After one of the most eventful offseasons any NFL team has had in recent memory, the Buffalo Bills will finally put on the pads and helmets for real this Sunday against the New York Jets. While the schedule starts out favorably for the Bills, the team has the fifth-toughest schedule in the entire league in 2017. Couple that with massive roster turnover and big question marks at several positions, and the 2017 season could be a long one for die-hard Bills fans. On offense, the Bills will return plenty of starters from 2016, including all five guys on the offensive line, their star running back, starting quarterback, and starting tight end. The Bills had the best rushing attack in the NFL last season, but can they take that elusive next step in the passing game? Here’s a look at a breakdown of each position group on offense:
Quarterback: With T.J. Yates placed on the injured reserve earlier this week, the Bills have Tyrod Taylor, Nathan Peterman, and Joe Webb as the current signal callers on the roster. Although Taylor missed a chunk of the preseason with a concussion, he’s healthy enough to begin his third season as Buffalo’s starter. It’s no secret that Taylor’s time with the team has seen its ups and downs. He’s looked like a franchise quarterback in some games (see: Monday Night Football last season) and looked no better than a backup in others.
While I personally think Taylor will be given a long leash this season to work through his struggles, it’s fairly obvious that McDermott and his staff like what they’ve seen from Peterman. Despite being a rookie, he’s looked poised in the pocket and has delivered on some impressive throws.
PA pass to Streater. Nice throw by Peterman vs off coverage. pic.twitter.com/xgd480umPu— Cover 1 (@Cover1) August 20, 2017
While accuracy and communication with his receivers still need to be worked on, the Bills appear to have a good project waiting in the wings. Taylor’s ability to run and deliver on the deep ball still make him a threat, but it’s the things that he can’t do that make him a limited quarterback. After taking a 10 million dollar paycut this offseason, Taylor is out to prove that the Bills didn’t make a mistake by giving him his third chance to lead the team.
Running backs: This is the first of many groups to have undergone a complete makeover from 2016. The only returning player — and one of the NFL’s best — is LeSean McCoy. Gone are his promising backups in Mike Gillislee and Jonathan Williams, and on the roster are Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, and Taiwan Jones. The three players possess drastically different skill sets, and the Bills will be utilizing a “backup by committee” situation for the first couple of weeks before someone steps up behind McCoy. Banyard and Jones have a combined total of 278 yards rushing in the NFL, but each showed flashes in the preseason. Tolbert is a great short yardage back who gives the Bills a goal-line bruiser, as well as a pass-blocking back, which isn’t McCoy’s strongsuit.
Of course, opposing defenses will still have to gameplan around McCoy. The 29-year-old rushed for 1,267 yards in 2016 with no signs of slowing down. Buffalo also upgraded at the fullback position, going from Jerome Felton to Patrick DiMarco. In addition to being a reliable fullback, DiMarco provides another weapon out of the backfield, with 37 career receptions and four touchdowns.
Wide receivers: Nobody could have predicted where this group would stand at the end of last season, but the changes made at this position were enough to make any Bills fan’s head spin. With the dust finally settled, Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones will begin the season as the two starters. The Bills know what they’ll be getting from Matthews, as he’s been consistently productive throughout his first three seasons. While not the flashiest of players, he’s averaged over 800 yards in each season in Philadelphia, and he looks to bounce back from his sternum injury that sidelined him since his trade to Buffalo in early August. Jones, on the other hand, has shown some of his capabilities in limited preseason action. He seemed to develop a nice chemistry with Peterman after a couple of preseason games, and if the Bills hope to have any type of passing offense they’ll really need him to step up.
After those two players, it’s truly anyone’s guess what’ll happen with the rest of the unit. Andre Holmes, Kaelin Clay, and Brandon Tate round out the group. While those three names won’t scare opposing secondaries, I wouldn’t sleep on Holmes. Despite his rocky offseason, the former Raider has big play potential and the ability to break away from defenders. If things go south with the depth players, the Bills have Walt Powell returning from suspension after week 4, and Brandon Reilly waiting in the wings on the practice squad.
Tight ends: This group had a strong preseason and should be poised for a ton of targets in Rick Dennison’s offense. Nick O’Leary and Charles Clay were targeted more times than any other player throughout the preseason, and they made the most of their chances.
After two underwhelming years with the Bills, Clay seems extra motivated to take that next step with the team.
O’Leary provides a great second option with blocking ability, and he should build off of his nine catches from last season. The ‘X’ factor in this group is Logan Thomas. The former quarterback has the size and athleticism to be an NFL tight end, and McDermott has given him the chance to prove it with the Bills’ offense. If he can produce, then it gives Taylor three physical weapons that have so far proven to be able to get open and to get yards after the catch.
Offensive tackles: How this unit fares in 2017 relies mostly on the lower body of Cordy Glenn. If Glenn can stay healthy, and if Mills can improve upon his rough 2016 campaign, then the edge blocking won’t look as bad as the preseason. If Glenn can’t stay healthy and the Bills have to go to rookie Dion Dawkins, then it could turn ugly.
The Bills have given Mills another shot on the roster, but his play in the preseason didn’t offer fans much hope. The team also signed Conor McDermott off of New England’s roster to add another body. Seantrel Henderson still has five games remaining on his suspension and won’t factor into Buffalo’s plans until late October.
Interior linemen: After beating out Vlad Ducasse, the Bills are set to start John Miller at right guard alongside Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. One of the biggest strengths of this unit is the depth they have with veteran guard Ryan Groy. Groy would be a starter on many other NFL rosters, but he finds himself the odd man out in Buffalo. While Miller had his struggles in the preseason, he’s been mostly reliable throughout his two years in Buffalo. Incognito is strong run blocking, but needs to cut down on the penalties while in pass protection this season. Wood looks like he’s back to his old self after missing over half the season with a broken leg last year, and he was just rewarded with a contract extension by the team.