If there’s anything we learned from the 2018-19 Buffalo Bills, it’s that they’re closer to competing with the New England Patriots than any other team in the AFC East. The New York Jets are close on paper, but it’s Buffalo that has the best chance at dethroning Tom Brady and company this fall.
The key to being successful starts with head coach Sean McDermott’s defense. Led by the likes of Micah Hyde, TreDavious White, and Tremaine Edmunds, Buffalo should have another top-five defense this season.
Offense, however, is where a majority of the question marks lie. None more important than quarterback Josh Allen.
How far along has Josh Allen progressed?
Allen enters his second season in the NFL after being drafted seventh overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. His rookie season went about as well as many thought: inconsistent. At the same time, it was exciting. I think we found the QB of the future kind of inconsistency.
Coming out of Wyoming, Allen was a raw prospect with a big arm and a lot of athleticism to boot. The type of exciting QB that can (but maybe shouldn’t) hurdle a pro bowl linebacker in his third professional game. At the same time, the type of inconsistent QB that struggles to complete the five-yard out with ease.
That’s where we saw Allen throughout his rookie season. Finishing with a 5-6 record, 10 touchdowns, 12 receptions, and a 52.8 completion percentage, Allen’s progress needs to be evident in year two. Our first good look will be when camp opens up on Thursday, but it won’t be until the first or second week in August that we can get a good feel for where he’s at.
General manager Brandon Beane gets an assist, bringing in several weapons to help aid with Allen’s progression. Players like Cole Beasley, John Brown, Dawson Knox, and Frank Gore are all upgrades over what Allen had at his disposal last season.
What starting offensive line rotation will Buffalo roll with?
Speaking of new weapons, Beane made it a necessity to overhaul the starting five up front. At the end of camp, there could be four new starting offensive linemen. The only starter returning that has a spot locked is left tackle Dion Dawkins.
Outside of Dawkins, and center Mitch Morse, who snapped the ball to NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes in 2018, each spot is up for grabs, barring injury. Free-agent signees such as tackle Ty Nsekhe and guard Quinton Spain are favorites at their respective positions, but rookie guard/tackle Cody Ford could throw a wrench into things.
Ford’s versatility across the right side of the line could be the primary factor in how the lineup changes. If he beats out Nsekhe at tackle, could a guy like Jon Feliciano get a shot at guard? Maybe a longshot like Ike Boettger, who appeared in four of the last five games as a rookie in 2018.
With this many new faces, Buffalo offensive line coach Bobby Johnson will have to experiment with many different combinations running with first, second, and third-team units throughout camp and the preseason.
What role will rookie tight ends have?
A short four years ago, the Miami Dolphins placed the transition tag on a promising young tight end. Buffalo wanted him, however, and Buffalo got him. Miami chose not to match the five-year, $38 million offer, and Charles Clay was a Bill.
The hype surrounding Clay didn’t live up to what Buffalo wanted or needed. This offseason, Beane let Clay leave the North East for the South West, and completely revamped the entire unit.
Honing in on the rookies, Knox is one of the most intriguing pieces added to Buffalo’s offense this offseason. Coming from an offense that had weapons such as AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, and Damarkus Lodge, Knox wasn’t featured as much in the passing game as some scouts may have liked. While the athleticism was shown on tape, the stats in the box score were less impressive, not scoring a touchdown throughout his time as a Rebel.
Knox should get the nod as TE one with Kroft on the mend, but seventh-round pick Sweeney’s future is expected to go a bit differently. While Knox fits the mold of the modern TE in today’s NFL, Sweeney gives you an old-school feel, known for his run blocking skills and great hands. While Smith’s presence hurts Sweeney from the jump, I believe he has a shot to beat Croom out as a fourth tight end on the roster, if McDermott chooses to carry four.
Tyler Olson is a writer for PFN covering the Buffalo Bills. You can follow him @to2471 on Twitter.