STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Did we miss the chapter in the history books where Buffalo Bill took a wrong turn and ended up in Canada? Following another wide right of the playoffs for the Bills -- that makes eight seasons in a row if you're scoring at home -- the biggest offseason news was the announcement the team will play five regular season games and three preseason games in Toronto over the next five years. That has people in Western New York a little on edge, as the small-market Bills keep getting overshadowed by the Jerry Joneses and Danny Snyders of the league. Is Ted Rogers next to join the party? Perhaps for now it's a nice little arrangement that gets the Bills enough revenue and regional interest to keep the team put for the next few decades, but it'll be interesting to see how things shake out in the long haul.
One thing that would help is a return to the glory years of the early '90s. The Bills finally seem to have hit most of their rebuilding goals, and the hope of at least sneaking into the playoffs in 2008 seems to hold more promise than the annual lip service. The defense -- which bent quite a bit but didn't break amid a slew of injuries last season (15th in points allowed) -- will have almost every key player back while welcoming newcomers Marcus Stroud, Kawika Mitchell, Spencer Johnson and Will James. First-round pick Leodis McKelvin will bolster the secondary, and MLB Paul Posluszny -- who missed almost the entire 2007 campaign -- should be at full strength and ready to hit triple digits in tackles.
Offensively, this is the first time in a while that there's more than one or two talented guys on the "O" side of the ball. Marshawn Lynch has "star" written all over him after rushing for 1,115 yards in 13 games last season as a rookie. Even though Lee Evans' numbers suffered last season, he's still in a group just past the league's top dogs. The team has been trying to give him some help for several seasons, and may have finally found an answer when Indiana's 6-6 James Hardy slipped to the Bills with the 41st pick in April's draft. Roscoe Parrish adds a dash of excitement to first-year offensive coordinator Turk Schonert's new offense. And perhaps most importantly, Trent Edwards looks like a steal from last year's third round. Even though he's still plenty green, Edwards should be running the show for years to come.
While things are on the rise, make no mistake the Patriots still rule the streets of the AFC East. Nine or 10 wins and a shot at the wild card seem to be the best hand Buffalo can shoot for before we see the flop.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (11) Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
The quick-footed corner will compete for a starting role, while also factoring in the return game.
Kawika Mitchell, LB (Giants)
Buffalo's new weak-side linebacker dipped below 100 tackles last year for the first time since 2004.
Courtney Anderson, TE (Falcons)
Still searching for past production, Anderson had no catches with Atlanta and Detroit last season.
Michael Gaines, TE (Lions)
The injury fill-in caught 25 passes and scored twice, but also dropped some key passes in big games.
Jim Leonhard, S (Ravens)
The hard-nosed overachiever was a pleasant surprise last year and even saw starting time.
HOW MUCH LUNCH FOR LYNCH?
Lynch has been going in the back of the first round in most early drafts, with good reason. Last year's first-rounder has the perfect build to carry the load (5-11, 215) with his "beast mode," and is coming off a promising rookie season. The bonus will come if Lynch -- who has good hands for a bigger body -- gets more involved in the passing game. The Bills have been talking about using the running back more in the aerial attack for years, but it's been a false promise dating all the way back to Larry Centers. With Turk Schonert now calling the plays, we'd expect an improvement over last season's 18 catches for 184 yards. The only concern regarding Lynch's value deals with understudy Fred Jackson, who came out of nowhere last year to see starting time when Lynch was sidelined with an ankle injury. Jackson remained involved even when Lynch returned. In the four final games, Lynch picked up 84 carries while Jackson had 33. A 3:1 ratio seems likely in 2008 if you take Lynch. You'll be getting very close to a full-time feature back, but not really a LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook situation.
Rising: Lee Evans was strong against poorer teams last season -- 34 /624/4 in eight games -- and Hardy can help him out against tougher competition.
Angelo Crowell, LB
He's been among the league's top 15 in tackles two out of the last three seasons.
Donte Whitner, SS
More picks would be nice, but it's hard to complain about 193 tackles in two pro years.
RotoWire Rank: 9
Article first appeared 6/2/08