The Bills finished 7-9 last season, losing five games by three points or less. Buffalo has some young talent, such as WR Lee Evans, QB J.P. Losman and SS Donte Whitner. But they lost much of their veteran nucleus, including CB Nate Clements, MLB London Fletcher-Baker, SLB Takeo Spikes and RB Willis McGahee. So where does that put Buffalo in 2007?
QB J.P. Losman has a strong arm, capable of making all the throws. He’s adept at avoiding the rush and can make plays on the run. But he’s still young and needs to work on recognizing coverages and not locking on to one receiver. Losman also needs to learn to throw the ball away and not force throws.
At running back, Willis McGahee is off to Baltimore. Enter rookie first-round draft pick Marshawn Lynch. Lynch has a great blend of size (5-11, 215), speed and power. He’s solid in pass protection and can also play outside as a receiver. Lynch is elusive and rarely goes down on first contact.
Lee Evans is the go-to guy in the receiving corps. Evans is a big-play receiver who caught six passes of 40 yards or more in ’06. He has great speed and is deadly on a double-move route. Of Peerless Price, Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish, someone needs to step up to keep Evans from facing constant double teams. TE Robert Royal set career bests for catches (23) and yards (233) in ’06.
The Bills are hoping they improved their o-line with the additions of guard Derrick Dockery and right tackle Langston Walker. LT Jason Peters is a player on the rise, forming a solid left side with Dockery. Duke Preston started the second half of ’06 at right guard, but much improvement is needed if he hopes to keep the starting job. Center Marvin Fowler is a bit undersized and routinely gets outmuscled by larger tackles.
On the line, Pro-Bowl right end Aaron Schobel registered a career-high 14 sacks last season. Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney round out a tough, aggressive front line. Anthony Hargrove and Larry Tripplett will also see extensive playing time up front.
This unit took a big hit when it lost Fletcher-Baker and Spikes. Second-round pick Paul Posluszny will man the middle. He’s smart, quick and can make plays all over the field. Angelo Crowell will now move over to the strong side, which should suit his skills. Keith Ellison will replace Crowell on the weak side.
The Bills will sorely miss CB Nate Clements. Terrence McGee is now the number one corner. 2006 third-round pick Ashton Youboty will need to step up. He played in only three games last season, but he’s a good athlete whose cover skills should improve. Kiwaukee Thomas, last year’s nickel corner, will also need to improve.
The Bills started two rookie safeties last season, Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson. Whitner is a physical run-stopper and Simpson is the deep cover man with great ball skills.
Pro Bowl punter Brian Moorman is phenomenal. He gets great hang time and is an excellent directional kicker. Kicker Rian Lindell , the most accurate kicker in Bills history, hit 23 of 25 FG attempts last season and has made all 224 of his career PAT attempts. McGee finished with a solid 26.1-yard kickoff return average. Parrish was third in the league with an 11.4-yard punt return average.
The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since ’99. That streak won’t end this year. Losman is still a work in progress, as is the o-line. And Lynch needs to prove he’s the real deal. The defense also took a step back. This team has some good young talent, but it needs more time to mature. Expect a 5-11 record and a last-place finish in the AFC East.