Four Downs with David: Assessing the Bills Rookies
For this week’s “Four Downs with David,” I’m going to break down the performances of the Buffalo Bills rookies thus far this season!
1st Down: Dawson Knox
Knox has played in all six games thus far in 2019, logging three “starts.” Knox has had his share of ups and downs this season. Coming out of the draft, Knox was widely considered to be more of a developmental prospect than a finished product.
Expecting inconsistency in his rookie year, I am not really surprised to this point that we have seen Knox flash some amazing big-play ability to go along with some frustratingly bad drops. The Bills will surely accept some of these less than stellar moments in the hopes that Knox continues to develop his skills through game action reps.
Even with Tyler Kroft making his season debut against the Dolphins, Knox still led the team in tight end snaps, while simultaneously leading the team in tight end receptions. Knox did have a key drop early in the game that would have likely resulted in a touchdown, or at the very least, a 1st down inside the 5-yard line. If he can eliminate the drops and continue his strong play as a blocker, the Bills could be looking at a real steal when it comes to where Knox was drafted.
Respectably, Knox is third overall on the team with 12 receptions through six games. While the volume of the passing game is clearly centered on John Brown and Cole Beasley, Knox has currently asserted himself as the clear third option in the passing game.
Knox is leading the team in yards per catch for players with at least 10 receptions, and is third on the team in receiving yards. Knox checks in as PFF’s 42nd overall tight end through six weeks, ranking ahead of players like Vance McDonald, Jared Cook, and Jesse James.
2nd Down: Devin Singletary
Coming out of the Bills bye week, Devin Singletary made his first appearance since week two and perhaps didn’t make the immediate impact that many fans were expecting. In three games played, Singletary has amassed 153 rushing yards on only 17 carries. He was held to a disappointing 26 yards on only seven carries in the Bills victory over the Dolphins.
Taking an optimistic view, better days are surely ahead for Singletary. Against the Dolphins, the Bills only rushed the ball 19 times with running backs. The fact that Singletary still received a decently sized workload relative to the team’s total rushing attempts should bode well for his future usage.
I know that my expectations were higher than maybe they realistically should have been for a player coming back from a hamstring injury. On the season, Singletary is still averaging a robust nine yards per carry. While this average is sure to decrease as he racks up more carries, my expectation is that he should still be a player that hovers around the 5.0 YPC mark. I would also like to see the Bills integrate Singletary more into the passing game as the season progresses.
The Bills haven’t had more than seven completions to running backs in a single game yet this season…and that happened to come in the team’s opening bout against the Jets where Singletary hauled in five catches. My viewpoint is that with a healthy Singletary, the Bills should be able to add an element to their offense that can take advantage of his skillset, and integrate more designed passes to running backs into their philosophy.
3rd Down: Cody Ford
Cody Ford has been a somewhat polarizing figure across both the analyst community and the Bills social media community. My belief is that Ford is better suited at this point in time to play guard, but the Bills have been consistent in their usage of Ford at tackle thus far in the season.
Ford has played 63% of the team’s offensive snaps thus far, as he has consistently rotated with Ty Nsekhe at right tackle. I always take Pro Football Focus statistics and ratings with a grain of salt, but through six weeks, Ford is graded 60th out of 70 qualifiers at offensive tackle.
My co-host on The Bills Guys podcast (Steve Mathes, @JudgeMathes) believes Ford should be spending 2019 taking both guard and tackle reps in practice while serving as the primary backup to both the right guard and right tackle position. I can’t say that I disagree with him, although I understand fully why the Bills keeping trotting him out there to start at right tackle each Sunday.
The Bills were clear in their intentions after the draft that Ford would play tackle, and they have largely stuck to that game plan. Ideally, we will see incremental improvement in his play each week, but I am generally not a fan of in-game rotations at the position. I do not want to overly criticize the coaching staff for employing this rotation, but I am curious to see if we less of a rotation as the season progresses.
Against the Dolphins, Ford played nearly two thirds of the right tackle snaps, which were about in line with what we saw against the Titans. Ford played less than 60% of the team’s offensive snaps against the Jets, Giants, and Patriots, while logging a season high 89% of the snaps against the Bengals.
4th Down: Ed Oliver
While Ed Oliver has yet to stuff the stat sheet in any single game, his presence has been felt thus far in 2019. Against the Dolphins, Oliver recorded his first career sack. Oddly enough, his first career sack goes in the books against wide receiver Albert Wilson…a statistical anomaly that could make for a very fun trivia question years from now. Through six games, Oliver ranks as PFF’s 57th highest Interior Defender out of 115 qualifiers.
Those expecting gaudy early-season sack totals from Oliver may be wondering if Oliver is making a true impact on the game. The Bills currently sit 10th in the league in rushing defense, and Oliver is playing a key role in that ranking. Below you’ll see some great media clips that show the type of impact Oliver is having against both the run and the pass.
I am personally taking the patient approach with Oliver. He has been thrust into a position where even above-average performances may take a bit longer translate into statistics than it would at other positions. It’s not fair to expect Ed Oliver to be in the same realm as an Aaron Donald or Geno Atkins in year one. Given a prime opportunity against a subpar Dolphins offensive line, Oliver was able to break through with one of his best games of the year.
As mentioned, he recorded his first career sack and also added a tackle for loss. I am hopeful that by season’s end we will be talking about the improvement and development that Oliver made throughout the year. A few more sacks would surely be nice, but I am not worried if the pure box score statistics don’t jump off the page in year one.