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Buffalo Bills 2021 Mid-Season (+2 Games) Awards & Superlatives

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The 2021 season has been, for lack of a better word, interesting so far for the Buffalo Bills. They are currently 7-4 and squarely in the playoff picture and AFC East race. The Bills have a top-10 offense and top-5 defense. They currently have the second-best point differential in the league (+144). Each of Buffalo’s seven wins were by at least 15 points. When they are hot, they are H-O-T. However, when they struggle, they are hard to watch. While three of their four loses were by one score, it didn’t feel like the Bills were in those games. They were like Jekyll and Hyde in their first 11 games this year. (Not to be confused with Poyer and Hyde, who have been balling all along.)

With all this said, let’s take a look back at some of Buffalo’s key performers from the first half of the 2021 NFL season. As I did last season, I will go through each phase of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and name my ”Most Valuable Player”, “Best Rookie”, and ”Most Improved Player” so far this year. Additionally, I will also share some informal superlatives submitted by myself and some of my Twitter friends. (Also, like last year, this piece comes two games after mid-season. Whoops!)

Offense

MVP: Josh Allen

Image courtesy of Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Do I really need to explain why Josh Allen is the most important/valuable player on the Buffalo Bills offense this year? The offense literally runs through #17. The pass game is lethal because of his strong arm and improving decision-making. His athleticism also makes an impact in the run game as he is currently second on the team in rushing yards and TDs (383 and 3, respectively) and first in yards per carry average (5.6). He’s the captain of the ship. The field general. (Dare I say, “The Dude”?) The Bills are his team and will go as far as he can take them.

Honorable Mentions: Stefon Diggs, Tyler Bass

Best Rookie: Spencer Brown

Image courtesy of Bills Wire/USA Today

Brown kind of wins this by default, being the only offensive rookie to be active on gamedays and make a significant contribution at this point. (Yes Tommy Doyle is “active”, but he hasn’t had to take on a significant role.) But this padawan has shown himself to be an adept force wielder in the run game. As a pass blocker, he still needs a bit of work. He also has tremendous swagger, which has made him an early fan favorite from this 2021 draft class.

Most Improved: Dawson Knox

Image courtesy of Bill Wippert

Many thought Dawson Knox would break out as a receiving threat at some point. Seems like it’s officially happened in 2021. (Though technically it started Week 12/13 last year.) In nine games this year, Knox has caught 31 of 41 passes for 415 yards and seven TDs with just three drops. He is currently first on the Bills in receiving scores (tied with Stefon Diggs), third in yards per reception average (13.4), and fourth in receiving yards, receptions, and targets. Knox has solidified himself as a top option and could be in line for more heading into the second half of the season (and beyond).

Honorable Mention: Devin Singletary

Defense

MVPs: The Buffalo Bills Back Seven

When I started listing possible candidates for this award, I found that the top three players were Bills defensive backs: Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer. The next two up were LBs Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. I could not for the life of me identify one of them as “more valuable” than the others because they are all the most valuable players in Sean McDermott’s defense.

White is an elite lockdown corner (who will be sorely missed). Hyde and Poyer are the cream of the safety crop both individually and as a duo. Taron Johnson is earning his bread in the slot. And Levi Wallace is having his strongest season as a pro. I think it’s safe to say that this defense would not be nearly as good without this flock of ball hawks soaring downfield.

Edmunds and Milano are, once again, excelling as a linebacker duo. They are roaming the field and making plays, having recorded 120 tackles (14 for loss), three QB hits, one sack, one interception, five pass break ups, and two fumble recoveries between them so far. Good linebacker play is crucial to McDermott’s scheme (see Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis circa 2015), and Buffalo’s LBs have certainly filled the bill this year. (Pun intended.)

Honorable Mention: Ed Oliver

Best Rookie: Greg Rousseau

Image courtesy of Bill Wippert

I, like many, didn’t expect the raw, athletic Rousseau to immediately come in and make a meaningful impact… I’m happy that I was wrong. According to Sports Info Solutions, he has recorded 37 tackles (seven for loss), three sacks, 11 QB hurries, and six QB hits in his first 11 games. Additionally, he currently has a 9.8% QB pressure rate, which is tied with Ed Oliver for fourth-best on the team. I’m not an analytics expert, but hovering near a double-digit percentage seems decent, right? While his production has tapered off in recent weeks, GROOOOOOT is still an impactful defensive player with a bright future ahead of him.

Most Improved: Star Lotulelei

Image courtesy of Buffalo Rumblings

This award was the second-hardest one for me to pick (behind Defensive MVP). So many players drastically improved their play this year. As previously mentioned, Edmunds, Taron Johnson, and Levi Wallace have all done well so far in their fourth year in McDermott’s scheme, taking great strides forward in their performance. Meanwhile, Ed Oliver has become a force in the interior of Buffalo’s defensive line.

However, to be quite pedantic with semantics, Star Lotulelei has improved the most from 2020 to 2021. Why? Because he’s doing things this year. Not only is he doing things, he’s doing good things. Star is making an actual impact on run and pass defense. He’s already tied his sack and TFL totals from 2019 (two and three, respectively) and has surpassed his QB hurry and hit numbers (six and four) in just seven games active. (Wait, he can PASS RUSH? He’s actually allowed to do that???) Last year, the Bills couldn’t stop a nosebleed on the ground. This year, they’re one of the best run stuffing defenses in the league.

Special Teams

MVP: Tyler Bass

Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports

Tyler Bass is quickly becoming one of the best kickers in the league. He has been automatic this year, making all but three of his field goal attempts to date. His only misses were from 49, 53, and 57 yards. Bass is currently fourth in the league in points scored (94) and is on pace to break his own single-season franchise record… and he’s only in his SECOND YEAR!! (Hence why I made him an honorable mention for “offensive MVP”.) No matter what nickname you give him (Big Baller Bass, Bass Master, T-Bass, Bass-o-matic, etc.), one thing is for certain: Tyler Bass is the Josh Allen of kickers… a GOAT in the making.

Best “Rookie”: Matt Haack

Image courtesy of Adrian Kraus/AP

As with offense and defense, the Bills haven’t really had (or needed) any rookie contributions on special teams. I love Damar Hamlin, but he hasn’t done much (nor has he had to do much) so far this year. However, there is a first-year Bill who has had enough action to warrant this award and has certainly played like a rookie.

Haack – pronounced Hawk, not Hack (depending on the play) – has been inconsistent as a punter in his first year with Buffalo. But he hasn’t botched a hold on Bass’ field goal or extra point attempts yet, which is the most important part to offensively minded people.

Most Improved: N/A

I would’ve put Isaiah McKenzie here because of his production as a return man, but then he got benched. Meanwhile, Taiwan Jones and Siran Neal have always been good gunners. Matakevich is also already good. So, with a lack of candidates, I have decided to leave this award vacant.

Superlatives

Buffalo’s #1 Man: Emmanuel Sanders (@RedditBills, @Lauren C30)

After years of being courted by Brandon Beane, Emmanuel Sanders signed a one-year deal, $6 million with the Buffalo Bills this past offseason. And he was worth every penny. Manny Sands has aged like a fine wine. A 34-year vintage who racked up 36 catches (on 61 targets) for 559 yards and four touchdowns in the first 11 games of the season. Not only has he produced on the field, but he’s done so in the community as well. Sanders has made an indelible impact in the Buffalo community through his charitable foundation and making connections with fans. In fact, I would not be surprised if Manny Sands ends up as Buffalo’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

NFL Network on Twitter: “.@ESanders_10 pays a special visit to a young @BuffaloBills fan named Davey Reid who has battled through 51 brain surgeries. pic.twitter.com/efg80T9mKj / Twitter”

@ESanders_10 pays a special visit to a young @BuffaloBills fan named Davey Reid who has battled through 51 brain surgeries. pic.twitter.com/efg80T9mKj

I’ve been very vocal about my disdain for the new jersey rule adopted this past offseason. However, if there’s one player who deserves to wear that #1 jersey, it’s Emmanuel Sanders.

Team Bully: Spencer Brown (@585Report)

Ted Goldberg on Twitter: “#Bills OL Spencer Brown (6’8) politely reminds Texans DB Desmond King II (5’10) that he is a shorter person #NFL pic.twitter.com/3BSIqpIOwN / Twitter”

Bills OL Spencer Brown (6’8) politely reminds Texans DB Desmond King II (5’10) that he is a shorter person #NFL pic.twitter.com/3BSIqpIOwN

Since entering the Bills starting lineup in Week 4, Spencer Brown has been a bully, both physically and verbally. As previously mentioned, he’s used the power of the force to send defenders, and even teammates, airborne. (I’m sure Rex Ryan would’ve loved to have this bully on his Bills team.) As BF’s Casey Reed wrote back in May, the future is bright for Brown. And who knows, maybe he swirlies and purple nurples his way to being an all-pro or pro bowler in the future.

Monty Python Guard Award: Cody Ford

This one was surprising for two reasons. First, I never thought I’d have to present this award to another Buffalo Bills lineman after the abomination that was Brian Winters. Second, I was all set to give it to Jon Feliciano for his lackluster blocking this year until Cody Ford handed him his beer. Ford has been a major disappointment at every position he’s played in the pros. I think Queen described Ford’s performance this year best: “And another snap down, and another snap down, Cody Ford bites the dust.” (I’m 100% sure they wrote that song with him in mind.) We have reached the point in Ford’s rookie deal where I’m ready to say he’s just not good at football. He may be better than totally beloved fan favorite OT Bobby Hart, but that not really a high bar to clear.

The “Wait Wut?” Award: Star Lotulelei (@RedditBills)

Star transformed himself into a lean(er), mean, offense killing machine following his year off from football. (See the “Defensive MIP” section for stats.) Like seriously, was Star legally allowed to be both a big boi 1T AND become a quicker (for his standards) pass rusher?

Maybe there needs to be a Congressional hearing about this. Speaking of wasting time and space…

The Congressional Medal of Rubbish: Vernon Butler

This award goes to the biggest waste of space on the Buffalo Bills roster. Vernon Buttler (intentional typo) has not lived up to the expectations given when he signed that big-money contract before last season. He hasn’t even resided within a 100-mile radius of the zip code. Even after a contract restructure this past offseason, Buttler has been a waste of Buffalo’s finite resources, producing just nine tackles and one QB hit in seven games (221 defensive snaps) this year. And McDermott rightly sent him to the doghouse before the Saints game. Here’s hoping he continues to do so.

Swaggy Bass Award: Tyler Bass (@trish_patel)

The only thing better than having one of the best kickers in the league, is having one with swagger. Tyler Bass has that in spades. And we have the Twitter gifs to prove it.

Few kickers are automatic. Even fewer have swag. The fact Bass can back his leg up with swag (and vice versa) is a testament to how great a draft pick he was.

Honorable Mention: Spencer Brown

Justin Zimmer Award (Fastest Fan Favorite): Spencer Brown (@LowBuffa)

In 2020, Justin Zimmer popped up, showed off his athleticism, and made big plays, quickly becoming a fan favorite in the process. In 2021, Spencer Brown has done much of the same. (See the “Offensive MIP” and “Bully Award” sections for more.) It only took about one game for Brown to pop up on Bills Mafia’s radar. That’s pretty quick. (I know, there’s lots of Spencer Brown in this piece.)

Fast & Furious Award: Matt Breida

Matt Breida goes zoom and, rightly, should be pissed having been inactive for so long this year.

Now the Buffalo Bills head into the second half of the season (actually, the last six games). All we can do is watch and hope the Bills close out strong. I’ll be back at the end of the regular season with my team awards. Until then, go Bills!!