Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. This year we want your opinion on what the most likely answers to these questions will be. After reading each daily installment as the Bills get set for Year 1 under head coach Doug Marrone, go to the Bills daily fan poll leading up to report day at training camp and vote. You could be eligible to win tickets to night practice. Here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and the Sept. 8th home opener.
Every season, Pro Bowl voting serves as recognition of elite play from around the NFL. For their achievements in 2012, the Bills had three players on the field in Hawaii: running back C.J. Spiller, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, and free safety Jairus Byrd.
With changes abounding at One Bills Drive and expectations rising, the team and fans are hopeful that 2013 will be a successful season with Buffalo well represented when the great players gather for some tropical football.
Big contracts bring lofty expectations and Williams' deal might have set the bar at an unattainable level. Williams may not have taken the AFC East by storm, but lost in the dollar amounts was a statistically solid year that was on par with his past seasons in Houston.
Williams' 2012 season can be divided into two parts: pre-wrist surgery and post-wrist surgery. With a torn ligament in his left wrist, Williams had just 16 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his first seven games with the Bills. After a surgery in the bye week, Williams play picked up and he had 30 tackles, 7.0 sacks, and two forced fumbles over the last nine games. Those 10.5 sacks led the team and ranked 17th in the NFL.
Williams has two Pro Bowl appearances in his career. In 2008, Williams had 12.0 sacks, 53 tackles, and four forced fumbles, and he was voted in as a starter at defensive end. In 2009, Williams had 9.0 sacks, 43 tackles, and two forced fumbles, and he was voted in as a reserve.
As the top dog in Buffalo, Williams drew more than his fair share of double teams on a pass rush whose complexity pales in comparison to what new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has in mind. At full health and as part of an ever-shifting and dynamic pass rush, Williams is poised for a successful year, which could earn votes for a trip to Hawaii.
The unquestioned number one receiver on the Bills roster has posted three consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards (the only Bills receiver to ever do so), but Johnson has yet to earn a Pro Bowl invite.
This past AFC Pro Bowl roster's top four receivers were A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, and Wes Welker, whose combined 2012 statistics averaged out to 108.3 receptions, 1,414.3 yards, and 6.5 touchdowns. By comparison, Johnson finished 2012 with 79 receptions, 1,046 yards, and six touchdowns, and the numbers are consistent with the previous two seasons. In 2011 Johnson had 76 receptions for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns, and in 2010 he had 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Johnson has been consistently solid, but he will likely need to make a jump statistically to grab one of the top spots. Fortunately for him the Bills have added some young talent in rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin, and second-year receiver T.J. Graham has been impressive through spring practices. The help could force defenses to stop keying on Johnson and open him up for some big numbers.
Spiller made the trip to the Pro Bowl following the 2012 season, but he did so as an alternate. Given his numbers, the fact that he was not voted in from the start could be seen as a bit surprising because they show him to be one of the most electric and efficient running backs in the NFL.
Spiller ran for 1,244 yards on just 207 carries, giving him a 6.0 yards per carry average that tied him for the league lead with Adrian Peterson. Deeper analysis by Pro Football Focus shows Spiller had 16 runs of 15 or more yards, which ranked sixth in the league, with everyone ahead of him having 285 carries or more. Even deeper analysis by Football Outsiders revealed Spiller had a DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or more simply a running back's value per play) of 27.5 percent, which ranked first in the NFL.
With more carries likely on the way this season, Spiller's numbers could be even more impressive, and that could earn him a direct invite to the Pro Bowl.
Like Spiller, Williams made his way to the Pro Bowl this past season as an alternate. The trip was not his first, as the defensive lineman participated as an alternate following the 2009 season.
Williams had 5.0 sacks and 46 tackles (27 solo) in the 2012 season. His best performance came in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs when he had 2.0 sacks and three tackles. Williams has cemented himself as the anchor of the Bills defensive line with his consistent play. Pro Football Focus recently ranked the best interior defensive players over the past five seasons and they ranked Williams fifth in the NFL and second in the AFC.
Considering Williams played the past two seasons on damaged Achilles, both of which required surgery, this could be the healthiest the defensive tackle has entered a season in three years. As long he stays healthy his level of play could go up yet another notch.
After his stellar rookie season in which he tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, Byrd was voted into his first Pro Bowl as a reserve behind Ed Reed. With five interceptions in 2012, along with 11 passes defended and four forced fumbles, Byrd worked his way into another Pro Bowl as an alternate.
The 26-year-old has only missed two games in his career and is tied for first among safeties since 2009 with 18 interceptions, so there is no doubt his play is among the NFL's best at the position.
With his franchise tender unsigned, Byrd missed all of spring practice. If his absence continues, Byrd risks falling further behind and having to play catch-up, which could hurt his play and jeopardize his chances for a third Pro Bowl appearance.