Buffalo Bills' Most Likely Postseason Award Candidates for 2014 Season
The Buffalo Bills have a lot of new faces at One Bills Drive.
Because of that, it's hard to predict who will stand out for the Bills in 2014. Of course, there will be new offensive and defensive rookies of the year, considering there is a new crop of rookies. But with all the new faces on defense, the defensive player of the year could be someone unexpected.
With the Bills wrapping up their second week of organized team activities, the regular season is still a speck on the horizon. So let's help pass the time by predicting some Bills postseason award winners for 2014. Who is the team's MVP? Who will be the most improved player? Read on to discover the answers to those questions and more.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
This one is pretty easy.
The Bills gave away their first-round pick in 2015 to move up and draft Sammy Watkins, mainly because they expect big things out of the wideout from Clemson.
The rest of the Bills' main offensive rookies are offensive linemen, so it's hard to expect them to have a bigger impact than Watkins. Cyrus Kouandjio might end up starting at right tackle, but the Bills didn't mortgage the future to bring him in. Watkins will be one of the primary options in the offense, so there's almost no question he will be the team's best offensive rookie.
Watkins put up mind-boggling numbers in college, reeling in 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last year at school. Watkins likely won't come near those numbers, but he will surely have a big role in the team's offense, and his talent should help him put up impressive receiving totals nonetheless.
One of Watkins' fellow rookies is already picking him to be the league's rookie of the year as well. Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron told NFL.com's Chris Wesseling that he wants to be the Rookie of the Year, but he "probably won't" because of Watkins.
Even if Watkins struggles at times throughout his rookie season, he will still have the biggest impact of all the first-year players. The Bills gave up at least part of the farm for him, so look for offensive coordinator Nate Hackett to get Watkins involved early and often.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
The top defensive rookie is a little bit harder to predict.
The Bills looked to add depth across their defense instead of starters with their 2014 picks. Preston Brown, Ross Cockrell and Randell Johnson all are in town to bolster the team's defense in the future instead of have an immediate impact.
With that said, the favorite right now for the award is Cockrell, the 6'0" cornerback out of Duke. We already know Cockrell is endorsed by fellow Duke alum Thad Lewis, but he has impressed plenty of others in Buffalo, too.
What could help Cockrell the most is his intelligence and leadership ability. Cockrell was a two-time captain at Duke, per Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, and he sometimes would address his college team after games before his head coach did.
Bills Director of Player Personnel Jim Monos also had good things to say about Cockrell. Monos told Brown that "you could see it even at his pro day. Guys gravitate to him and he is the leader of that group."
Cockrell has already made a name for himself during organized team activities, intercepting a pass in the red zone during team drills. If he continues to make the most of his playing time throughout the season, Cockrell's name will be on Bills fans' lips as one of the team's most impressive rookies.
Defensive Player of the Year
This one is also tough to predict, as the Bills ran out a lot of talent on defense. Players such as Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Kiko Alonso could all take the honor, but I think a former top-10 pick is ready to show why the Bills selected him so high.
That player is cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was ready to break out in 2013, his second year, before a wrist injury set him back for the first half of the season.
Now, Gilmore's name is again floating around as a player ready to put opposing teams on notice. Andy Benoit of MMQB.com has Gilmore on his defensive all-emerge team, saying the cornerback debate by season's end will be "Revis, Sherman or Gilmore?"
Bret McCormick of heraldonline.com also expects big things from Gilmore. McCormick noted how Bills coaches had voted Gilmore the team's best overall player last year before his injury, so now that he's fully healthy Gilmore should be able to get back to that form.
McCormick also outlined how when Gilmore recovered from his injury, he showed just how good he can be. McCormick said Gilmore had two interceptions in his last four games, and he only allowed 122 yards passing in that span. Forty-six of those came on one play to Mike Wallace. And those two interceptions? They both came in the end zone.
Gilmore had offseason hip surgery, but there is no indication it will keep him out of meaningful action. If Gilmore is able to stay healthy for the entire season, look for him to take over as one of the leaders on defense.
Most Improved Player
There are plenty of young players ready to take the next step for the Bills. Nickell Robey, Marquise Goodwin and Kiko Alonso all had impressive first seasons and should have even bigger roles this year.
There's also second-year quarterback EJ Manuel, but it would be hard to not improve on a season in which he missed significant time with knee injuries.
But the player poised to make the biggest jump is wide receiver Robert Woods. Now that Stevie Johnson is with the 49ers, Woods can take over as the team's primary pass-catcher in the slot. Woods is a pinpoint route-runner, which should help him get open consistently.
In his rookie year, Woods snatched 40 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns, and that was with a revolving door under center. If he is able to develop a rhythm with Manuel, Woods' numbers should spike.
Woods is ready for his role in the slot, too. Head coach Doug Marrone told Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News that "we felt very comfortable with [Woods] being able to play the slot and be very successful there." Woods told Skurski that "I’m confident in my game, what I can do. It’s a great thing that the organization thinks highly of me from that standpoint, but I’m just here to play my game."
Woods also should be able to work in and out of his breaks more easily now that his ankle is healthy. Skurski said Woods had offseason surgery to remove scar tissue from an injury he suffered in college. Woods said now he "actually feels healthy, feels better."
With all of that in mind, there's no doubt Woods will be one of the most improved Bills players this season.
Most Valuable Player
This one is already determined. Given everything that is at stake, EJ Manuel will be the most valuable player for the Bills.
The Bills haven't made the playoffs since 1999, and they are looking to end that drought this year, living or dying with Manuel. Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley have essentially tethered their futures to Manuel, as the future new owner could come in and clean house if the Bills underperform again this season.
The rest is now on Manuel. If he stays healthy and takes his game to another level, he can take the Bills where they want to go. If his game stagnates or regresses, the Bills will again be watching the playoffs from their couches.
There is no statistical breakdown needed for this one. Until further notice, EJ Manuel is the MVP for the Bills.