STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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QUARTERBACKS (C): Starter - Tyrod Taylor. Backups - Nathan Peterman, Joe Webb (UFA).
After three years of mediocrity, the Bills are expected to move on from Taylor in the offseason and seek either a rookie, a veteran free agent, or quite likely both. Taylor did an excellent job of protecting the ball and running with it, but he struggles to throw it, and the Bills' passing offense has suffered because of it. Peterman, who performed poorly in the brief playing time he received this season, appears to be nothing more than a career backup, but he will have a spot on the roster in 2018.
RUNNING BACKS (B-plus): Starters - LeSean McCoy, FB Patrick DiMarco. Backups - Mike Tolbert (UFA), *Travaris Cadet (UFA), *Taiwan Jones (UFA), Marcus Murphy.
McCoy had another excellent season as he finished fourth in the NFL with 1,138 rushing yards, and also led the Bills in pass receptions with 59. He will turn 30 before the 2018 season begins, but he remains the Bills' most dangerous player on offense. Without him, Buffalo would not have made the playoffs this season. What was so impressive is that McCoy had to adapt to a new blocking scheme, and after a slow start, he found his groove. DiMarco was a free-agent signing who didn't do much as he played only 25 percent of the snaps for a team that favors the run game. He's a candidate to be released for salary-cap purposes. Tolbert is also a free agent, and it seems unlikely he will be back.
TIGHT ENDS (C-minus): Starter - Charles Clay. Backups - Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas, *Keith Towbridge, Khari Lee.
Clay finished second on the team in receptions with 49 for 558 yards, but he was hurt a good chunk of the season and wasn't always available and physically ready. His bloated contract is a drain given his production and the fact that he played only 55 percent of the snaps. O'Leary has turned into a decent backup, but he still lags as a blocker, and he had a few too many drops this season. Thomas remains a project, a converted quarterback who is tall and athletic, but he's far from polished. For instance, he should have caught a pass in the playoff game that wound up as an interception. Still, it appears he will remain on the team.
WIDE RECEIVERS (D-minus): Starters - Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones. Backups - Brandon Tate (UFA), Deonte Thompson (UFA), Brandon Reilly, *Andre Holmes, *Jeremy Butler, *Jordan Matthews (UFA).
A tremendously disappointing group that must be retooled. Benjamin will be back for the fifth year of his original contract, and Jones goes into his second year with a whole lot to prove after a rough year saddled with second-round expectations. Matthews is unlikely to be re-signed, and Thompson and Tate will probably be allowed to test the market. Holmes was a free-agent signing in 2017 who caught only 13 passes for 120 yards. Reilly was activated off the practice squad late in the year, but never played.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (C): Startets - LT *Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG Vlad Ducasse, RT Jordan Mills. Backups - T Dion Dawkins, T Seantrel Henderson (UFA), C/G Ryan Groy, T Conor McDermott, G John Miller.
There will be an interesting decision to make on Glenn, the highest-paid player on the team. His entire season was ruined by injury and he played in only six games. Dawkins stepped in and the Bills would be perfectly comfortable turning to him if they release Glenn. Incognito made his third straight Pro Bowl, while Wood was solid and just signed a two-year extension. Ducasse and Mills were average, but they will probably be back. Henderson and Miller are probably going to be gone.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (C): Starters - DT Kyle Williams (UFA), DT Adolphus Washington, RDE Jerry Hughes, LDE *Shaq Lawson. Backups - DE Eddie Yarbrough, DE Cap Capi, DE Ryan Davis, DT Cedric Thornton (UFA).
Williams hasn't decided on his future, but retirement is possible now that he's a free agent. Hughes had only four sacks, but he did generate pressure, and he's still the team's best pass rusher. Lawson, a 2016 first-rounder, has not been able to stay healthy, and he's been a disappointing pass rusher, so he has much to prove in 2018. The same goes for Washington, a 2016 third-rounder who has underwhelmed. Yarbrough and Davis were nice pickups in free agency who contributed to the rotation.
LINEBACKERS (C-plus): Starters - SLB Lorenzo Alexander, MLB Preston Brown (UFA), WLB Matt Milano. Backups - OLB Ramon Humber (UFA), OLB Deon Lacey, MLB Tanner Vallejo.
Alexander will be 35 before the season, but he has one year left and remains a valuable leader and special teams player who can rush the passer in situations. Brown led the NFL in tackles with 144, and he played 99.2 percent of the snaps, so if the Bills don't re-sign him, they have a big hole in the middle to fill. Humber probably won't be back, but Milano proved in his rookie season that he has a future because he's athletic and instinctive. Lacey was a rarely-used backup, and Vallejo seems like a career-long special teamer.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (A-minus): Starters - RCB E.J. Gaines (UFA), LCB Tre'Davious White, SS Micah Hyde, FS Jordan Poyer. Backups - CB Shareece Wright (UFA), CB Leonard Johnson (UFA), SS Shamarko Thomas (UFA), CB Breon Borders, CB Lafayette Pitts, FS Colt Anderson.
The revamped secondary had a superb year, but losses could be coming as Gaines will likely have a market after a solid season. White looks like a future star, and Hyde and Poyer may have been the best safety tandem in the NFL, Hyde earning a Pro-Bowl berth. Johnson had his best season as a pro, and he said he'd like to return as the nickel corner, and it seems head coach Sean McDermott would like to have him back if possible. Wright probably isn't in the future plans.
SPECIAL TEAMS (B-minus): K Stephen Hauschka, P Colton Schmidt, LS Reid Ferguson, KOR/PR Brandon Tate (UFA).
Hauschka had an outstanding season in the first of a four-year contract as he made 29 of 33 field goals and all 29 of his extra points. Most impressive, he was 14 of 18 on kicks from beyond 40 yards, not easy in the cold and wind in Buffalo. Schmidt had an average year net yardage-wise at 40.5, but that was two yards better than 2016, and he also had 28 punts inside the 20, eight more than last year. He may have competition in camp, but the Bills could move forward with him. Ferguson was flawless on snaps all season. Tate handled most of the returns but was average, and he figures to leave in free agency.
OVERALL GRADE (B): The Bills were the least-talented team to make the postseason this year, but that didn't matter one bit. The franchise finally ended its 17-year playoff drought, and that made the season a success on every level.
*Asterisk indicates player ended 2017 season on reserve list.