The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
Today, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the Buffalo Bills’ draft class:
There is a strange silence coming out of Bills camp – head coach Rex Ryan has yet to boast about his team’s Super Bowl prospects. The coach who thrives on positive thinking is spending the wee hours of the day huddled with his twin brother, Rob, hoping they can come up for a formula to improve their suspect run defense. Until they get that front wall operating on all cylinders, they can not even consider a postseason run with a unit that ranked 17th in the league in stopping the run (108.1 ypg), but allowed an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Only seven other teams allowed opponents a higher mark.
Additionally, their Rolls Royce-priced defensive line could not manage to get to the quarterback, as the only team to register fewer sacks that the Bills (21) were the Falcons (19). At least the Ryans shed the locker room of a high priced veteran who almost wrecked their salary cap in Mario Williams. The NFL’s version of the NBA’s Dwight Howard (I think I’m much better than anybody, so why go and prove it?) was dispatched to Miami, cutting a budget albatross that went to the bank to the tune of $19.4MM last year. He rewarded them with nineteen tackles and five sacks in fifteen starting assignments.
Williams was not the only front wall defender that should have felt somewhat feel embarrassed cashing a paycheck last year. Nose tackle Marcell Dareus recorded 51 tackles and got to the quarterback twice, earning an average of $16.1MM/year with $60MM guaranteed on a deal that runs through 2022. His projected running mate inside, Kyle Williams, garnered a $7.4MM dollar check for 14 tackles and one sack. The aging and injured veteran has a $4.5MM guarantee in the bank, but looms as a roster casualty in camp, especially with rookie Adolphus Washington showing the coaches more than enough to be listed with the first team on the depth chart entering training camp.
While Jerry Hughes tied Mario Williams for the team lead with five sacks in addition to making 52 tackles, it came with a price tag average of nine million with $22MM guaranteed through the 2020 season. Behind him, linebacker Manny Lawson secured three million from the Bills and found just one quarterback in the backfield last year. All told, the team saw eight defensive tackles take home ~16.33% of their cap in 2015. Only Jacksonville ($24,389,776; 16.34% of cap) doled out more money to their interior defenders in the NFL last year.
Their paltry pass rush only cost the team 6.97% of their cap to pay off their defensive ends (21st in the NFL) and their outside linebackers received just 3.18% of the team’s cap funds (31st in the league). You get what you pay for, my grandmother always told me. To rectify that problem, it looks like the Bills went for a long-term solution, but at a possible cost at receiving immediate dividends from their top draft choice in 2016.
Continue reading about the Bills’ rookie class..