaker such as Boise’s Titus Young.


OFFENSIVE LINE

(Tackles) Demetrius Bell, Mansfield Wrotto, Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears

(Guards) Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Ed Wang, Colin Brown, Cordaro Howard, Jason Watkins

(Centers) Geoff Hangartner, Chad Rinehart

Throughout the majority of the season, this offensive line really worked well – though most of its components were often interchanging due to injury. First thing that needs mention is Eric Wood – he finished the last few games starting at Center due to an injury to Hangartner. According to GM Buddy Nix, Wood has a very good chance to make a permanent shift to the middle of the line from this point forward. I think this is a great move, as this is the position that he was drafted for and he holds up better against meaty 3-4 nose tackles than current starter Geoff Hangartner does. This would, likely, shift Hangartner to right guard, as he is still better than any of the other options currently under contract to take over that side. Left guard Andy Levitre has only improved and will stay in the position that he has started 32 consecutive games at. The man who started the majority of 2010 at right tackle, Mansfield Wrotto, held up well for the most part, but he is no longer under contract and it’s debatable whether or not the team would like to bring him back in the same capacity. Until the Minnesota game, left tackle Demetrius Bell didn’t let up a single sack against some of the best pass rushers in the league. Still, I’d like to see him on the right side, where his bulk and slow feet would be better suited. That would solve one problem, the inconsistency at RT, and brings a wide-open issue to LT. There doesn’t seem to be any top-shelf LT prospect this year as of yet in the draft, but there should be a handful of options available through trades and free agency in early spring. The players that we have now provide good depth, so the priority should be to add at least one tackle, and if it’s a superb blindside protector, Bell should work out just fine on the right. As long as this unit can stay healthy in 2011, they should only improve.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rian Lindell, Brian Moorman, Garrison Sanborn

Moorman had one of the worst years in his career, and Lindell was no peach, either. Returners were decent and will still be bountiful on the roster going forward. Sanborn continued to do well and will stick around, but I can see the team bringing in a young leg who can do it all to push Lindell and Moorman throughout camp and possibly take over on kickoffs if he cannot supplant one or the other and the team likes him enough to develop a few more years. Short and sweet, both need a little push to play at a higher level again. For years, our special teams was our strongest point, in 2010 it was our second weakest only to run defense. A little youth could go a long way in bringing that strength back to Buffalo.

In summary, I can see the following going down in one fashion or another:

QB: Brohm out – rookie in.

RB: Ganther out – young power back (FA/UDFA) in.

TE: Nelson, Caussin, Martin out – playmaking veteran in.

WR: Evans, Huggins, Williams, Windsor out – middle-of-the-road vet, gamebreaking rookie in.

OL: Wrotto out – big time tackle in (either side).

ST: None legitimately out, rookie K/P/KOS in (also could consider the game-breaking WR as a special teams addition).

Obviously more will be known after March 1st, when we see who is retained, released, and whatnot. Keep an eye out soon for the second part of this where we will dive into the defense and what the next few months could hold for them.

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