The growth of the Buffalo Bills in recent years is mainly due to a very sustainable roster build by general manager Brandon Beane. Combine that with the excellent coaching of Sean McDermott and you are always in the playoffs. However, it was Josh Allen ‘s unprecedented growth over the past three seasons that turned the Bills into a Super Bowl contender. Allen broke all the laws of the NFL and only had to tolerate Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers in terms of quarterback ratings. The man from Firebaugh, CA signed a well-deserved six-year contract extension for $258 million. The Bills finally have Jim Kelly ‘s successorat home. In 2021, that should translate into the first Super Bowl performance in more than 25 years.
In free agency it was very quiet around the Buffalo Bills. No big names were brought in and not a single key player left. The focus was mainly on retaining the own players. Cornerback Levi Wallace was a restricted free agent and is returning on a one-year contract. He offers the Bills a solid option, but the one-year contract underlines that he is not the man for the long term. That goes for linebacker Matt Milano. The fifth round pick turned out to be perhaps the most important defensive player for Buffalo. A contract extension was therefore a no-brainer. Also on extending versatile offensive linemen Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams and special teams ace Isaiah McKenzie was beyond doubt.
In terms of incoming and outgoing players, however, it was not completely quiet in Buffalo. Wide receiver John Brown left for the Las Vegas Raiders through the back door and Emmanuel Sanders was brought in to replace him. Defensive end Eph Obada amplifies the D-line and with Matt Breida can Devin Singletary and Zack Moss are relieved. A notable move was the failure of punter Corey Bojorquez. He had a strong season, but his salary demands were too high for a punt. That’s why former Dolphin Matt Haack points for the Bills in 2021. The biggest name added in free agency was Mitchell Trubisky. The former Bears first round pick replaces Matt Barkley as Josh Allen’s backup.
In free agency there were few major losses for the Buffalo Bills. Living special teams legend Andre Roberts left for the Houston Texans, but McKenzie’s overtime offers solace. Defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson also closed the door behind him. He went with John Brown to Las Vegas. Finally, 36-year-old tackle Ty Nsekhe continues his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
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In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills had the 30th pick. Since the defensive line — and mainly pressure on the opponent’s quarterback — was a problem, investments were made on that side of the ball. With the 30th pick they chose defensive end Gregory Rousseau (Miami). Together with Ed Oliver, he can provide the pressure that was missed last season. Rousseau has a high ceiling, but still requires some development. In the second round, the Bills again chose a defensive end: Carlos ‘Boogie’ Basham Jr. (Wake Forest). He seemed more pro-ready than Rousseau, but the preseason showed the opposite. With this focus on the pass rush, it’s clear what the Bills want: more pressure on the quarterback.
In the third and fifth rounds, two offensive tackles were landed: Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa) and Tommy Doyle (Miami). Both gentlemen are huge: over two meters tall and weigh 145 kilos. Brown serves as Ty Nsekhe’s replacement, but he still needs some time to grow. The same goes for Doyle. The depth on the position is good though, so they can get used to the National Football League (NFL) in peace.
With three picks in the sixth round, the depth of the roster continued. Wide receiver Marquez Stevenson (Houston) is extremely fast and showed his value as a return specialist in the preseason. Safety Damar Hamlin (Pittsburgh) provides more depth and possibly special teams work. In a close offseason battle he won a roster spot at the expense of Josh Thomas. With the last pick in the sixth round, the cornerback depth was increased. Rachad Wildgoose (Wisconsin) — the man with the prettiest last name in the draft — eventually made the practice squad. The same goes for the final pick of the Bills in the seventh round: guard Jack Anderson (Texas Tech). Furthermore, each rookie made the final roster.
The 38-24 AFC Championship Game defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs was a reality check for the Buffalo Bills. After a strong season in which they finished 13-3, Patrick Mahomes and his team were the better offensively and defensively. Offensively, the Bills have to mainly build on one of the best duos in the NFL: Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs . In 2020, the Bills finished as the third passing attack, setting a franchise record with 501 regular season points. The development of Allen and the chemistry with Stefon Diggs (127 catches, 1,535 yards, eight TDs) was of great importance.
The Bills broke franchise records as a team, but Josh Allen also stood out individually. He broke all quarterback records, including Jim Kelly for the most touchdowns in a single season. His accuracy took an unimaginable jump from 58.8% to 69.2%; Tom Brady never got that percentage. Allen is big, strong, mobile and mentally very strong. The financial loot is in after signing his monster contract, but he remains hungry.
However, Allen’s growth would not have been possible without offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Each season, he finds new ways to make the most of his quarterback’s unique skillset. At the same time, Buffalo has improved the backup situation of its most valuable asset. Mitch Trubisky came over from the Bears and wants to kick-start his career in Buffalo.
When it comes to guns for Allen, the Bills will have it right in 2021 as well. In addition to Diggs, they have Cole Beasley in the slot and Gabriel Davis as deep threat . John Brown’s departure was met by the arrival of Emmanuel Sanders. Davis is expected to have a breakout year and Beasley poses some danger due to his vaccination views and his influence on teammates. However, Sanders has a lot of experience in the slot and could therefore make up for his absence. In terms of tight ends, the Bills are understaffed: Dawson Knox is not yet able to consistently impress and Tommy Sweeney has had few minutes.
The offensive line provided Allen with solid pass protection last season, but the run blocking left a lot to be desired. The hope is that Devin Singletary and Zack Moss can count on more holes next season. The lack of offensive diversity broke Buffalo against, among others, the Chiefs.
In recent years, it was mostly defense that kept the Bills in games. In 2020, however, it was slightly different. The offense carried the team. Particularly in the early part of the season, the defense seemed a shadow of the units that Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier usually put on the field. There were reasons for this: Star Lotulelei opted for a COVID opt-out, Matt Milano was often injured and a few strong holders were lost in free agency.
However, Lotulelei is back and Milano signed a substantial contract extension. Subsequently, a lot of capital was put into the pass rush in the draft. For the Bills, it starts with the four guys up front: Lotulelei and Ed Oliver in the middle, Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison on the flanks. It seems that rookie Rousseau and mostly sophomore AJ Epenesa will often rotate with Hughes and Addison.
Due to the injury at Milano and a somewhat shaky start from Tremaine Edmunds, the performances of the Bills linebackers were below par in 2020. A fit Milano and an Edmunds with another year of experience should ensure a higher production. In terms of depth, Buffalo features AJ Klein, Tyrel Dodson and special teams specialist Tyler Matakevich.
Finally, Buffalo’s secondary is one of the best in the league. Only opposite cornerback Tre’Davious White would a better colleague be a welcome addition. Levi Wallace has won the battle for that position, but he is not the long-term solution. Between White and Wallace we find nickel CB Taron Johnson ; a young player who has not yet reached his ceiling. The secondary also consists of perhaps the best safety duo in the NFL: Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. They are already in their thirties but together they had 194 tackles and three picks in 2020.
The Buffalo Bills want to hunt the Chiefs, but they shouldn’t focus on Mahomes’ crew. The main imperfections are the run blocking and the pass rush. Andy Reid skillfully exploited those flaws, providing the league with the key to beating the Bills. The pass rush seems to have improved, but the offensive line still remains a question mark. If it works out well, no rooster will crow. If the running game again doesn’t get off the ground and Allen can’t move freely out of the pocket, the problems are big. The doubts will not be limited to the past offseason, but will also focus on years of investment in the defensive line while the O-line had to make do with less.
Despite this, 2021 looks set to be a similar year for the Buffalo Bills. The team has remained largely the same and that consistency often brings success. Especially if the play-offs have been played three times in the past four years. However, there are two factors of uncertainty. The first is that Buffalo — under the inspiring leadership of Cole Beasley — is one of the worst vaccinated teams in the league. The second is that there will be a lot of crowd noise again in 2021. Can Josh Allen act at a high level?