Draft Weekend Is Coming: Assessing the Buffalo Bills Defense


Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

Continuing from the previous article where we looked at the Buffalo Bills offense, position by position, where they are solid, as well as where their biggest needs are … let’s take a look at the defense.

DL
The defensive line has been much maligned over the past seasons for lack of pass rush (and previously, a lack of run stopping) and still remains one of the biggest questions on the team. This will almost definitely be a position the Bills address in the draft, especially since they did not address it in free agency.

Aaron Schobel will return after missing most of 2008 with a foot injury. He did not need surgery to repair it, so he should be ready to go when the team comes back together for training camp. He has been a solid pass rusher in the past, but production has tailed off since his Pro Bowl season in 2006. He will be 32 years old this season, so age along with returning from a fairly serious injury mean there are probably more questions surrounding Schobel than answers.

After Schobel, the Bills have a few average-to-good DEs. Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney are often maligned for not getting enough pass rush pressure, and are mostly deserving of that criticism. Chris Ellis was a third round pick last year who did have some special teams success, but perhaps wasn’t as noticeable as the coaches may have liked on defense. But he figures to be a factor on the 2009 team.

Then there’s a list of guys who so far have only been mediocre at best. Ryan Neill has the added advantage of being the team’s long snapper, then we find Corey Mace, Bryan Copeland, and Marcus Smith. Certainly none of those guys would make the Bills’ brass think, “Boy, we’re set at defensive end!!”

It would be quite surprising, even shocking, if the Bills do not address the DE position specifically in the 2009 draft.

The middle of the line has a couple bright spots. First, the Bills signed big man Marcus Stroud to a nice contract extension this offseason. He is happy to be here, and definitely is a presence in the middle, even if he doesn’t have the stats. He is a player the opposing team must account for. His DT partner is Kyle Williams. Williams has that “motor that never stops” and just seems to make things happen. He’s still a little undersized, but he’s produced pretty well for the Bills since joining the team in 2006.

After the starters there is John McCargo, who was traded to the Colts last season, then sent back! He’s got talent, but doesn’t seem like it’s ever worked out for him. Not really counting on him for much in 2009 accordingly. Spencer Johnson is the other DT on the roster. Johnson came over in free agency last season, along with Stroud, and is a solid backup.

As with the DE position though, the Bills are definitely in need of help on the defensive line. If they draft an interior defensive lineman, it will be to add depth, and will likely mean they have given up on McCargo. (They may have already done that, as demonstrated by trading him away last season.) Either way, the Bills may choose to add two defensive lineman in this draft. DE and DT.

But, no doubt about it, there will be a defensive lineman added this weekend.

LB
The Bills were pursuing a veteran linebacker in free agency this offseason. It doesn’t seem like they landed the guy they really wanted yet, which could mean that we’ll see a LB among the 2009 Bills’ draft class.

2007 starter, Angelo Crowell, signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after missing all of 2008 with a nagging injury. He was a promising young player, and already was a loss to the Bills defense in 2008. There are a few options to fill his spot. After the other two starting LBs: Kawika Mitchell and MLB Paul Posluszny, the Bills have some solid depth in newly re-signed Keith Ellison, and Alvin Bowen who missed all of his rookie season last year with an injury. Ellison has lots of experience as a starter, and Bowen has some great athleticism and potential.

Add John DiGiorgio, Blake Costanzo, and even John Corto and Marcus Buggs to the mix as mainly special teams contributors, and you have a position where the Bills seem to be fairly solid.

So why were they courting so many LBs in free agency?

They did sign MLB Pat Thomas from the Kansas City Chiefs. Not an earth shattering announcement, but does show that there is a perceived need there. The real need is for a clear starter opposite Kawika Mitchell at OLB. Will that be Bowen? It will not likely be Ellison, unless nothing else pans out. Might the Bills spend a draft pick on another OLB? It’s either that, or they may make a trade for an outside linebacker, or pick someone up after the draft weekend is over.

However it happens, I don’t think the Bills are satisfied with their current roster of LBs.

DB
The Bills lost last year’s starting CB Jabari Greer to the New Orleans Saints in free agency this offseason. They were prepared for such an event, and signed San Diego free agent CB Drayton Florence. Florence will be a solid depth player, as CB is perhaps one of the positions where the Bills are the most talented.

By the end of last season, the starters were Terrence McGee and rookie Leodis McKelvin. Both players are very talented. Solid starters. And, many seem to forget, before he was injured again last season, Ashton Youboty was having a very good season. He’s a very solid nickel back. Add the promising play of Reggie Corner to that crew, and it would be at least a little surprising if the Bills draft a CB in 2009.

Safety is a bit different. Donte Whitner is officially moving to free safety, a position he played toward the end of last season. Bryan Scott did well at strong safety – and is a bigger guy, better fit there – so he is slated to be the starter at that position. The Bills may be shopping last year’s starter FS Ko Simpson, so he may or may not return. After those three, there are some special teams standouts who also add valuable depth to the defensive backfield: George Wilson and John Wendling.

Just as with the cornerbacks, it would be a little surprising if the Bills drafted a safety. But with some shifting of positions and a possible trade… there is a possibility that the bills would add defensive backfield help, perhaps in the later rounds.

ST
Special teams remains one of the strengths of the Buffalo Bills. From the special teams coach of the year, Bobby April, to great return guys like McKelvin, McGee and Parrish (and apparently Jackson as well!) to perhaps the most consistently good player on the team, punter Brian Moorman. Kicker Rian Lindell is no slouch, either. This unit is solid, and will likely remain mostly the same. As opposed to the 2008 offseason, they did not see a massive overhaul of their players. Most of the unit are returning, which should be a very good thing for the Bills and their fans.

Final Thoughts
The Buffalo Bills still have lots of questions. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the team after the signing of future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. The other additions should add to the success of the team, too. And, they do have the #11 pick in the draft, which could be a really good player.

Overall, if the Bills didn’t trade any of their nine picks, I’d see the Bills taking three offensive linemen, two defensive lineman, a linebacker, a tight end, and two more guys at any position as special teams players. The Bills will likely make some draft day trades, however, so they won’t use all nine of those picks this year.

However it all shakes out, it promises to be an exciting year of Buffalo Bills football!

Is it August yet??