One year after ending the 17-year playoff drought, the Buffalo Bills finished the 2018 season with a 6-10 record. Despite the worse overall record, it looks like the year two of “the process” was a positive one overall, given the circumstances. Here are my four biggest takeaways from the team’s season:
Josh Allen was a good pick
Few people (including me) wanted Josh Allen as the Bills’ QB before last year’s NFL draft. The major reason was the notion of him being a big “boom or bust” prospect. After his first NFL season, I think it’s fair to assume Allen showed enough to calm down the most worried Bills fans.
The Wyoming product will not become a JaMarcus Russell or Paxton Lynch-caliber bust. He’s too dedicated to his craft to not improve and become a more consistent pocket passer. Even if he never becomes a consistently accurate NFL passer, his unbelievable athleticism and playmaking ability always will make him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Add his toughness and never give up mentality, and you have a very impressive young QB who is capable of being the centerpiece of the Bills’ offense for years to come.
Was Allen a better choice than Josh Rosen or Lamar Jackson? It’s too early to tell. The fact is, he surely was a good choice. Allen carried himself as a true franchise quarterback, earned the trust of his teammates, and showed in his rookie season that his floor is way higher than what was expected pre-draft. Finishing the year with a five-TD performance and becoming the first Bills QB to win the AFC offensive player of the week honors since Drew Bledsoe in 2002(!) just makes Bills Mafia more anxious to see his development in 2019.
Promising young core flourished through the season
The start of the 2018 season was worrisome. The offense couldn’t move the ball behind a dismal OL and the QB group, and veteran skill position players were underachieving while no young players were stepping up. The defense started slowly, regressing in comparison to 2017, and the young pieces didn’t look quite ready to contribute.
Well, it didn’t take long for the defense to turn things around and become a top-notch unit. The offense needed more time, but when the coaching staff finally decided to move on from the unproductive veterans and give the young guys an extended look, they didn’t disappoint.
#Bills age tweet:— Greg Vorse TV (@GregVorse) December 31, 2018
- Josh Allen 22
- Tremaine Edmunds 20
- Dion Dawkins 24
- Keith Ford 24
- Robert Foster 24
- Zay Jones 23
- Shaq Lawson 24
- Isaiah McKenzie 23
- Harrison Phillips 22
- Wyatt Teller 24
- Tre'Davious White 22
- Levi Wallace 23
- 13 more>25#BillsMafia #GoBills
The Bills finished the 2018 season with Josh Allen, Zay Jones, Dion Dawkins, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Taron Johnson, and Tre’Davious White looking like at least good starters at their positions going forward. Wyatt Teller, Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, Jason Croom, Shaq Lawson, Harrison Phillips, and Levi Wallace showed promise and can already be counted as solid depth guys with potential to fight for starting spots next season.
A strong end to the season sees undrafted free agent Levi Wallace earn the title of highest graded rookie cornerback. pic.twitter.com/L3vdSULPz0— PFF (@PFF) January 2, 2019
The Bills will enter the new league year with a very promising young core in place and a lot of ammunition to upgrade the talent level of the roster via draft and free agency.
The defense continued to grow, becoming one of the best in the league
After a difficult start, with the young guys still adapting to the NFL game and a pair of veteran CBs underperforming badly in Philip Gaines and Vontae Davis, the Bills’ defense rebounded nicely and became one of the top defenses in the league.
According to the analytics website Football Outsiders’ DVOA stat, Buffalo finished the season with the second-best defense in the NFL, behind only Chicago. The unit was the second-best against the pass and 14th-ranked stopping the run. Overall, it was a very good improvement from 2017, when the unit was the 15th-ranked defense in the same stat.
This is a playoff-caliber group. Improving against the run should be the focus for 2019, but if paired with a better and more consistent offense, I have no doubts about their ability to win games in January.
Improving the OL should be GM Brandon Beane’s top priority
The major weakness of the 2018 Buffalo Bills was, by far, the offensive line play. Quarterbacks and wide receivers were a problem at the season’s beginning, but both positions improved drastically over the year. The same can’t be said about the OL group, which struggled all year long to establish any consistency in the running game.
Beane - Good teams can run the ball. Sometimes our O-line was out of sync. Felt our run game never got into a consistent groove. That's something we need to be honest about as we make changes. #GoBills— WGR 550 (@WGR550) December 31, 2018
The Bills will need at least three new starters there for 2019. Despite regressing in his second season as a pro, Dion Dawkins should be a starter next season, if not at LT, then on the other side or as a guard. Rookie Wyatt Teller is another guy who did enough to compete for a starting job in 2019.
From the center to the right tackle position, GM Brandon Beane will need to identify potential upgrades and bring them to Buffalo. The state of the Bills’ running game is unacceptable, and it’s impossible to expect success in 2019 without this area of the team fixed. It’ll be interesting to see how he utilizes free agency and the draft to revamp this group.