I quipped in the No. 2 piece about Stefon Diggs that “If Josh Allen is the straw that stirs the #Bills offense, Stefon Diggs is the decorative umbrella that makes you go ‘oh la la’ when the bartender hands you your cocktail.” Keeping that metaphor alive, in our Bills’ mixer, No. 1 Spencer Brown would be the alcohol. When it’s a perfect match, everything goes down smoothly. If not, every sip is harsh and downright painful.
Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott must believe there is still mega-potential for the 94th overall selection in the 2021 draft, as they didn’t address right tackle with any of their offseason moves. Brown’s perfect RAS score (RAS.football) shows he has the traits, but now he needs to mix it all together in year three.
Beane did address some of the hogs that will be playing on the line alongside Brown. The two key acquisitions were signing guard Connor McGovern away from the Cowboys and drafting O’Cyrus Torrence in the second round of the most recent draft. Add to that the fact Buffalo’s offense was still spectacular a year ago, finishing second in the NFL in points per game at 28.4 and yards per game at 397.6. They also earned Football Outsiders’ No. 2 ranking in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) with a 19% score.
As you’ll see in the coming paragraphs, Brown has plenty of room to grow despite standing 6’8″ and 311lbs, and that is why the Northern Iowa product earned 39 of 60 possible points from our Cover 1 Crew, with @LowBuffa, @SportsRoc, and myself all ranking him the highest at No. 1.
“Worst starter on the team currently, with the only backup plan being Quessenberry and Shell. Josh Allen needs him to step up to protect his long-term health,” – @SportsRoc2.
It was obvious to most Bills fans that the OL was the weakest link for a Bills team that went 13-3, won a playoff game for a third straight year, and was crowned AFC East champs for a third time in a row. Even with the obvious struggles, ESPN still rated the Bills as the fourth-best unit in pass blocking with a win rate of 67%. That might be where the good vibes end as things took a precipitous fall in their run-block win rate. Buffalo came in 21st with a rate of 71%.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) also rated Buffalo’s run blocking poorly, scoring them as the second-worst unit only ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As you can see from the chart above PFF believes Brown was the weakest link. His 53.3 overall score notches in at 76th out of 83 qualified tackles (played 20% of team snaps). The 49.4 in pass protection was only better than seven players, and run blocking was only the 18th worst at 53.7.
“Spencer Brown’s career hasn’t gotten off to the greatest start, and entering his third season, the former Northern Iowa Panther is undoubtedly the weak link on what is just an adequate offensive line. Brown has faced some adversity throughout his career; he was seen as a raw prospect coming out, and he was recovering from offseason back surgery for much of the 2022 season. All hope isn’t lost for the former third-round pick, but he needs to take a significant leap this season not only for his own sake, but for Buffalo’s offensive line to reach its, as of now, unknown potential,” – @KyleSilagyi.
Before you think this is a Brown hit piece – which so far everything is factual – there are some positives. Brown had some of his highest-graded games against teams that are known for having high-end defenses. Those games include Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New England. This plus his raw size and physical gifts means there is a full buffet to work with, Brown and the Bills just need to figure out the right recipe for success.
These aren’t pretty so I am just going to throw a bunch of numbers at you. Brown allowed the eighth most total pressures according to PFF. The 29 hurries were 11th worst, the nine hits allowed were sixth, and four sacks thankfully fell just inside the top half of most allowed. Put it all together and 42 pressures were the eighth most.
PFF blends both of the counting stats and their grades together in an “efficiency rating” where Brown scored a 95.6, which might sound good until you see it’s one of the 20 worst among tackles.
You may not want to hear it, but if Brown is healthy, he is the Bills’ starting right tackle. He played in 14 games last season, equating to 88% of offensive snaps. When you factor in the playoffs, he took 991 OL reps, all of which were at right tackle. Brown also played in 78% of the Bills’ snaps during his rookie season in 2021. Buffalo made zero moves to change any of this entering his third season. You may not like it, but get used to it.
“He plays a premium position, and the backup options if he should get hurt or falter are not pretty. Hopefully, his inconsistency was a product of injury and a lack of time with OL coach Aaron Kromer, but if Brown can’t offer solid, consistent play at RT, it will make Josh Allen’s life more difficult,” – @LowBuffalo.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Brown being arguably the Bills’ worst contributor in 2022 is why he is so darn important in 2023. To keep the cocktail analogies going, if he can become a top-shelf liquor instead of whatever we could afford in college, the Bills will automatically be more palatable on the line and as an offense. Every party, or game, is better when no one is doing the face squint, mouth cleanse because they just accidentally drank the alcoholic beverage equivalent of paint thinner. Brown’s flashes need to become consistent production and protection for the most valuable asset in Buffalo since the wing was invented.