Saturday, February 18, 2012

AFC East Draft Profile: Buffalo Bills

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
After signing a big contract last season, Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to step up next year.

The Buffalo Bills had a roller coaster 2011-12 season. They started off the season 5-2 and even had a win against the New England Patriots. Some even thought that they could wind up in the playoffs. All that hope went down the drain though, when the Bills lost their next seven straight games.

2011 Record: 6-10, 3rd in AFC East

Strengths: Running Back, Wide Receiver, Safety, Nose Tackle, Inside Linebacker

Before he went down with a season ending injury, Fred Jackson was a beast for Buffalo. He was top a top five back in the league, and was their biggest threat on offense. Also, CJ Spiller did a great job in Jackson's absence, and could get more carries next season. Stevie Johnson and David Nelson both had good years for the Bills. Even though Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't throw the ball downfield, both wide receivers were great  on mid-range throws. They could still add more depth to wide receiver though. On defense, the Bills' two strong suits are their defensive ends and their safeties. Jairus Byrd, and George Wilson were great ballhawks for the Bills this season, combining for seven interceptions. Up front, Macel Dareus had a great first half to his rookie season, while Nick Barnett had a great first season with the Bills at linebacker.

Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Outside Linebacker, Defensive End

First, Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't go down as a weakness or strength because of his roller coaster year. When he plays smart (Harvard) football, he wins games, but when he can't complete 25+ yard throws the Bills are doomed. He signed a big contract this season, so it looks like he will be taking snaps for the next few years, but he still needs to improve. One thing that will help Fitzpatrick out is a better offensive line. If they can protect him well enough, he will buy more time and complete the long passes. This year the line allowed defenders to get to Fitzpatrick too easily. On defense, the Bills can improve at outside linebacker and defensive end. The Bills fell behind in a lot of games this year because they didn't put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This makes it easier for teams to throw the ball deep, and make the secondary look bad. Dareus is a powerful force up the middle, but the Bills need to improve on the outside.

Possible Options with 1st round pick (10th overall): Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram, Riley Reiff, Whitney Mercilus

Upshaw- As reported in a past draft profile, Courtney Upshaw has extreme athleticism and potential to be a standout in the NFL. He can play defense end and outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, and had a great year at Alabama. He's a great pass rusher which is exactly what the Bills need. Upshaw could be a reach with the tenth pick, but he's exactly what they need.

Ingram- Also reported in a past draft profile, Melvin Ingram is very similar to Upshaw. Both play end and linebacker, both can play in the 3-4 defense, and both played SEC football. Ingram and Upshaw also share similar strengths like speed and strength. The choice between the two is a coin toss, pending on combine results.

Reiff- Reiff hasn't been mentioned yet, but is a great offensive tackle out of Iowa. The Big Ten is known for having big and talented offensive linemen, and Reiff is proof of that. His stock is increasing rapidly and he is having great workouts this offseason. If the Bills are going to take a player on offense in the first round, Reiff is their guy.

Mercilus- The defensive end out of Illinois really started to impress scouts towards the end of the season. He's a quick pass rusher, but scouts are worried about his consistency. Realistically, Buffalo won't take a risk with him.

What the Bills need in later picks (assuming they take Upshaw): Defensive end, Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Cornerback

Recap: The Bills started off the season strong in 2011, but couldn't hold it together. They play in the same division as the Patriots and Jets, so making the playoffs will be tough ever year, but if they make the adjustments they need, they will give them a run for their money.

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