For our third community poll, I asked Bills Mafia on Twitter who they think is poised for a breakout year in 2021-2022. And boy, did we get some feedback. In our first two polls, there were roughly 50-100 votes, but this poll tallied 1,500+ total votes! Good work Mafia!
I personally listed DT Harrison Phillips, CB Dane Jackson, WR Gabe Davis, and DE AJ Epenesa as the four players that, for reasons I will get into, could be poised to have both production and statistical breakout year. However, there was a calling for two other players specifically, that the community thinks should break out. So, here are our “honorable mentions”.
Ed Oliver – DT
Ed O got a huge calling in my subtweets to be Buffalo’s breakout player in the upcoming season, and I am now regretting not putting him in the original poll. In two years in Buffalo, Oliver has played in all 32 regular-season games, tallying eight sacks, 11 TFL’s and 14 QB hits. Not bad for a 3T defensive lineman who was forced to play the 1T due to Star Lotulelei opting out. Now, with Star (and Dirty Harry) returning, Frazier will be able to play Oliver in his natural position.
I mean, the man faced a double-team nearly every snap of every game as Jerry Hughes was the only other down-lineman to worry about. Teams keyed in on Oliver, taking him out of the game with double-teams and mark-downs with guards. Now, with a healthy squad, Oliver will be (presumably) playing one on one pass-rush against the opposing team’s right guard. Due to his name value and the fact that we (and everyone else) know his talent value, I left Ed off the list. However, after further research, I agree that Oliver could be in line with a 15 TFL and eight sack season. *Starts drooling*
Dawson Knox – TE
Knox was the other Bill that had a pitchfork-wielding riot ready in my subtweets. He has become a fan favorite through two seasons as a red-zone target and his meme nomenclature has brought the entirety of the NFL to love his “Sideshow Bob” persona. However, I am not ready to say Knox is in line for a breakout year. He is keen on dropping the football and many times missed simple blocking assignments on outside linebackers and blitzing safeties. Also, with the signing of Jacob Hollister from Seattle, it is not set in stone that Knox will be the starting Tight End following training camp. He just has so much to work on. And hey, if I’m wrong and he does break out, I’ll be happy!
Harrison Phillips – DT (6.2%)
Harrison Phillips is my personal pick for “Breakout Bill”. However the community didn’t seem to agree. Phillips is coming off double knee surgeries that prevented him from playing in five games last year. In Dirty Harry’s rookie year, he looked like a monster and his point of leverage is the reason why. You simply cannot move the man. That leads me to this: I think Phillips will break out in production, not in stats. Phillips should be the guy taking on two blockers and blowing up A and B gaps, not Oliver. With Lotulelei back, the training camp battle for the 1T DT between Star, Phillips, and Zimmer should be interesting. Though I see Phillips prevailing.
Dane Jackson – CB (27.4%)
Following the 2021 NFL Draft, it became very apparent that Beane & Co. were content with their corner room. Obviously, Tre White is your plug-and-play No. 1 outside corner that will give opposing X receivers headaches all season. Taron Johnson then proved with his clutch play that he is a solid nickel and dime slot corner. The question floating around in every Bills fan’s head is in regards to the No. 2 Corner. For the past two seasons, that’s been UDFA Levi Wallace. Now Wallace hasn’t been bad but he was certainly the reason that KC was able to open their offense up in the AFC Championship game. Despite being a great back-peddler and having the prototypical size for an NFL CB, he just gets beat.
That leads me to former 7th round pick Dane Jackson. Jackson barely played at all last year and rarely had his moments. However, Jackson has impressed coaches and the fanbase with his raw ability and play style in the few moments that we saw him. With a potential camp battle in place for the No. 2 corner spot, don’t be surprised if we see Jackson starting week one opposite Tre White against the Steelers.
Gabe Davis – WR (31.9%)
Gabe Davis had an awesome rookie year. The UCF product put up just under 600 receiving yards to go along with 7 TDs. He also had some of the best “toe-drag swag” I’ve seen in years in the playoffs. Davis’ ability shocked Bills fans and the world but I think he could be in line for a true breakout season. Many think that Davis will be pushed out of the starting three receivers due to the signing of Emmanuel Sanders. However, as we know, McDermott loves his production by committee position groups, as we’ve seen with the defensive line and Running Back rooms. Davis will definitely get on the field due to his shocking play last year, and Bills Mafia agrees. In terms of a statistical breakout, I think Davis has the best shot at breaking out next season.
AJ Epenesa – DE (34.5%)
Epenesa was the first pick made by Beane & Co. in the 2020 NFL Draft and, according to Bills Mafia and the 1,500 tallied votes, has the greatest shot to break out in the upcoming season. Ep had little production in terms of statistics with only one sack and three TFLs, but I can see him exploding this year. With Ed playing his true position, Star and Harry coming back, and the drafting of Groot & Boogie, the Bills pass rush is bound to elevate overall. Meanwhile, thinking of Epenesa coming off the edge on a 1v1 against the RT has me excited. Imagine a 5-man rush of Hughes/Phillips/Oliver/Basham/Epenesa. The offense will be simply overwhelmed and with Epenesa’s build and natural pass-rush instincts. I believe he could be upwards of eight sacks in the 2021-2022 season and Bills Mafia agrees. Well, a third of you do.
As always, be sure to follow @SemiAverageRigs on Twitter to be a part of the polling process.