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PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 28: Buffalo Bills

Doug Marrone AP

It’s time for another new start in Buffalo.

Doug Marrone has replaced Chan Gailey as the head coach, Doug Whaley is the new general manager and there are radical changes underway schematically on both sides of the ball. You can’t argue with the reasons why the team has shifted directions, but you can certainly wonder whether it will make a difference since the team’s gone through several such shifts since last making the playoffs in 1999 without much success.

This reorganization needs a leader on the field, one the Bills hope they got when they drafted quarterback E.J. Manuel with the 16th overall pick in April. It will take more than one year to determine if he’s the right man for the job and Kevin Kolb could be the starter this season, but the new regime didn’t hitch their wagon to Manuel on a whim. They believe he’s the right man to take them back to the postseason and this year will be about putting the team they want him to lead in place. That may not lead to many wins, but it’s hard to argue with the decision to move away from what wasn’t working in Buffalo.

Strengths.

The Bills may have questions at quarterback, but there’s not much reason to worry about their running game. C.J. Spiller is a threat to take every touch to the end zone while averaging more than six yards per carry in 2012 and Fred Jackson is as solid a complement as the team could hope to have. Andy Levitre’s departure adds some uncertainty to the line, but the run blocking was good last year and should remain so this time around.

The Mario Williams signing didn’t pan out exactly as hoped, but Williams still had double-digit sacks in his first year with the Bills and remains part of a front seven with a fair amount of talent. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine brings a more aggressive mindset with him, which includes multiple fronts that will have players like Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams lining up in various spots.

Assuming unsigned franchise tag recipient Jairus Byrd doesn’t hold out into the season, the Bills defense will also have one of the league’s best safeties patrolling the back end of the defense. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore needs to cut down on penalties, but the 2012 first-round pick showed enough skill for optimism about what he’ll do in his second season.

Weaknesses.

The Bills still don’t have a clear No. 2 option at receiver behind Stevie Johnson, something that hurt the offense last year and be a drag again in 2013 if no one claims the spot. Rookies Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Da’Rick Rogers give the Bills some new options, but there’s not much experience around them and rookie receivers can take some time to get acclimated.

Pettine coached with the Ravens and Jets before coming to Buffalo and inside linebackers played a major role in the defenses at each place. With rookie Kiko Alonso and second-year player Nigel Bradham looking like the likeliest starters there this season, he’ll have a lot of teaching to do to turn green players into big contributors.

Byrd and Gilmore look like strengths, but the defense struggled to get off the field on third down last season because they couldn’t stop teams from hitting passes. The pass rush needs to be better and so does the coverage from other corners like Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. Schematic changes should help, but execution has to be much better.

Changes.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is gone after a big contract extension was followed by mediocre play over the better part of two seasons. They signed Kolb and drafted Manuel in hopes of settling the quarterback spot once and for all.

That might not have been the biggest change, though. Marrone’s arrival and the talk of a very different offensive approach combines with Pettine’s defensive changes to make things look a lot less vanilla in Buffalo than they were the last couple of years. It’s the kind of thing that can take time to implement fully, but innovation is better than stagnation.

The Bills dropped safety George Wilson and linebacker Nick Barnett as part of the transition to they new defensive look, bringing in Manny Lawson to start at one outside linebacker spot and opening a hole at safety for Da’Norris Searcy, rookie Duke Williams or converted corner Aaron Williams. The Bills also took a flier on former first-round pick Jerry Hughes in hopes that a change of scenery leads to a change in productivity.

Doug Legursky was signed to be part of the group trying to replace Levitre at left guard while Chad Rinehart left for San Diego. Wide receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson both departed without many tears from the Buffalo brass.

Camp Battles.

The old saying is that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t actually have any. The Bills have Kolb and Manuel competing for the gig. Manuel is clearly their choice for the long term, but camp will determine whether the future starts immediately or if Kolb gets one more shot to prove he can both play well and stay healthy for 16 games in a row.

Dareus spent the spring working behind Alex Carrington in some sets and splitting time with Jay Ross in others, although it is hard to know just what the Bills were up to with those machinations. Dareus is more talented than either of those players, which suggests either a motivational ploy or an attempt to get a longer look at backups to see what role they might be able to play next season.

Legursky will battle Colin Brown at left guard while Erik Pears and Chris Hairston slug it out for the right tackle gig. Marrone’s background is in coaching the offensive line, so one would expect those competitions to grab the head coach’s eye as camp progresses.

The Bills spent a sixth-round draft pick on kicker Dustin Hopkins, which likely gives him an edge on Rian Lindell for that job. Punter Shawn Powell is also getting a push from Brian Stahovich, which could mean an all-new kicking tandem in Buffalo.

Prospects.

The Bills have gone young in several spots, they have a new head coach and a new general manager in Whaley. They also don’t know who their quarterback will be in Week One. Dealing with all those things at once usually signals the start of an extended building process and that appears to be the case in Buffalo.

While Spiller, Johnson, Byrd and the defensive linemen give the Bills a strong core, there’s not enough supporting parts to expect them to make a serious run at the playoffs this season unless Manuel is the latest rookie quarterback to take the league by storm.

The good news is that there appears to be some real direction with the team as opposed to former General Manager Buddy Nix talking about the need for a franchise quarterback less than a year after paying Fitzpatrick like one. More aggressiveness on both sides of the ball should help to build an identity that the Bills can use to climb the ladder in the AFC.

Get a couple of rungs out of the way this season and that climb will be easier in the years to come.

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33 Responses to “PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 28: Buffalo Bills”
  1. buffalomafia says: Jul 11, 2013 9:03 AM

    Go Bills!!!!

  2. m3dman3 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:08 AM

    Playoff bound.

  3. jimmyt says: Jul 11, 2013 9:09 AM

    Ya know, with half their players in jail or on IR and along with horrible drafting/FA signings over the last few years, you really need to start working the Patriots in here soon.

  4. jets13 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:10 AM

    ooo boy, i’m a jets fan…….and i dont think you could convince me the jets are better than the bills, never mind bills fans

  5. overweightman says: Jul 11, 2013 9:11 AM

    This is what I love about the NFL. It is the true team sport. One set of positions can totally effect another set’s success. If that D-line can live up to its potential it could reap benefits in that backfield of theirs, which has some talent. Throw in wild card Emanuel at QB and who knows…

  6. sfniners4life says: Jul 11, 2013 9:13 AM

    This may be the year for the bills to top there division. With all the pats issues and I don’t believe dream team 2.0 in Miami will pan out. With spiller and Stevie I believe if Lolb or manual can step up then there will be a changing of the guard in the afc east.

  7. gd2483 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:13 AM

    That looks like a lot of promise for only #28.

  8. flash1283 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:16 AM

    jimmyt says: Jul 11, 2013 9:09 AM

    Ya know, with half their players in jail or on IR and along with horrible drafting/FA signings over the last few years, you really need to start working the Patriots in here soon.


    No look for your sorry a$$ Rams to be up soon, SJ39!

  9. nesportsfan0428 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:17 AM

    The problem with the Bills are they are consistantly mediocre. Finishing 7-9 year after year, just ensures you are JUST out of range of the best draft picks.

    Last year the AFC East Hype Train was behind the Bills and they once again did mediocre. This year the hype train is behind Dolphins.

  10. reignjc says: Jul 11, 2013 9:23 AM

    The defense should improve with a new scheme.. they have the personnel. The future and the W/L column is going to depend on Ej Manuel and if he can be the next Cam, Kaep, Wilson etc.

  11. thevedriper says: Jul 11, 2013 9:24 AM

    28th is deserved right now. They have a lot of question marks at varous positions inlcuding QB, WR, LB and WR. Both lines should be average to above.
    The new management and coaching staff bring some positive energy and exhuberance to a franchise that was old and tired.

    That being said, there is nothing like a Buffalo team, be it Bills or Sabres, to sell hope to its fans, and then yank that hope form out under them as the season unfolds.
    Best they could hope for is 7-9, but its looking more likely that 4-12 or 5-11 is where itll shake out.

  12. jacksonjames4 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:25 AM

    I’m a huge realistic Bills fan… and they stink. They might be better than last year (fitz was the pitz), but not much with nobody relevant to pull the trigger. I sure hope I’m wrong, just like I was wrong last year that they would be really good. Spiller will get used more for sure, Gailey sure was a moron for the way he used him, so that may help things. you just cant keep the best player off the field like he would do to him.
    But lets read all the homer honks talk about how good they will be, top the patriots and go to the big show.

  13. harrisonhits2 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:32 AM

    Bills will be fighting it out with the Jets for the AFCE cellar

  14. andrewsteindione says: Jul 11, 2013 9:38 AM

    An actually realistic Bills fan wouldn’t have thought they were going to be good last year. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a knock, the Bills have a way of selling hope. I drink the kool aid myself sometimes.

    That said, they do still have a lot of work to do, but they have a lot of youth and talent in some key positions. Still question marks at receiver (that should be ironed out this year on the way to solid improvement next year), at the linebacker positions and second corner position. And of course QB (will EJ be the answer?), but they seem to have a vision for the future and some good pieces in place. We are moving in the right direction.

    I would prefer we were at 27 (one spot ahead of the Jets, because…c’mon, the Jets are really awful) but I am fine with this. Low expectations. Anything better than bad will be a pleasant surprise.

  15. tcmiller30 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:40 AM

    I understand the low ranking because they have a lot of question marks (Coach, new systems, QB, DLine living up to expectations, Byrd situation etc.) but I think they’ve done a great job of addressing their biggest needs. They’ve gotten rid of their biggest limitations (Fitz, Gaily, Wannstadt) and replaced them with some promising new faces. Marrone as a HC led one of the worst NCAA division 1 programs to two bowl wins in 4 years, and made a household name out of an unknown Ryan Nassib. He has a good history as an OLine coach and OC in the NFL, and brought in one of the best OLine coaches (Pat Morris), and stole a DC (Pettine) of a perennial top 10 defense from a division rival. This might not be the year they finally break out of their slump, but I’ll be shocked if they don’t look like a team moving in the right direction.

    They won’t be #28 in these rankings for very long.

  16. raiderrob21 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:43 AM

    Still no Jets? You have got to be kidding me. Jets are #32 and I HATE any so called “power rankings” what a joke!

  17. luvnlfe says: Jul 11, 2013 9:46 AM

    I think this is why pre-camp rankings are about as useful as mock drafts…Doug Marrone and his crew of new coaches will have a “get out of Jail Free” card from the national media…meaning no one in their right mind will set very high expectations…an almost new front office…new coaches…new schemes…young players…net out as a lot of promise built on a recent history of franchise under-achievement…as a fan i think they’ve replaced most of the broken parts and they do have a talented core…but at this point there is little evidence and no track record to suggest what next year will be…the Bill’s sell hope better than anyone…i just hope that next year isn’t deja vue all over again…

  18. Exiled1 says: Jul 11, 2013 9:57 AM

    If Manuel cannot beat out Kolb in pre-season I’d be concerned. I think they are better than advertised though. Definitely could use another receiver. A with teams coaching changes this team is really an unknown commodity.

  19. hehateme2 says: Jul 11, 2013 10:02 AM

    The Bills will have a better season than the jets. Book it!

    Gotta get your head in the game PFT.

  20. tatatoothy says: Jul 11, 2013 10:08 AM

    The lopsided thumbs-down to thumbs-up difference in the comments is staggering.

    Go Bills!!!

  21. jimmyt says: Jul 11, 2013 10:16 AM

    flash1283, SJ39 is in Atlanta now.

  22. followme2boston says: Jul 11, 2013 10:36 AM

    I thought the coaching change would have given the Bills a bump in the rankings not the other way around. As a Bills fan, I am sitting here going, “No way are they 28, they are like 24 or 25.” Like that matters…I think they will be better at years end, but it could be a rough start to the year.

  23. bslo says: Jul 11, 2013 10:37 AM

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first 20-something comments on an article have more thumbs down than thumbs up

  24. bmore44 says: Jul 11, 2013 10:49 AM

    What’s with all the Doug’s ? That can’t be good. Lol

  25. 2ruefan says: Jul 11, 2013 11:34 AM

    I think one thing that can be overlooked with a team like this that has gone though so MUCH change in personnel and philosophy is that teams won’t have much film on them.

    I’ve seen this so many times in the past. If there is enough talent, and coaching ability, a team like this can surprise people and win a few games early before teams know what to expect.

    But usually, that catches up with them in the 2nd half of the season.

    I would not be surprised at all if the Bills ran out to a .500 or even winning record in the first half and faded later.

    Maybe 5-3.
    We’ll see….

  26. rabidbillsfan says: Jul 11, 2013 11:51 AM

    Powell needs to go, cost us so many times last season, was a total joke to see him in a professional sports team uniform. No mention of TJ Graham, which sounds about right, he slips my mind as well. Bills are a ~.500 team on paper, no matter whose behind center, so lets hope a camp battle bring out the best in both guys and they can be diffrence makers.

  27. 2ruefan says: Jul 11, 2013 12:16 PM

    bslo says: Jul 11, 2013 10:37 AM

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first 20-something comments on an article have more thumbs down than thumbs up

    **********************************************

    Noticed the same thing the last time there was a Bills Post and I posted something where I questioned the future of Manuel. It was like there were 6 billion Bills fans waiting to POUNCE on anything that did not proclaim them SB champs. LOL. Maybe there is a secret Bills fan “hacker” who can regenerate a thumbs down by quickly releasing his IP and generating a new session for the browser and hitting the “thumbs down” again and again….
    ;-)

  28. tomcous says: Jul 11, 2013 12:51 PM

    In order to re-build one must first tear down and as a Bills fan I’m personally ready to embrace the youth movement here!

    I’m hoping the McKelvin money was well spent and that the nay-sayers of Manuel can be proven wrong sooner than later!

    One way or another I’m true to our red-white-and-blue!

  29. filthymcnasty1 says: Jul 11, 2013 2:03 PM

    The Bills and Vikings are a combined 0-8 in Superbowls.

  30. 2ruefan says: Jul 11, 2013 2:13 PM

    Filthymcnasty1 is a combined 0-6,000,000,000 in life…

  31. pitch87mph says: Jul 11, 2013 5:30 PM

    Too low. This team is definitely better than the Jets, and arguably has more talent than the Dolphins. The D has the “potential” to be elite, which would allow the offense to be merely pedestrian and still pull out some wins with some better game management from the coaches. Playoffs are probably a stretch. But a step back from 6-10 would be a HUGE disappointment, imho. 7-9 or 8-8 feels about right for a team that I think will take a few teams by surprise, allowing them to pull off a few upsets. But I do agree that it’s all about 2014 and beyond.

  32. ontboltfan says: Jul 11, 2013 9:49 PM

    This team has more talent than the NYJ, TEN, KC, MIA,SD, PHI, DET and CAR IMO.

    QB experience is what may hold them back a little. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them at 8-8 or 7-9 which would move them up to at least 21 in the rankings.

  33. megamite1972 says: Jul 22, 2013 8:49 AM

    I’m as hopeful as any Bills fan but a ‘Worse Than Expected’ season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. The thought of Jadaveon Clowney chasing opposing QBs down the expressway brings a smile to my face…

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