Can Bills OT Spencer Brown’s development be saved?

05/22/2023
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Two things were evident at the end of the 2022 Buffalo Bills season: Josh Allen needed more weapons, and he needed more time to throw to those weapons.

The Bills added Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield to the receiving corps in free agency and Connor McGovern to take over a starting guard spot. In the draft, the Bills added even more help with pass catchers Dalton Kincaid, Justin Shorter, and O’Cyrus Torrence to eventually start opposite McGovern. The Bills were methodical in their quest to plug holes on the roster. 

But the biggest winner when the dust settled was right tackle Spencer Brown. To call his second year turbulent wouldn’t be fair, because “turbulent” implies that there were ups and downs. It was ALL down for Brown in 2022, but it seems the Bills see something we don’t. Can the Bills save the gargantuan third-year tackle?

His Career

Before getting to the question, a quick refresher on how his career has gone to date. As a rookie in 2021, Brown finished 56th out of 80 tackles who played at least 20% of their team’s snaps in pass-blocking efficiency (a PFF stat that calculates pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed.) He also struggled down the stretch, giving up six pressures in the now infamous “13 seconds” divisional playoff game in Kansas City.

That number cratered in 2022. Brown finished 69th out of 79 tackles in pass-blocking efficiency and gave up the eighth most pressures despite only playing in 14 games (sadly, Brown wasn’t even the worst offensive lineman the Bills had, with Rodger Saffold being one of the three worst guards in the entire NFL.)

Whether you want to look at the film or the numbers, Brown has been a liability when it comes to keeping Allen upright. Watch any play where the quarterback has to run, and the pressure is probably coming from his right side. If you are looking for a bright side, Brown has been a serviceable run-blocking tackle. His unique athletism has made him a player the Bills can use in space when pulling, and he only had one penalty on run plays during the 2022 season.

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Can 2023 Be Different? 

It wouldn’t be much of an article if I just said no, right? So what are some reasons Brown could turn it around? First, he will (hopefully) have an entire offseason to work with second-year offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Brown had offseason back surgery in 2022, forcing him to miss a chunk of the Bills’ offseason. Brown only played 23 snaps over their last two preseason games. 

Secondly, coming into the NFL, Brown didn’t have much time on task at offensive tackle. Brown was an eight-man football tight end in high school. In college, he started 33 games of FCS football over three seasons before sitting out in 2020 due to Covid. If these talking points seem familiar, it is because they are. Both Dawson Knox and Josh Allen were players with limited time on task compared to their peers and required three years to blossom into productive players. It probably isn’t fair to compare players at three different positions, but the Bills have been rewarded in the past when they ride out the ups and downs of a player’s development. 

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Success Stories 

Are there success stories that follow a similar path as Brown? Before I lead you too far down this path, let me preface it with this: just because it HAS been done doesn’t mean it will be done again. There are far more examples of tackles who play poorly early in their careers who have gone on to play equally poorly than there are examples who became serviceable tackles. 

With that said, let’s look at Kaleb McGary. McGary shares some traits with Brown. Brown is 6’8 311, and McGary is 6’7 317. Though McGary isn’t the generational athletic talent Brown is, McGary carried an impressive 9.82 relative athletic score coming out of college. Drafted in 2019, McGary struggled through his first three seasons. In his first three seasons, he finished 60 out of 85, 48 out of 78, and 65 out of 86 in pass-blocking efficiency, per PFF. He played poorly enough through those three years that the Flacons turned down his fifth-year option. 2022 saw him jump all the way up to 20th in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency and earn an extension with the Falcons. McGary (like Brown will in 2023) saw his jump in the play occur in his second year with a new offensive line coach. Unlike Brown, McGary was a first-round pick who started 47 games in college. 

Does an of that mean Brown can make the jump? No. But what McGary does show is a proof of concept, evidence that the traits can shine through with the correct coaching and scheme that fits their skill. 

Back up 

So what happens if Brown doesn’t have a third-year bump? Do the Bills have a backup plan?

Well, not really. 

The Bills re-signed veteran David Quessenberry, but he was just as bad as Brown in 2022, with an efficiency rating of 95.3 to Brown’s 95.6 while appearing in nine games. Tommy Doyle worked his way into the primary swing role as a rookie but missed most of 2022 with a torn ACL. The Bills have yet to give any indication that they see him as a potential starter in the short or long term. 

In all, the Bills have a lot of eggs in the “hope Spencer Brown gets better” basket simply because there is no backup plan that offers more hope. The Bills have had some luck banking on traits with players like Allen and Knox, so perhaps Brown will be another Bills’ development success story.

Or maybe Allen will keep an extra eye on his right side for another year. 

Teacher by day and runner by day. Cover 1 Writer by night.

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