The Bills certainly beefed up their defense this offseason. Is it enough to have a top five unit for the third straight season? Let's look at the numbers from 2019. Buffalo was the NFL's third-best defense last season allowing an average of 298.3 yards per game. The Bills allowed an average of only 16.2 points per game, good for second in the NFL. Their passing defense ranked fourth, while their rushing defense ranked tenth.
These are tough numbers to top or replicate, but there's always places to improve. With the additions of a few new faces and the growth of key young players, the Bills are poised to have another top 5 unit this season.
It's tough Buffalo had to say bye to Lorenzo Alexander, Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson, but they welcome players who can replace their production and potentially add more. The Bills added Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, Vernon Butler, Bryan Cox Jr. and A.J. Epenesa to their defensive line. Two additions were made to the linebacker room including A.J. Klein and Tyler Matakevich. Former Panther Josh Norman and rookie Dane Jackson are two new corners in the secondary.
One reason why the Bills can be a top unit again this season is because each position has depth. The defensive line has a crowded room, but head coach Sean McDermott likes what the backups bring to the table.
"With quality backups as well as it relates to the defensive line, being able to continually bring fastballs, play at a high level – high intensity level up front," McDermott said. "With that in mind, that's what you saw bringing in Vernon Butler, Quinton Jefferson and Mario Addison to name a few on the defensive line."
Depth and versatility are vital parts of how this defense is played. By having depth, the Bills are capable of improving in areas like pass rush, run defense and taking the ball away more. A stout unit up front with fresh legs rotating onto the field, allows the secondary to have more success.
Quinton Jefferson, A.J. Epenesa and A.J. Klein are just a few new players who offer up position flexibility, which is another essential piece to the defense. Versatility allows for a more athletic defense to combat a speedy, multifaceted offense.
"Quinton Jefferson has position flexibility, I know you guys know how much I love that," McDermott said. "Versatility I think is huge. So, Quinton Jefferson played really good snaps for the Seattle Seahawks and a good defense. He's played inside, he's played outside, love his relentless attitude and approach."
Jefferson is an example of one player who can be used as a chess piece in order to expose an offense's weakness. The Bills ranked 12th in sacks last year with 44, new defensive linemen like Jefferson will help this number grow and improve run defense.
Aside from new players, it's easy to point out any returning starter on defense and come up with a slew of reasons why each one can take a step forward. Tremaine Edmunds enters year three in the defense, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde bring on year four together as a safety tandem, Ed Oliver will grow from his rookie season—this list can go on and on.
The headliners are back. The new players bring versatility. There's great leadership in each room. Buffalo will face some tougher teams this season, but the defense is always up for a challenge. Lastly, there's Tre'Davious White who led the league with six interceptions last season. He had a career year, but there's no way that was his ceiling.
Even though this quote from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is about White, it speaks to the Bills defense as a whole. The work they put in, the standard they hold themselves to, the success they've had all points to why this defense can be a top five unit again this year.
"The people on this call know how much we rely on Tre'Davious to help our defense play well," Frazier said to local media on a Zoom call. "When you are a rookie, when he was a few years ago and we're matching you up as a rookie, that shows you the kind of confidence that we have. It also shows the type of person and athlete that he is and his toughness, as a rookie to be able to go out and do what he did and continue to grow and stack good years on top of another good year.
"I take my hat off to him. There's nobody works harder than he does, he puts the time in the classroom, he busts his tail in the meeting rooms, then he goes on the field and practices like it's a game. I'm not surprised that he's grown as a player the way he has, and looking forward to 2020 as he continues to mature and grow as a player and expect him to just be even better in 2020."
In 2017 McDermott and Frazier showed the NFL what type of defense the Bills would have under a new coaching regime. The confidence the staff has in their defensive players helped solidify this groups identity in just a couple years. Stacking one good year on top of another, there's certainly expectation for more growth this season.