The Buffalo Bills’ offensive line was a mess for most of 2022, with quarterback Josh Allen taking a lot of the work onto his shoulders. Fortunately for the Bills, Allen was dominant in scramble mode, picking up roughly 97% of first downs when he took off on 3rd and 4th and 10 or more. The Bills’ offensive line finished 28th in Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) run blocking and 21st in pass blocking. The pass blocking was fourth according to ESPN, winning at a 67% clip, but the run blocking fell to 22nd at 71%. So, as you can see, the Bills could certainly use an upgrade on the line.
There was an OL carousel in front of Allen, with eight guys getting at least 100 snaps along the line. I feel pretty confident in saying that tackles Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown, as well as center Mitch Morse, will be back in front of Allen in 2023. But what about guard? Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry are all free agents meaning there could or should be some changes coming on the sides of Morse.
For today’s exercise, we’re going to explore the numbers behind bringing those guys back, riding with Ryan Bates, going out and paying a high-value guard in Denver’s Dalton Risner, or trying a reclamation project in Eagles’ Andre Dillard.
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When it comes to guard, Saffold led the way playing 1,062 snaps for Buffalo, all at left guard. He is followed by Bates and his 947 snaps, 810 of which came at right guard and the rest at center, and Quessenberry’s 398 snaps, most at tackle, but he saw time at guard as well. Risner saw the field 967 times for the Broncos, all at left guard, or 97% of their offensive snaps. The Eagles’ Andre Dillard was drafted in the first round of 2019 to be their left tackle of the future, but he took the majority of his snaps in 2022 at guard, seeing time on both the left and right side of the line.
The three main boxscore stats for a lineman are sacks, hurries, and hits allowed, so we will drop step into those specifically, and to narrow further into guys who play a lot, we will adjust to qualified players with 50% snaps played. Saffold comes in at 30th with two sacks allowed, his five hits allowed fall to 84th, and 35 hurries free fall down to 134th. Bates allowed a pair of sacks, gave up four hits for 59th, and 26 hurries for 110th. Quessenberry doesn’t reach the 50% of snap threshold, but he allowed two hits, four sacks, and 12 hurries. Let’s flip to free agents outside of One Bills Drive with Risner, whose three sacks are 53rd, six hits are 99th, and 20 hurries are 82nd. As for Dillard, he didn’t allow any of the three, but also only played 58 total snaps for the Eagles counting the playoffs.
Let’s peel back the layers of advanced stats for these four starting with Pro Football Reference’s system they call “AV” which stands for “approximate value” (“this is our attempt to put a single number on each player season since 1960 so that we can (very approximately) compare across years and positions”). Here, they grade Saffold an 11, Bates an 8, Quessenberry a 3, Risner a 5, and Dillard a 1.
Flipping back to PFF, we will look at both run and pass-blocking grades. The above chart does a nice job of laying out overall grades for the men protecting Josh Allen and those lined up outside the box. Saffold’s 43.4 run block grade ranks 136th of 140 qualified linemen. His pass block grade of 50.2 wasn’t much better, ranking 130th. Bates racked up a 63.5 which placed him at 104th in pass blocking, and a 58.1 run block grade slots him in at 92nd. Risner slides in at 53.4 in run blocking and 72.6 in pass blocking, 114th and 54th, respectively. Neither Quessenberry nor Dillard made the rankings due to low snaps, but they were 53.7/62.3 and 55.0/84.7 in run block and pass block grades.
To open up the contract talk we will start with the guys who have a “market value” on Spotrac.com. They give Saffold a market value of $5.4 million on a one-year deal. This is down slightly from what the Bills paid him last season. Quessenberry earned $1.75 million from the Bills last season, the highest earnings of his career, per Spotrac. OverTheCap gave him a valuation of just north of $4,000,000, but that sounds a little steep. Only time will tell. Spotrac lists Risner’s market value at a four-year deal with an AAV of $9.5 million. Dillard, like Quessenberry, doesn’t have a market value page on Spotrac, but OverTheCap slotted him at $1.25 million for his valuation. Ryan Bates is signed through 2025, but he has a pretty easy out for Buffalo after 2023 when his dead cap drops down to $1.75 million.
I’m going to start my verdict with this qualifier each and every time… We all know the Bills aren’t flush with cash entering 2023. Even if they pull out most of their “cap coupons” (as our cap guru, Greg Tompsett, calls contract restructures), they are still looking at $40M to $50M to work with before signing or drafting anyone. That said, we all agree the Bills need to do something along the IOL. It was not good enough in 2022 and can be argued to be the worst unit on the team. Unless Saffold is willing to take a “hometown” discount to return to Buffalo, I would let him walk. Risner is going to be one of the hottest names on the guard market, but if Beane wants to dedicate a nice chunk of changes to guard, he is a nice place to look. I also love the idea of bringing in someone like Dillard, who was a first-round pick of the Eagles and plays all across the line. Maybe the talent that made him a high pick can be reclaimed with the Bills. If not, you have a guy who can fill many holes on a make-or-break contract. Keep using Bates at guard and break glass in case of emergency center. I’m not sure Beane will be willing to dump the money needed for Risner, but adding a mid-level guard to Bates and Dillard wouldn’t be the worst off-season Bills Mafia can envision.