Coming into this offseason, there was a loud narrative regarding the Buffalo Bills’ efficiency running the football. There were two sides to this the first side was that the Bills don’t have good enough Running Backs. The idea being that a better RB would cover up any deficiencies there may be on the Offensive Line. The other side is the idea that the RBs suffered because of poor blocking upfront. The good old debate of the chicken or the egg.
Nonetheless, the Bills went through this offseason without drafting or signing any marquee players to improve on either side of this conversation. Yes, the Buffalo Bills did draft Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle. However, both are Tackles and have an uphill climb when it comes to playing time. Furthermore, the Bills didn’t draft an RB, opting instead to sign Matt Breida.
It’s tough to pinpoint if these additions will improve the running game at this point. But sometimes improvements can be made on the scheme side of things rather than personnel. Last season we saw the Bills run a lot of outside zone plays. This really boggled me because the Bills Running Backs weren’t burners by any means and struggled to get around the edges of defenses. Therefore, it seemed counter-intuitive to utilize this kind of running play. With that being said, someone like Breida could thrive on these run concepts, which we saw him have tons of production with during his time on the 49ers.
Will the Buffalo Bills scheme change?
In 2019, the Buffalo Bills offense was very RB-centric as they utilized multiple Tight Ends and a Fullback. In 2020, we saw that offense shift into a spread offense that operated more out of shotgun with at least three Receivers on the field on a majority of snaps. So where does that put the Buffalo Bills offense in 2021?
The old adage is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This is why I believe that the Bills offense will remain, for the most part, similar to their structure from last year. Very dependent on top-tier Quarterback and Receiver play, and demanding the Running Back be efficient with limited opportunities.
The interesting wrinkle within this conversation is whether or not the Bills will go back to utilizing power running concepts or stick with the majority zone running concepts as they did in 2020. It’s understandable that a team operating out of shotgun more would like to utilize zone running schemes. Considering it’s typically easier to run power concepts with the Quarterback under Center. However, it would be worthwhile to bring the zone vs. power running concepts back towards a 50/50 split. From my film work, it seems that the Buffalo Bills Interior Offensive Linemen do their best when executing power running concepts.
Where does Forrest Lamp fit in?
Perhaps the most notable Interior Linemen free agent signing for the Bills this offseason was Forrest Lamp. He was a second-round selection by the Chargers back in 2017. Since then he has struggled to stay healthy but did so last year playing and starting in all 16 games. Based on the deal he signed, it’s clear that not many other teams were interested in him. Lamp starts his redemption arc this year with the Bills as he has a real shot to compete for a starting Guard spot.
Staying on the same note of Interior Offensive Linemen, the Buffalo Bills drafted Jack Anderson in the seventh round of this year’s draft. Prior to the draft, the Bills retained Feliciano and signed Lamp and some other depth players. Without anything significant, I figured this would be an area for the Bills to invest in early during the draft. However, I was dead wrong. Anderson appears to be a long shot to make the roster simply because of the volume of players competing for those spots. With that being said, there is a glaring vacancy backing up Mitch Morse. It will be interesting to see how he does in training camp at the Center position, considering that will likely give him the best chance to make the final roster.
Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle
The Buffalo Bills didn’t have a Swing Tackle going into the draft and they walked out with two. In the third round, the Bills drafted big Spencer Brown. Then after sitting out the entire fourth round, the Bills come back around in the fifth round to draft yet another Tackle, Tommy Doyle. Both Brown and Doyle are towering offensive tackles with remarkable athletic profiles but will need to work on fine-tuning their respective games to succeed at the next level.
It’s tough to project where these two will contribute in 2021, but it seems like they will be key parts to the future of this Offensive Line. Whether that means eventually starting or eventually being the top backup Swing Tackle. Regardless, it’s nice to get two high upside Offensive Tackles on rookie contracts as our star Quarterback, Josh Allen, is nearing his contract extension.
Predicting the nine OL to make the 2021 Buffalo Bills
With sixteen Offensive Linemen currently under contract for the Buffalo Bills, it’s going to be a long road to decide which ones make the final roster. In the past years under Sean McDermott, the magic number (in terms of Offensive Linemen) to make the final roster has been nine. It would be foolish of me to guarantee that will be the number. However, I’m just running off the information that I’m provided.
There are obvious locks for this final roster. These names include Dion Dawkins, Mitch Morse, Daryl Williams, and Jon Feliciano. Notice I did not include Cody Ford as a roster lock. Of the five names I just mentioned, he is the toughest one to project because he’s had such a peculiar start to his NFL career. Shifting positions and tough luck on the injury front have mitigated success from Ford to this point. If he can’t take a clear step forward during this pre-season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Bills try to trade him.
Beyond those five I just mentioned, I think that Spencer Brown is a lock simply because he’s a third-round pick. He’s going to be given every opportunity to succeed. Similarly, I don’t think Doyle is a lock to make the roster, but because he’s a recent draft pick, I give him a slight edge over other players.
That brings the total to seven with two spots to spare. In my opinion, I think one of those spots will go to Forrest Lamp. Then the last spot will be a competition between Jack Anderson, Ike Boettger, and maybe even Ryan Bates for that backup Center spot.
Predicting the 2021 Buffalo Bills starting OL
On a similar note, there’s so much work to be done before a starting Offensive Line can be named. So many questions left to be answered. Will Cody Ford take a jump this year? Can Mitch Morse stay healthy? Will Forrest Lamp push Ford or Feliciano for a starting guard spot. Can Spencer Brown push Daryl Williams out of the starting right tackle gig?
With all that being said, I’ll make my “way too early” prediction for the Buffalo Bills starting offensive line. From left to right I believe it will be Dawkins, Ford, Morse, Feliciano, Williams. I know I shared my skepticism regarding Ford, but I really have hope that this is the year he turns it around. I plan to hone in on the competition at both Guard spots this preseason. After drafting Anderson, bringing back Boettger, and signing Lamp, the competition should be very heated.
Air Raid Hour Recap
On the most recent episode of the Air Raid Hour, Judge and Tilt break down the Offensive Line in greater detail than I did in this article. If you enjoyed my analysis, then you’ll really enjoy this episode. You can find it linked and embedded above.
In addition to breaking down the Offensive Lineman, there was a particularly interesting conversation centered around Bills starting Center Mitch Morse. Furthermore, we continued through our matchup preview with the Bills matchup against the Titans. We specifically covered how the Bills will match up defensively against a Titans team with their newly acquired weapon, Julio Jones. If you’re interested, be sure to check out the replay embedded above.
As always, go Bills!