Setting Realistic Expectations for Each Buffalo Bills' Free-Agent Signing
The Buffalo Bills saw free agency start on a down note with Pro Bowl free safety Jairus Byrd heading to New Orleans with a new long-term deal. This did not slow down the front office, though, which made a number of moves that should provide it flexibility in the NFL draft.
The Bills have added five players since the start of free agency with the signings of linebackers Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers, cornerback Corey Graham, offensive guard Chris Williams and running back Anthony Dixon.
The following slides will break down what kind of impact Bills fans can expect from each one of these free agents in 2014.
Keith Rivers was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2008 with the ninth overall pick but played the last two seasons with the New York Giants. Last year, he started eight games and played both outside linebacker positions (strong-side and weak-side) for the Giants.
Rivers seems to fit the type of player the Bills' front office likes to get in free agency: former first-round picks who haven't quite reached their potential. Last year, it was the trade for Jerry Hughes, and that trend has continued with the signing of Rivers.
Mike Rodak of ESPN.com broke down Rivers' contract and mentions that he will compete for the starting strong-side linebacker position. With there not being much depth within the linebacker corps outside of the top three, I expect Rivers to win the starting spot and have a productive year with the Bills.
Projected Stats: 70 combined tackles
Like Rivers, Chris Williams is a former first-round pick who has shown flashes but has not yet reached his full potential in his career. He was drafted in 2008 by the Chicago Bears to be the team's left tackle, but after struggling at the position he moved inside to guard. He found a little more success there and started all 16 games for the Rams last year.
Second-year head coach Doug Marrone wants to have a big offensive line, and at 6'6" and 330 pounds, Williams certainly fits the bill. The question, though, is if he is an improvement at the position from last year. When comparing his stats to Doug Legursky and Colin Brown, who split the majority of time at the position last year, the answer is yes.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the two guards for the Bills gave up 31 quarterback hurries, 11 quarterback hits and had an average run-blocking score of minus-14.65. In 16 starts last year, Williams had 28 quarterback hurries, eight quarterback hits and a run-blocking score of minus-5.7.
The biggest positive, though, is he still has time to improve with Marrone as his coach and being only 28 years old.
It is hard to tell exactly what kind of role Corey Graham will have for Buffalo next season. But as versatile as he is, he will definitely be a key contributor. The former Baltimore Raven should at least compete with Leodis McKelvin to start the year.
Even if he is not able to beat McKelvin out, he should see plenty of time at cornerback. The NFL today is seeing more three- and four-wide receiver sets, forcing opposing defenses to operate in nickel and dime defenses. The Bills now have good depth at the position with Graham joining Stephon Gilmore, McKelvin and Nickell Robey.
Aside from his play at cornerback, Graham is expected to be a core player on special teams for a unit that struggled last year. At the end of last year, Doug Marrone made it clear that he felt they needed more players who could contribute to this group. Graham has been very successful on special teams, even going to the Pro Bowl in 2011 for his play with the Chicago Bears.
Projected Stats: 55 combined tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 passes defended
Similar to Graham, Anthony Dixon is expected to be a big contributor on a revamped special teams group. Dixon has spent the past four seasons on the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted the running back in the sixth round in 2010.
Dixon will also be able to contribute on offense, but primarily as a short-yardage and goal-line back with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson expected to get the majority of the work. In the past three seasons, Dixon has not had over 30 carries in a season but has scored six touchdowns over that span.
Projected Stats: 20 carries, 55 yards, 3 touchdowns
The Bills defense improved in a number of categories, particularly against the pass, but it still struggled against the run. It would only make sense that the Bills would go out and sign the best inside linebacker against the run, former New England Patriot Brandon Spikes, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kiko Alonso played well at inside linebacker his rookie year. but it was clear that he was much stronger against the pass and should excel next year at weak-side linebacker. Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com describes Spikes as "a rare run-stopper. He attacks the line of scrimmage with violence and shakes off blockers with ease."
He went on to write that Spikes struggles against the pass, which many are quick to point out, but it is not as bad as it seems. According to Pro Football Focus, Spikes finished in the bottom 20 against the pass with a rating of minus-3.6. However, last year when he was thrown at, he finished 10th in passes caught against him at only 66.7 percent.
Projected Stats: 95 combined tackles