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CAMP COUNTDOWN

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Camp Countdown: No. 18 - Which free agent will have the greatest impact?

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Free agency is the perfect way to complement a young core of players in the NFL. GM Brandon Beane and his staff understand this, and they have had early success in properly valuing assets on the open market. Smashing successes such as Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, and under the radar heroes like Deonte Thompson; are just a few examples of what Bills fans can expect from Beane in free agency.

While the 2017 crop of free agents was impressive, there is reason to believe that the 2018 group will perform at a similar level. Here is a look at which free agent acquisitions could have the greatest impact on Buffalo’s quest to return to the playoffs in 2018.

Vontae Davis

Davis comes to the Bills with a different approach in 2018. The two-time Pro-Bowler will act as a veteran mentor to young star Tre’Davious White. As a former first round pick, Davis understands that the pressure to perform can be a lot to handle at times.

“You come in as a first rounder and you have to earn your mark,” said Davis. “They target you until you earn their respect.”

Davis signed with the Bills on February 26, 2018, to fill the void left by free agent departure E.J. Gaines. A prime reason for his mutual interest with Buffalo was his near-perfect scheme fit.

“Corners have to tackle in this defense. That is one of my strengths, being a physical corner,” said Davis.

Davis brings a strong veteran presence to the Bills’ secondary, and he should slot in as the number two corner, opposite White on the boundary.

In 2017, injury issues prevented Davis from playing in all but five of Indianapolis’ games. Coming back from groin surgery he’s expected to be as fresh as ever in his seven-year career. That combined with the fact that he will be surrounded by three Pro-Bowl caliber players in the secondary in Poyer, Hyde and White; should allow for Davis to provide consistency, persistence, and leadership.

Chris Ivory

Ivory is well known for his punishing style, and legs that seem to never stop churning. Although he may no longer be the metaphorical bell cow that he once was, Ivory is sure to make opposing defenders wary of his presence in short yardage situations. Bills fans should be at least a tad bit familiar with Ivory, as he had his best year statistically in 2015 with the New York Jets; rushing for 1,070 yards in 15 games.

Head coach Sean McDermott seems to know exactly what he is getting with Ivory.

“We like the facts of what Chris has done with the ball in his hands, and without the ball in his hands,” McDermott said.

Like Davis, Ivory’s veteran presence is something that Brandon Beane and his staff took under careful consideration. He is entering his 9th season in the NFL, an anomaly for most running backs that run with the same bruising style.

However, there are a couple of key reasons for his longevity; the first reason being his ability to keep himself in shape, playing for New Orleans, New York, and Jacksonville. Secondly, he has started just under half of his games in the NFL; most notably playing behind the likes of T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette in 2016 and 2017.

One thing is certain; Ivory will bring his all on every single play as a member of the Buffalo Bills. He’s expected to play a key role in keeping LeSean McCoy fresh throughout the season with some much needed rest on short yardage and third down situations.

Star Lotulelei

Lotulelei is perhaps Buffalo’s most important signing of the offseason. His addition allows for players like Kyle Williams and Lorenzo Alexander to more easily maintain gap control in the run game. Alexander understands his importance.

“Our run defense is all about just being consistently in our gaps,” said Alexander.

After Marcell Dareus was traded to Jacksonville, the Bills noticed that the run defense was not as potent as it had been previously. Lotulelei’s presence, combined with the addition of Harrison Phillips, should solve a lot of issues in that area.

The Bills know just what they are getting in Lotulelei, as Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott were with Carolina when the Panthers selected the big man in the first round in 2013.

“To watch Star grow and develop and then to have been apart for a year and to see him now and how he’s developed more, I really enjoy watching him,” said McDermott.

Lotulelei will indubitably be a benefit to the Bills’ athletic linebackers such as Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano and rookie Tremaine Edmunds.

Another aspect of Lotulelei’s game is his consistency and durability. He has missed just four games in his first five seasons, starting in 75 of his 76 games. He burst onto the scene in 2013, being voted to the NFL All-Rookie Team; and he has not looked back. Expect Star to live up to his unique first name.

A.J. McCarron

McCarron is perhaps the biggest wild card of the Bills’ 2018 free agent class, due to his small sample size in the league. Although he was the first FBS quarterback to win back-to-back titles in college football since Tommie Frazier did it for Nebraska in 1994 and 1995, McCarron is still waiting for his first real shot in the NFL.

He has appeared in 11 NFL games, including three starts, one of which came in a 2015 playoff loss with Cincinnati.

McCarron is determined to be the best teammate possible, whilst competing to be Buffalo’s opening day starter in 2018.

“My focus is to be the best leader, the best teammate, and the best servant for the guys that are in this locker room,” he said.

He is in the midst of his first real quarterback competition, and maybe, his impact could be felt more by those he is competing with. The hope is that the competition will bring out the best in McCarron, and fellow quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen.

If McCarron wins the starting job, he has the ability to have a significant impact on the Bills’ season; but for now, that thought will be reserved until a starting quarterback is named. Expect McCarron to drive the competition at training camp and to battle until his name is called as either the starting quarterback, or the veteran presence every team needs on the sideline.

Trent Murphy

Murphy signed a three-year deal with the Bills on March 14, 2018, in a move that many Bills fans did not see coming. His addition will allow for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to use any combination of Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough, and Murphy to get after opposing quarterbacks.

Murphy emerged as a true pass-rush threat in 2016; sacking opposing quarterbacks nine times, but his 2017 season was a loss due to a torn ACL. More impressive, however, was the fact that Murphy had a combined total of just six sacks in his first two seasons.

The switch to defensive end proved fruitful for Murphy, which bodes well for his chances to succeed in Buffalo. His teammates seem to be excited about the prospect of lining up next to him with Murphy.

“Star [Lotulelei] was just talking about how excited he was,” said Murphy. “He was almost drooling talking about the season.”

For those concerned that his injury in 2017 could hamper his production in the future, Murphy doesn’t share those same concerns.

“There’s no looking back for me,” he said. “It’s all just bright future. An unstoppable year is my plan.”

The Bills’ coaching staff, players, and Murphy alike; are ecstatic just thinking about what he might bring to the table.

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