STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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Bills receiver Sammy Watkins recently underwent surgery on his left foot, the team announced. The Bills also said defensive end Shaq Lawson underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.
The foot surgery is the second for Watkins. He underwent the first procedure in April but experienced issues after playing in two regular-season games and was placed on injured reserve. He returned to play in the final six games.
Watkins, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, caught 28 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns last season. He caught 60 or more passes in each of his two NFL seasons and established career bests of 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015.
Lawson was Buffalo's first-round pick in 2016. He missed the first six games due to shoulder surgery and had 13 tackles and two sacks in 10 games.
Additions: Head coach Sean McDermott; OC Rick Dennison; DC Leslie Frazier; LB coach Bob Babich; OL coach/running game coordinator Juan Castillo; TE coach Rob Boras; RB coach Kelly Skipper; assistant OL coach Andrew Dees.
Retained: Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman.
Won't return: Head coach Rex Ryan.
*Asterisk indicates player that ended 2016 season on reserve.
Starter Tyrod Taylor. Backups EJ Manuel (UFA), Cardale Jones.
Taylor played much the way he did in 2015 - he had some great moments, and some impressive games, but he just was not able to show any inconsistency. His accuracy and decision-making were no better, and the Bills had the 30th-ranked passing offense. The Bills have a huge decision to make regarding Taylor's contract, and there's a good chance he will be released. Manuel is also a free agent who isn't expected back, so if both leave, the Bills are down to Jones, who is still a project.
Starters LeSean McCoy, FB Jerome Felton (UFA). Backups Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams, Reggie Bush (UFA).
For the second year in a row the Bills led the NFL in rushing, averaging 164.4 yards per game. Even though McCoy missed the equivalent of three games, he had a brilliant season and finished with 1,267 yards and averaged a whopping 5.4 per carry, third-best among any back who had at least 100 carries. Gillislee proved to be an outstanding backup who had an even more impressive 5.7 average per carry, which was No. 1 in the league among backs with 100 carries. Bush was a useless signing who had zero impact and Williams saw only scant playing time. Felton played a vital role as a bruising blocker.
Starter Charles Clay. Backups Nick O'Leary, Gerald Christian, Logan Thomas, *Blake Annen, *Chris Gragg (UFA).
Because Taylor has an apparent version to throwing the ball over the middle, Clay was somewhat under-utilized and only late in the year did he and Taylor start getting on the same page. Clay led the Bills with 57 receptions. O'Leary moved up the depth chart in preseason when Gragg went down with a knee injury. The second-year player showed some signs of improvement, especially as a blocker in the running game, but for the most part had very little role in the passing game. The Bills need to upgrade their depth here.
Starters Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods (UFA). Backups - Marquise Goodwin (UFA), Justin Hunter (UFA), Brandon Tate (UFA), Dezmin Lewis, *Marcus Easley, *Greg Salas, *Kolby Listenbee, *Walter Powell, *Percy Harvin (UFA).
Watkins sat out eight games due to his offseason foot surgery and while he started to come on late in the year after his return, it was a terribly disappointing season. Watkins can be a dangerous weapon if he could just stay healthy. Woods is a reliable No. 2 who led the Bills with 613 yards, but he lacks big-play ability and will likely move on in free agency. Goodwin has been a four-year tease who possesses sprinter speed, but is rarely able to use it properly. Injuries really hurt this unit, and some games resembled preseason games based on players the Bills trotted out onto the field.
Starters LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills (UFA). Backups T Cyrus Kouandjio, T *Seantrel Henderson, C-G Ryan Groy, OT Michael Ola, C-G Patrick Lewis.
Part of the success of the Bills' running game is directly attributable to the line. This is a very good run-blocking group that can win at the point of attack but can also get out in space in front of McCoy and Gillislee. Groy stepped in when Wood got hurt in Week 9 and the Bills didn't miss a beat. Mills was the primary weak link and the Bills will probably let him go via free agency. Kouandjio, a 2014 second-round pick, began to show some progress when he was pressed into duty playing for the injured Glenn late in the year.
Starters DT Kyle Williams, NT Marcell Dareus, DT Adolphus Washington. Backups DT Leger Douzable (UFA), NT DeAndre Coleman, DT Jerel Worthy, DT *Corbin Bryant (UFA).
Dareus missed eight games due to a substance abuse suspension and two separate injuries. When he played he was solid, but he was nowhere near Pro Bowl level. His conditioning came into question, and he needs to bounce back in 2017. Williams rebounded after missing 11 games in 2015 due to knee surgery and had a great season for a 33-year-old player. He deserved to make the Pro Bowl. Washington was an inconsistent rookie, but he saw valuable playing time. Douzable and Worthy were both solid backup rotation players.
Starters OLB Jerry Hughes, OLB Lorenzo Alexander (UFA), ILB Preston Brown, ILB Zach Brown (UFA). Backups OLB Shaq Lawson, OLB Lerentee McCray (UFA), ILB Ramon Humber (UFA), ILB Brandon Spikes (UFA), OLB Bryson Albright, ILB *Reggie Ragland, OLB IK Enemkpali (UFA).
Alexander and Zach Brown both signed one-year free prove-it deals prior to 2016, and both had breakout performances. Alexander racked up 12.5 sacks after making 9.5 total in his previous nine NFL seasons. Brown led the Bills in tackles with 149, second-most in the league. Both are free agents, and it might be tough for the Bills to re-sign either. Lawson sat out the first six games on PUP due to shoulder surgery, but after a decent start, his snap counts began to dwindle as the year came to a close and the first-rounder will have a lot to prove in his second year. Hughes saw a big decline in his play from 2015.
Starters CB Stephon Gilmore (UFA), CB Ronald Darby, S Corey Graham, S *Aaron Williams. Backups CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB Kevon Seymour, S Jonathan Meeks (UFA), S Corey White (UFA), S Sergio Brown (UFA), CB Marcus Roberson, S Shamiel Gray, S *Robert Blanton (UFA), S *James Ihedigbo (UFA), CB *Jonathan Dowling, S *Colt Anderson (UFA), S *Phillip Thomas.
The Bills were devastated by injuries, particularly at safety, and it's a major area of need in 2017. Aaron Williams' career could be over, and Graham is a mediocrity at the other safety spot. Unless the Bills use the franchise tag, Gilmore will likely leave via free agency. Darby suffered through a bit of a sophomore slump and he needs to pick it up next year. The Bills hope rookie sixth-round pick Seymour competes for Gilmore's spot if Gilmore leaves. There will be a big turnover in the back end moving forward.
K Dan Carpenter, P Colton Schmidt, LS Garrison Sanborn, KOR/PR Brandon Tate (UFA), Reggie Bush (UFA).
Carpenter may not be back in 2017 after a season in which he missed six field goals and five extra points. His biggest miss came in overtime against Miami which cost the Bills a chance to win a game they had to win to stay alive in the playoff race. Schmidt was not all that effective, either. His net average of 42.4 yards was 30th in the NFL. Tate was signed early in the season to take over the return duties from Bush when it was clear Bush was incapable, and Tate finished in the top 10 in the NFL in both kickoff and punt return average. He also saw some time at wide receiver when injuries hit.