There are high expectations for quarterback Josh Allen as he enters his second season with the Buffalo Bills. How he progresses his game from year one to year two will play a huge role in Buffalo’s overall success during the 2019 NFL season. Analytics website Pro Football Focus recently named Allen as the Bills’ ‘X-Factor’ for the upcoming year, but he’s an obvious selection for that tabbing. What about the more under-the-radar players on the team? The guys that aren’t necessarily stars or household names, but will certainly provide a spark to the team when needed?
Here are our four real x-factors for Buffalo’s upcoming season.
WR Robert Foster
An undrafted rookie in 2018, Robert Foster was a non-factor for the majority of the season. The 25-year old out of Alabama had only caught 35 passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons with the Crimson Tide but the 6-foot-2, 196-pounder with great speed had familiarity with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who saw something special in the wideout. Foster worked hard to crack the Bills’ lineup and stepped up in a huge way down the stretch.
Over the last seven games of the season, Foster was targeted 35 times, catching 25 passes for 521 yards (20.8 yards-per-catch) and three touchdowns. He consistently torched opposing defenses deep and really opened up Buffalo’s offense while developing chemistry with Josh Allen.
The Bills added Cole Beasley and John Brown to bolster their pass catching group in free agency, but Robert Foster proved that he’s worthy of competing for serious playing time. Even if he’s a secondary receiving option, his size, deep speed and athleticism make him a strong candidate to make an impact on games week in and week out.
DE Trent Murphy
The Bills’ defense only managed 36 sacks in 2018, a disappointing total that the team desperately needs to improve upon in 2019. Defensive end Trent Murphy played through pain while mustering 24 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks, nine QB hits, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles in his first year with the team. Now fully healthy, the veteran edge rusher has impressed coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who says Murphy looks like a ‘different player’ in spring practices.
“I’ve told him a few different times as we’ve gone through some drills here in OTAs how different he looks,” Frazier said, via the Buffalo News. “Of course, last year at this time he was coming off the injury and the surgery and really kind of feeling his way. The confidence, the movement, everything looks so much better. We’re hoping that continues as we get farther along, but he’s a different player.”
Coach McDermott believes Murphy will be a big part of Buffalo’s pass rush this year, and we do too.
LB Matt Milano
Buffalo’s fifth-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level last season, making 78 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, one sack, three QB hits, three interceptions, seven pass breakups and three fumble recoveries. He suffered a broken leg at the end of the year and spent the offseason rehabbing but the starting weakside linebacker says he’s back at full strength and ready to make a huge statement in 2019.
Milano plays fast and physical and has the athleticism to be a force in coverage, while possessing the instincts necessary to make plays at the line of scrimmage in run defense. He had the second-most takeaways in the NFL at the time of his injury and figures to be a key piece of a defense that hopes to somehow improve upon their already stellar performance from 2019.
OT Cody Ford
The Bills’ offensive line was abysmal in 2018 but the team completely revamped the unit during the offseason, adding several free agents before trading up to select Oklahoma’s tackle Cody Ford in the second round of the draft. Ford, who surrendered just seven pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, will compete with free agent additions Ty Nsekhe and LaAdrian Waddle for the starting right tackle job.
Buffalo’s quarterbacks were sacked 41 times last season, a number they hope to decrease thanks to their new additions. Ford is a massive human, standing 6-foot-4, 329-pounds. He’s got some athleticism to match edge rushers on the edge and has the power to move defenders off their spot in the run game, another area that the Bills absolutely must get better at this season.
Ford is young and obviously inexperienced, having played just one season at tackle, but the upside is there and how he performs this season will likely be a strong indicator of how the Buffalo Bills offense fares as a whole.