Today’s Absurd Prediction: The Bills get at least one rookie of the year award.
More on the draft later, since there’s a special spot for that, but I think that Leodis McKelvin, James Hardy, and Chris Ellis could all end up competing for rookie of the year. By getting a lot of touchdowns, I expect Hardy to be Buffalo’s top fantasy receiver, and Ellis could get a lot of sacks and cause some turnovers – all three are players who will make noticeable impacts with highlight-reel plays, the kind of thing that gets you notice in the Rookie of the Year competition.
Coaching Changes: Turkey calling the plays now. (A-)
The big change is Turk Schonert’s promotion from QBs coach to offensive coordinator, replacing Steve Fairchild. I don’t know about his playcalling skills, but at least he’s the guy who made a quality starter out of rookie Trent Edwards last year, and Edwards won’t have to adjust to something too new in his second year. Other than that, the coaching staff stays pretty much intact, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that this cast of coaches will build on their success in their (mostly) third year together. They’re in a good place – they’ve built a young team with promise, and it’s unlikely any jobs are in jeopardy barring a terrible collapse - though expect DC Perry Fewell to be interviewed for some head coaching jobs next offseason.
Draft: Filled needs, got instant-impact talent… that’s perfect, right? (A+)
The big needs were CB and WR, and they filled them quite adequately. The Bills added two new names to the ranks at cornerback, the aptly named Reggie Corner and 11th overall pick Leodis McKelvin, considered by many the best CB in the draft. McKelvin’s acceleration and improvisation make him a great returner as well as the kind of corner who can help take out a team’s deep game. Many aspects of his game need some work still, but his raw talent is quite impressive, and with work, he can be the Bills’ top corner in no time. Corner possesses a lot of the same qualities at a lesser level, but with work he could be quite effective in the nickel. If Edwards wanted a taller receiver, he’d better be happy with 6’7” James Hardy, who should be one heck of an end zone target, though he doesn’t seem to fight for yards much. Defenses are going to have a rough time covering both Hardy and Lee Evans. One pick I love is third-round DE Chris Ellis. He’s fast, he’s mean, he’s strong, and he’s alert – there’s one clip on his video where he flattens a quarterback, causing a fumble, then while the other linemen are stumbling around to recover the loose ball, he comes back to fall on it. The main concern is that he’s small, but the way he muscles guys around, I don’t see that being a problem. If they use him as a situational pass rusher in his first season, he should be scary. I don’t have any info on 4th round TE Derek Fine, except that he was a team captain for Orange Bowl champion Kansas, but another target can’t hurt. I don’t like the way OLB Alvin Bowen tackles, and imagine he’ll mostly be useful on special teams and blitzes. RB Xavier Omon helps in case Marshawn Lynch is injured – backup Fred Jackson can handle most of the load, and Omon can take the goal line/short yardage work. Finally, Buffalo loaded up on longshot talent in the seventh, padding the depth chart with comparatively miniscule OT Demetrius Bell, WR Steve Johnson, and DB Kennard Cox. So I see three guys who can make an instant impact, and some serious depth; all in all a great draft. It’s also worth noting that they made a trade for a Pro Bowl player and still had ten picks to work with.
Player Movement: Time to be scared of the Bills’ defense. (A)
The big splash is, of course, DT Marcus Stroud, the aforementioned traded-for player. On the same day, they got DT Spencer Johnson, who’d been backing up two of the best in the league (the Minnesota Williamses). Add them to third-year youngsters John McCargo and Kyle Williams, and they’ve pretty much guaranteed that the interior of your defensive line will be good enough all year long. They signed the newly ringed Kawika Mitchell to help out the linebackers, giving them one of the scariest LB corps in the league (add Angelo Crowell and a healthy Paul Posluszny). They signed TE Courtney Anderson, who couldn’t stay on the Lions’ or Falcons’ roster for more than two days – yeeeah, Robert Royal, your job is still safe for now. And they added a veteran to the competition at CB with William James, who couldn’t quite hack it against good players in the NFC East over his first seven years. The Bills made some serious cuts, mostly has-beens and underachievers, including RB Anthony Thomas, WR Peerless Price, DT Larry Tripplett, and DBs Coy Wire and Kiwaukee Thomas. This sends a strong message – Buffalo expects you to produce at your salary level, or you’re gone. There weren’t any major free agent defections, which tells me the Bills only lost what they wanted to lose.
Other Considerations: Losman - Your Loss, Man.
J.P. Losman has lost his starting job, for good enough reason, but he’s not happy about it. If he gets traded before the end of the season, the Bills will need a veteran backup in case Edwards struggles in year two or gets hurt. But there shouldn’t be much controversy as far as the pecking order is concerned – Edwards is definitely number one. Last year, I figured that the three new expensive linemen (Jason Whittle, Derrick Dockery, and Langston Walker) the Bills brought in would struggle, but now with a year together under their belts, and Jason Peters still protecting the QB on the left side I’m predicting great things – this could be one of the best O-lines in the league. Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch are a bit young to have the offense on their back, but they proved they could do it last year, and now they’re no longer rookies. A big issue facing the Bills is Toronto – they’ll be playing one preseason game (vs. PIT, Aug. 14) and one regular season game (vs. Miami, Dec. 7) in the Canadian metropolis in an attempt to expand their struggling market. The extra travel could be rough on the team, and they’ll lose a bit of the home-field familiarity advantage. Plus, the fans will be dealing all year with the fear of losing the team to a bigger market, which could fuel their fire, or negatively affect their morale. Thanks to solid drafting, the Bills have great depth, and can handle a reasonable load of injuries.
Grade: A – I like the Bills as my surprise elite team in 2008.
This time last year, we expected the Packers and Cowboys to be halfway decent at best. This year, Ralph Wilson’s boys could topple the annual greats in the AFC, and I’ll look like a genius if it happens.