The Buffalo Bills endured one of the longest playoff droughts in sports history from 2000-2016, failing to reach the postseason 17 years in a row. Even though it was a pretty depressing era for the team, there were a lot of individual players who were bright spots in such a dark time. I thought it’d be fun to highlight some of those fan-favorites who many of us, myself included, grew up with.
The main thing here is that this list is composed of the best players who never/rarely made the playoffs while they played in Buffalo. For instance, Eric Wood made the playoffs in his final season in 2017, but he missed them each of his first eight seasons. A guy like Wood is the epitome of a drought Bill, someone who had a lot of individual success, but not a lot of team success. Eric Moulds made the playoffs three out of his first four seasons with the Bills, but then missed them his final six seasons. Considering he missed the playoffs 70% of his time (7/10 seasons) in Buffalo and considering his talent, I think he deserves to be on the list.
On the other hand, you look at a guy like LeSean McCoy… he was one of the best running backs in the league during his prime, but since he only suffered two playoff-less seasons in Western New York before helping the Bills end the drought in ‘17, I don’t think he has the credentials needed to be on this list.
Quarterback: Drew Bledsoe
Bledsoe played for the Buffalo Bills from 2002-2004. In 48 games started, Bledsoe threw for 10,151 yards, 55 TD, 43 INT and had a 59.1 completion percentage. He compiled a 23-25 record with the Bills, including a 9-7 record in ‘04, which almost led them to the playoffs. On the long and lengthy list of Bills QBs to start games during the drought, Bledsoe is probably at the top of the list.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Fitzpatrick
I thought about giving Fitzpatrick QB1, but ultimately went with the more prolific passer in Bledsoe. Fitzpatrick’s stats are actually very similar to Bledsoe’s. In four seasons with the Bills, Fitzpatrick played in 55 games (53 starts). He threw for 11,654 yards, 80 TD, 64 INT and had a 59.8 completion percentage. However, as much as we love Fitz, he was very streaky. He looked like he was our next franchise quarterback and then his production plummeted after signing his big contract extension. He had a 20-33 record in Buffalo, with his best seasons coming at 6-10 (which he did twice). But, considering he came to this year’s playoff game shirtless in zero degree weather while employed by another team, he has to at least make an appearance on the list.
Running Back 1: Fred Jackson
Fred Jackson is the epitome of a drought Bill, even moreso than Eric Wood. Jackson was an undrafted free agent out of Coe College, a Division III school. After graduating, he played for the Sioux City Bandits, a professional indoor team, and then went to Europe to play for a year. After the Bills invited him for a tryout in 2007, the rest is history. Jackson is one of the best players in team history, one of the best leaders, and one of the biggest fan favorites.
In eight years with the Bills (‘07-‘14), Jackson rushed for 5,646 yards and 30 TD on 1,279 carries. He ranks third all-time on the Bills rushing yards list behind Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson. In addition, in the 106 games that he played in Buffalo, Jackson caught 322 passes for 2,640 yards and seven TDs. The Bills shockingly released Jackson prior to the 2015 season, but he signed with the Seattle Seahawks and made the playoffs in his final season in the NFL.
Running Back 2: C.J. Spiller
This was a tough call since the Bills never had a franchise quarterback during the drought — they used to always market their running backs. I ended up going with C.J. Spiller though. Spiller was a first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2010 draft. Though he never lived up to the hype, Spiller was an electric running back and him and Jackson became one of the top running back duos in the league.
I don’t want to give them all the credit for this (since they didn’t have other pieces on offense to build around), but the Bills seemed to be ahead of the curve in terms of what running backs should do for a team. Jackson was the big, physical runner while Spiller was the speedy back with home run abilities. They were both versatile backs who the Bills could use in a variety of ways, a lot like we’re seeing in today’s NFL.
Spiller’s best season came in 2012, when he ran for 1,244 yards and six TD on 207 carries (6.0 ypc). He also caught 43 passes for 459 yards (10.7 ypc) and two TD while earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In five seasons in Buffalo, Spiller rushed for 3,321 yards and 12 TD while adding 1,195 receiving yards and six TD.
Honorable Mentions: Marshawn Lynch & Willis McGahee
Lynch and McGahee could also be options for RB2. In three plus seasons in Buffalo, Lynch had 2,765 yards and 17 TD on 687 carries while adding 670 receiving yards and one TD on 94 receptions. In McGahee’s three seasons in Buffalo, he had 3,365 yards and 24 TD on 868 carries while adding 503 receiving yards on 68 receptions. You could make a case for either. However, considering they both wanted out of playoff-less Buffalo, Lynch found himself in trouble multiple times and McGahee trash talked the city after he left, I went with Spiller. Besides, Spiller experienced two more seasons of the drought than both Lynch and McGahee did.
Wide Receiver 1: Eric Moulds
Moulds is one of the best players in team history. I almost didn’t include him on the list, considering he made the playoffs three times with the Bills in the ‘90s, but — considering he was a part of the first six years of the drought and how much he meant to the Bills during the early 2000s — I had to include him.
Moulds is second all-time on the Bills receiving list behind Andre Reed, finishing his 10-year career in Buffalo with 9,096 yards and 48 TD on 675 receptions. During the drought, he put together three 1,000-yard seasons, one double digit touchdown season and one triple digit reception season. He had 1,292 yards and 10 TD on 100 receptions in 2002, one of the best receiving seasons in franchise history.
Wide Receiver 2: Lee Evans
Lee Evans was my first favorite Bills player and my first Bills jersey. He was another bright spot for the Bills during the Dick Jauron years. My first memory of Evans is when he caught two 83-yard touchdowns in the first quarter against the Houston Texans in 2006 en route to a game stat line of 11 rec, 265 yds, two TD.
In seven seasons with the Bills, Evans only missed three games (all during his last year in 2010). He finished with 377 receptions, 5,934 yards and 43 TD. He is third on the Bills all-time receiving list, behind Reed and Moulds.
Slot Receiver: Stevie Johnson
To this day, Stevie Johnson is still one of the smoothest route runners I have ever seen. He made some of the best cornerbacks in the league look silly at times, like Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman. The former seventh-round draft pick is the only wide receiver in team history to post three straight seasons of 1,000 yards or more. (He did so from 2010-2012.)
In his six years in Buffalo, Johnson finished with 301 receptions, 3,832 yards and 28 TD. He ranks ninth all-time on the Bills receiving list. Here are some examples of what made him such a special talent.
Tight End: Scott Chandler
Tight end was one of the positions where the Buffalo Bills never had a true number one during the drought. (Jay Riermersma, Robert Royal, and Charles Clay come to mind.) But Chandler was the closest thing to a true number one tight end.
Chandler was originally a fourth-round draft pick of the San Diego Chargers in 2007. After bouncing around the league between the Chargers, Cowboys, and Giants, he signed with the Bills in 2010. Chandler went on to play four more seasons in Buffalo, where he caught 182 passes for 2,120 yards and 17 TD.
Left Tackle: Jason Peters
Is Jason Peters still playing??? It seems like Peters should have retired years ago, but the 40-year old is technically a free agent after spending last season with the Bears. The Bills signed Peters as an undrafted free agent tight end out of Arkansas in 2004 and then converted him into an offensive lineman. He played some right tackle before becoming one of the best left tackles in the league.
Peters played five seasons in Buffalo before the Bills traded him to Philadelphia after he held out of training camp in 2008. He was a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro for Buffalo in ‘07 and ‘08. He finished with nine Pro Bowl appearances (maybe he’s still getting more!?), was named Second Team All-Pro four times, and First Team All-Pro once.
Left Guard: Andy Levitre
This position was another tough one for me. I thought long and hard about giving it to Ruben Brown, another former Pro Bowler and All-Pro (Second Team). But, considering he started his Bills career in 1995 and finished in 2003, he made the playoffs almost as much as he missed them; I don’t classify that as the stereotypical drought Bill. So that’s why I went with Andy Levitre.
Levitre was drafted by the Bills in the second round (51st overall) in the 2009 draft. He never missed a game while in Buffalo. In four seasons, he played in 64 games, starting every one of them. He became one of the main anchors on the offensive line before signing with the Titans in March 2013 and then getting traded to the Falcons in 2015. He retired following the 2018 season.
Center: Eric Wood
Wood was one of my favorite players during the drought. Yes, he was a great center, but he was also a great leader and a great person. Him and Kyle Williams became the two mainstays on the roster as the years went on. Unfortunately, Wood’s career was cut short due to a neck injury, but I was so happy for guys like him and Williams when the Bills miraculously ended the drought in 2017. They finally got to taste some success after pouring everything they had into the organization all those years.
Wood was a first-round pick for the Buffalo Bills in 2009 (28th overall) — he was taken before Jairus Byrd and Levitre. (Aaron Maybin was the first pick for the Bills at 11th overall that year. As that may be one of the worst draft picks in team history, it does make it better that the Bills still got Wood, Byrd and Levitre all within the top 51 picks that year.) Wood went on to play 120 games for the Bills in his nine seasons, starting every single one of them and earning one Pro Bowl appearance.
Right Guard: Kraig Urbik
You may not have been expecting to see Kraig Urbik’s name on here, but that just shows how weak the offensive line was during the drought. Derrick Dockery came to mind when I was thinking about the different guards that played during the drought, but he only played two seasons here and was a left guard anyways. (Not to mention the Bills totally overpaid him to come here).
Urbik fits this list because he was in Buffalo for six seasons and was a key part of the interior offensive line with Levitre and Wood. The Bills claimed Urbik, a former third-round pick, off waivers from the Steelers in 2010. He ended up playing 84 games in Buffalo (57 starts) before signing with the Dolphins in 2016.
Right Tackle: Langston Walker
Right tackle may have been the weakest position on the Buffalo Bills during the drought as the position always needed to be addressed. Walker is the top guy for me here. The Bills signed Walker in the 2007 offseason, when they revamped the offensive line. He was part of a unit that allowed 26 sacks, the fewest allowed by the Bills (up until then) since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Walker played two seasons in Buffalo, playing in (and starting) all 32 games. The Bills released him right before the start of the 2009 season.
Stay tuned for next week’s article as I will be coming out with my Buffalo Bills All-Drought defensive team!