The Buffalo Bills are currently tabbed by Las Vegas, much of the media, and many fans to win the AFC East for a fourth straight season. If you look at their current point spreads in all 17 games, they are favored to finish the season with a 14-3 record and the second-best record behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
Looking back on 2022, Buffalo finished second in points per game at 28.4 and allowed the second-fewest points at just 17.9 points per contest. They were also the darlings of much of the analytics community. In Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), the Bills were second in that metric on defense and fourth on offense.
Those high-end athletes are the reason the sharps in the desert are so high on the Bills. They have a perennial MVP candidate in QB Josh Allen, an All-Pro wide receiver in Stefon Diggs, made some major swings along the offensive line, added a pass-catching weapon in the first round of the draft, and have All-Pros at every level of the defense.
Even with all that talent on the roster, there are still three young players that Buffalo could lean on heavily to take a leap in the 2023 offseason and beyond.
RB James Cook
The second-year back out of Georgia will be a major factor in the Bills’ offense this season if only by need and opportunity. With Devin Singletary signing in Houston, there are 794 running back snaps and 215 total touches orphaned from 2022. I am not suggesting that all of those snaps and carries get distributed to Cook, but last year, Ken Dorsey gave over 64% of his running back rushing attempts to the RB1. If Cook gets the lion’s share of those vacated attempts added to the 89 he already received during his 316 snaps in his rookie campaign, voila, Cook will have a huge role. If he were to get close to 150 carries and 50 targets, we could be talking about a back with over 1,250 yards and ten touchdowns in 2023. Last year he averaged 5.7ypc and 8.6 yards per reception, so those stats aren’t impossible.
RT Spencer Brown
The luster of Spencer Brown’s perfect ten RAS (relative athletic score) has worn off faster than the love displayed by the couples on 90 Day Fiancé. In short, it could be now or never for the third-year right tackle. The Northern Iowa product struggled last season, finishing 76th out of 83 qualified (20% of snaps) right tackles in PFF (Pro Football Focus) grades with a 53.3. His 29 pressures allowed were 11th most among tackles. His nine QB hits allowed tied for the sixth most. The four sacks he allowed may seem low, but they placed 38th overall, and we can be safe to assume Josh Allen avoided a few throughout the season. If Allen is going to have time to find all the weapons this offense has and stay healthy, a step up in play from Brown is needed.
LB Terrell Bernard
The Bills used a third-round pick, No. 89 overall to be exact, on linebacker Terrell Bernard in the 2022 draft. The Baylor prospect came in as another high-upside athlete that could use some seasoning, which he was afforded by sitting behind Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds in the linebacker room. Well, as you know, Edmunds got the bag, briefcase, backpack, and dump truck full of money from the Bears this offseason, so Buffalo is left with a void next to the All-Pro Milano.
Is this why they drafted Bernard in the first place? If so, he needs to expedite his learning curve in a major way. In 2022, Bernard took the field for 111 snaps of which 57 were in pass coverage, 52 in run defense, and two he rushed the passer. With those 111 snaps, he had 11 tackles while giving up seven catches on nine targets for 48 yards. It’s not fair or reasonable to expect Bernard’s stats to extrapolate evenly should he chew up many of the 760 snaps vacated by Edmunds, however, his 5.9% missed tackle rate and 77.8% reception allowed rate are promising. While he didn’t qualify for those measures due to lack of snaps, if he did the 5.9% would be 12th, and the 77.8% would slot in just outside the top 50 of the 1,145 eligible linebackers. If there is a base of hope that Bernard can be that guy, the last couple of sentences is where I’d start my wish list.
The Bills will hold ten voluntary organized team activities (OTAs) between Tuesday, May 23, and Saturday, June 10. From there the team heads to mandatory minicamp beginning on Wednesday, June 14.