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Offseason Team Previews

2021 Bills Offseason Preview

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: March 10, 2021, 1:04 am ET

My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

 


Bills 2020 Recap

Bills2020

 

Is it a coincidence that the only general manager Josh Norris and I interviewed heading into 2020 won NFL Executive of the Year? Probably not. It was clear when leaving that interview with GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott that the Bills had something cooking. Their team-building is thoughtful, long-viewed, and analytical. The staff, led by OC Brian Daboll, fixed Josh Allen’s accuracy and maximized the trade for rare separator Stefon Diggs by a heavy dosage of spread concepts and play action. The result: 2nd in points scored, 1st in percentage of snaps leading, 3rd in passing EPA, 4th in completion percentage over expected, and 5th in adjusted sack rate allowed. The Bills’ lack of a run game (21st in rushing EPA) and a quality defensive line (24th in rushing EPA defense and 14th in adjusted sack rate) ultimately kept them away from the Super Bowl, but the core of the roster, coaching staff, and front office has been retained. Another AFC East title is expected. Another AFC Championship appearance is well within reason.

 


Bills 2021 Offseason

Notes

 

Bills Cap Space

$1.9 million (23rd)

Bills Draft Picks

1.30, 2.61, 3.94, 5th, 5th, 6th, 7th, plus compensatory picks

Bills Departures

RT Daryl Williams, LB Matt Milano, CB Levi Wallace, LG Ike Boettger, RG Jon Feliciano, RG Brian Winters, CB Josh Norman, EDGE Trent Murphy, DT Justin Zimmer

Bills Cut Candidates

WR John Brown ($7.9M cap savings), EDGE Jerry Hughes ($7.4M), DT Vernon Butler ($6.8M), DT Quinton Jefferson ($6.5M), EDGE Mario Addison ($6.2M), LB Tyler Matakevich ($3.4M) 

 


Bills Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

11

-

% of Passes

74%

-

QB

Josh Allen

Jake Fromm

WR

Stefon Diggs

Gabriel Davis

WR

John Brown

 

WR (Slot)

Cole Beasley

 

TE

Dawson Knox

Lee Smith

RB (Early Down)

Zack Moss

 

RB (Third Down)

Devin Singletary

 

LT

Dion Dawkins

 

LG

Cody Ford

 

C

Mitch Morse

 

RG

???

 

RT

???

 

 

Offensive Coordinator: 95% of the Bills’ pass attempts had at least three receivers on the field, by far the highest percentage of 2020. OC Brian Daboll wants to spread defenses out with receiver-heavy packages and ranked third in neutral pass rate last season. He has the receiver talent and the aggressive quarterback to make it work (9th in aDOT), but the Bills need to figure out their broken run game. Buffalo was 21st in rushing EPA and essentially gave up running between the tackles outside of the red zone down the stretch. Overall, the core of the offense is set to return, so there’s little reason to expect much regression from last year’s No. 2 scoring offense. Another top-eight performance is in the works.

Passing Offense: Josh Allen took an unprecedented accuracy leap in 2020, going from -2.3 (24th) to +6.0 (3rd) in completion percentage over expected. Some mechanical improvements partially explain the jump, but Allen looked more confident in his progressions and was throwing to one of the better three-receiver sets in the league. Stefon Diggs was the WR10 in my efficiency stat PPR points over expected per game, and he did it on the fifth most volume in the league. His elite route running and ball tracking skills are matched by just a handful of NFL receivers. The second outside receiver could be 2020 third-round sleeper Gabriel Davis because John Brown can be released with $7.9 million in cap savings. Brown (speed) and Davis (size) win in different ways, but both profile as downfield complements to a true No. 1 like Diggs. 25% of Davis’ targets traveled more than 20 yards downfield as a rookie. Underrated slot man Cole Beasley (WR23 in PPR points over expected per game) rounds out the starting lineup with Dawson Knox pegged as the starter at tight end. The front office has assembled a pass-catching corps that reflects a starting-five in basketball.

Rushing Offense: Teams with quarterbacks who can run zone read have such an advantage in the run game, but the Bills couldn’t figure out how to consistently run the ball in 2020 despite having Josh Allen. The interior offensive line was largely to blame and remains a team need heading into the offseason. 2018 undrafted LG Ike Boettger, 2015 fourth-round RG Jon Feliciano, and veteran depth RG Brian Winters are all free agents, and 2019 second-rounder OG/OT Cody Ford has been replacement-level through two seasons and is coming off a torn meniscus. It’s unclear if Ford will replace free agent RT Daryl Williams or stay inside at guard. Either way, there are spots open to fill. Devin Singletary and Zach Moss can each play all three downs, but they aren’t a master in any particular situation. They were the RB64 and RB46 respectively in my efficiency stat PPR Points Over Expected Per Game. At least their cap hits are minimal.

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Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Coverage

Cover 2

 

% of Plays

21%

 

CB

Tre'Davious White

 

CB

???

 

CB (Slot)

Taron Johnson

Siran Neal

SS

Jordan Poyer

 

FS

Micah Hyde

Jaquan Johnson

LB

Tremaine Edmunds

 

LB

A.J. Klein

Tyler Matakevich

DT (1T)

Star Lotulelei

Vernon Butler

DT (3T)

Ed Oliver

Quinton Jefferson

Edge (5T)

Mario Addison

A.J. Epenesa

Edge (7T)

Jerry Hughes

Darryl Johnson 

 

Defensive Coordinator: A long-time defensive coordinator with multiple high-end, experienced defensive backs, Leslie Frazier changed up his coverages on the backend often. The Bills played more Cover 2 (4th) and Cover 4 (9th) than most but did have plenty of single-high looks, and Frazier sent blitzes on 33% of defensive snaps (9th). This formula worked to perfection in 2019, but the Bills’ pass rush was iffy last season, finishing 23rd in pressure rate. Finding better defensive lineman is a major priority this offseason. Buffalo also couldn’t stop the run (23rd in rushing EPA), and opposing offenses knew it. The Bills Defense faced the fifth-highest neutral run rate, meaning teams were willing to run it on Buffalo under normal circumstances.

Passing Defense: The Bills’ safety duo of SS Jordan Poyer and FS Micah Hyde is one of the best in the league, and they’ve been working together since 2017. That’s not changing in 2021. The same can be said for the cornerback starting lineup, assuming overachieving 2018 UDFA Levi Wallace is retained as a restricted free agent. Wallace is 26-year-old CB1 Tre’Davious White’s sidekick on the perimeter. When White is healthy, he’s a top-five shadow corner. 2018 fourth-round slot CB Taron Johnson was a full-time player for the first time last year. There’s potential room for an upgrade there, but he’s cheap and just 25 years old. The weakness of the pass defense is at edge rusher. Both 33-year-old Jerry Hughes ($7.5M cap savings) and 34-year-old Mario Addison ($6.4M) are cut candidates and low-end starters, and 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa played just 362 snaps across 17 games as a rookie.

Rushing Defense: Because Frazier utilizes more two-high looks than most, the Bills are light in the box in rushing situations. That’s partially why offenses tend to run it on Buffalo, and why the front office must find more quality starters on the defensive line. Potentially getting NT Star Lotulelei back from opt out is a nice start, but the Bills could cut DT Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson to clear cap space. Three-tech Ed Oliver has room for growth against the run, although he always projected as a pass-rusher more than run stuffer. At linebacker, the Bills are hoping 22-year-old LB Tremaine Edmunds takes a third-year leap. He’ll have more on his plate with coverage specialist LB Matt Milano hitting free agency. Overall, the Bills have their work cut out to improve their No. 23 rushing EPA defense.

 


Bills Team Needs

1. Offensive Tackle - Right tackle Daryl Williams is a free agent, so LT Dion Dawkins needs a running mate. It’s possible that they try Cody Ford on the perimeter again, but his 2019 play at right tackle was underwhelming and the Bills moved him inside last season. Keeping MVP candidate Josh Allen upright is an obvious priority.

2. Offensive Guard - Both Brian Winters and Ike Boettger are free agents, and neither are meaningful starters even if re-signed. The Bills’ interior offensive line was among the worst at creating push in the run game last season despite having a quality starter in C Mitch Morse. Offensive guard is to blame. They ranked 21st in rushing EPA while being third in neutral pass rate.

3. Linebacker - Coverage LB Matt Milano is headed for free agency, and 2018 first-round LB Tremaine Edmunds looks like a fringe starter through three seasons. Current starter A.J. Klein will be 30 years old and is best viewed as a backup. The Bills need at least one potential starter at linebacker and maybe one more developmental type in case Edmunds busts.

4. Edge Rusher - The Bills were 23rd in pressure rate last season despite blitzing at the ninth-highest rate. The veteran duo of 33-year-old Jerry Hughes and 34-year-old Mario Addison has a very low ceiling, and 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa is a total wild card after a rookie year consisting of just rotational snaps. More speed at the position would be welcomed.

5. Corner - The Bills don’t have many team needs, so this is admittedly a stretch. Making sure restricted free agent Levi Wallace doesn’t walk would clear up this need, although there’s some room for an upgrade over 2018 fourth-round slot CB Taron Johnson.

 


2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

Josh Allen (QB1) - Only Dak Prescott (27.1) and Patrick Mahomes (25.0) finished with more fantasy points per game than Allen (24.8) last year. With elite play-calling and the Diggs upgrade, Allen’s completion percentage over expected jumped 8.3 points. Repeating as the No. 2 scoring offense may be too rich, but Allen offers a rare ceiling based on passing volume and his goal-line rushing role.

BufSplits

Stefon Diggs (WR1) - Even if some negative regression hits him, Diggs should remain a WR1 in 2021 after finishing as the WR5 in fantasy usage per game last year. He’s a target hog in an offense that can’t run the ball effectively and could be losing John Brown. In games without Brown last year, Diggs averaged 21.6 PPR points on 19.4 expected PPR points. Elite.

Cole Beasley (WR3/4) - The veteran slot man went from a WR4 (12.5 PPR points per game) to a WR3 (14.2) when Brown missed last year. That 14.2 average would’ve made him the WR27 per game last season. The knocks on Beasley are his age (32) and his injury history.

John Brown (WR5) - An underrated role player, Brown may have to find work elsewhere due to his cap hit ($7.9M cap savings), Gabriel Davis’ emergence late last year, and his own age (31). The deep threat averaged 11.4 PPR points in healthy games.

Devin Singletary (RB4) - Arguably overrated in real and fantasy circles, Singletary was the RB39 per game and ranked 64th out of 74 in PPR Points Over Expected Per Game (-2.0) in his second NFL season. It was a red flag that the front office spent another third-round pick at running back after his rookie season.

Zack Moss (RB4) - A three-down back in college, Moss entered the league with a laundry list of leg injuries and ended his rookie season with ankle surgery. He was the RB46 per game when healthy, and his 2021 role shouldn’t be any different than it was as a rookie.

Gabriel Davis (WR5) - An analytical darling as a fourth-round prospect, Davis did just enough as a rookie to possibly push himself into the three-receiver starting lineup in 2021. When Brown missed last year, Davis averaged 9.8 PPR points on 10.0 expected PPR points. Those are his floors if Brown walks with Beasley entering his age-32 season.

Dawson Knox (TE2/3) - An up-and-down 2019 third-rounder, Knox is now beginning to enter his prime as a 24-year-old in his third NFL season. Working against Knox’s potential breakout is the receiver depth chart and OC Brian Daboll’s willingness to use four-receiver sets instead of a tight end in some passing situations. He was 34th out of 48 qualifiers in yards per route run last year.