In recent years the Bills have been the recipient of some solid play from their rookie draft class in their first NFL season. In 2007 Buffalo’s top three draft choices all got on the field early and made contributions led by Marshawn Lynch’s 1,100-yard plus rushing season. In 2009,
The Bills most recent draft class stepped forward when called upon and more often than not propped up a defensive unit that sustained key player injuries.
“Our rookie class we’re real tight,” said top pick
It was widely anticipated that Dareus would step into a starting role right from the first snap of the season and that proved to be the case. Though he was learning on the fly there was clear progress to his game.
He capably adjusted from playing defensive end in 3-4 front to nose tackle or a shade in a 4-3 at midseason. By the end of the year Dareus led the team in sacks (5.5) and was second in tackles for loss with 10.
“It’s been a great progression for him,” said Bills head coach Chan Gailey. “He’s really made progress each week. That’s been one of the impressive things is the progress that he’s made each and every week. He’s got a lot to learn yet and I think he can get better. A lot of people think that maybe he’s arrived, but he hasn’t. He’s still learning. I think he has a chance to be even more dominant as time goes on.”
With Pro Bowl DT
Displaying sure open field tackling with an interception and a forced fumble to his credit, Williams showed enough to make him a legitimate challenger for one of the starting cornerback roles in 2012.
“Aaron played fairly consistently for a rookie,” said Gailey. “He battled injuries all year long and that’s always tough on a guy and that’s the one thing we’ve got to hopefully do is train him in the offseason and get him where he can make a whole season without the injuries. But I thought he showed potential to be a very good corner in this league for a long time. He matches up well size-wise.”
Sheppard started nine of the last 10 games and was productive with 61 tackles including a safety.
“He made a lot of strides this year,” said Gailey. “He was still making mistakes that rookies make from time to time. He’s aggressive and he’s got better at his reads. He got a lot more comfortable playing every day and I think that he is going to be a good player as time goes on. I saw improvement each week in him.”
The inside linebacker should be an odds on favorite to land a starting role next season.
“Justin started playing in some of our dime packages and then nickel later on as well as special teams,” said Gailey. “He did a great job on kickoff return late in the season. It was a real positive for us, but he needs to get bigger and stronger and I think he has a chance to be a pretty good football player.”
Mike Jasper spent almost his entire rookie year on the team’s practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in Week 17, but did not play in the season finale. He was moved back to the offensive line at the start of the season and saw most of his time at guard.
The sum production of Buffalo’s rookie class in 2011 may not look like it did much to lift the team’s fortunes in the win column, but several veterans on the roster realize they would’ve been in trouble without them particularly on defense.
“I remember the first Miami game and there were points in the game where we had five rookies on the field,” said
Knowing the rookies did not have the benefit of a full offseason of preparation with OTAs and minicamps scrapped the Bills are encouraged by the jump all of them should take heading into year two of their respective careers.
“Now we not only have depth, but experienced depth,” said