The 2019 NFL regular season still sits four months away on the calendar, but what has happened to Buffalo’s roster this offseason has dramatically transformed the talent level and addressed several deficiencies that previously existed on the squad.
So where do all the changes leave the Bills on the AFC landscape?
Below we’ve compiled the thoughts of national analysts on the Bills prospects, the sentiment from the Bills brass on the 2019 outlook, while also sprinkling in some of our own analysis for what the 2019 season could hold for Sean McDermott’s team.
National analysts bullish on Bills
NFL analysts have come to appreciate Buffalo’s roster building the last couple of years. Their reaction to what the Bills did in free agency and the draft this spring gives strong indication that those in the know believe Buffalo could move into the contender category.
“General manager Brandon Beane has come up big this offseason, both in free agency and the draft,” said Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon. “Beane has added at least eight key players on offense along with one of this draft's most highly touted prospects on defense, which could be enough to move the Bills into contention.”
“I continue to believe that the Bills have had as impactful an offseason as any team in the NFL other than the Browns.” ESPN's Field Yates
NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal believes Buffalo’s roster now has proper depth for the grind of a 16-game NFL season.
GM Brandon Beane has continued a strong offseason with great value during draft weekend. After Ed Oliver fell to the Bills at No. 9 overall, the team nabbed a first-round talent in offensive lineman Cody Ford with the No. 38 pick. Beane and coach Sean McDermott are slowly building a rugged roster with a consistent image.
When it comes to making a big jump from last year’s results to the upcoming season, ESPN NFL analyst Field Yates and NFL Network’s Peter Schrager feel the Bills have put themselves in a favorable position for success.
“I continue to believe that the Bills have had as impactful an offseason as any team in the NFL other than the Browns,” said Yates. “Brandon Beane is doing work.”
“The Buffalo Bills are quietly building something,” Schrager said. “This draft has been really good and there’s reason for excitement in Western New York."
“The Buffalo Bills are quietly building something. This draft has been really good and there’s reason for excitement in Western New York." NFL Network's Peter Schrager
A more measured outlook from the general manager and head coach
As exciting as all the additions for Buffalo’s offensive line, wide receiving corps, run game, defense and special teams might be, there is the challenge of pulling all those new pieces into one cohesive unit that can execute with consistency on Sundays.
That’s why the outlook from inside the walls at One Bills Drive is a bit more measured.
“No one puts higher expectations on us than us,” said head coach Sean McDermott. “We work to be the best we can be every day. That’s the mindset of our building, so expectations come in this game. Really where we are going into year three, we’ve had to re-make the roster. That takes time, and Brandon has done a good job and we’re still working on that.
“My challenge, which is one of the bigger ones in the league, is how do you bring a team together? Quite frankly when you’ve added 17 free agents and draft picks on top of that there’s a chance that half our team will be new. That’s uncommon around the league, but that’s part of building it the right way also, there is change. You have to embrace it, evolve and if you don’t evolve you’re not around very long.
“That’s part of the growth mindset here and the competition is healthy. To stay where we were, that’s not healthy. We’re here to win championships and we do it one day at a time. It takes time, but I like what we’ve done this offseason and we’re a few months away from playing a game, so we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.”
"We work to be the best we can be every day. That’s the mindset of our building, so expectations come in this game." Head coach Sean McDermott
If there is one thing Buffalo’s brass would acknowledge it’s that they’ve effectively brought the level of talent on offense to more equal footing with their defense that ranked second in the league last season.
“We felt our defense was playing up here and our offense was down here and there are a lot of reasons for that and that’s on me personnel-wise,” said Beane. “So we made a concerted effort in free agency to add pieces, a lot on the O-line. We were unhappy with our O-line play. It was inconsistent. And if nothing else we were going to fix that this year.”
Coach McDermott also confirmed that the team’s decision makers have confidence that the squad is as talented and deep as its been since their arrival.
“Getting the roster to the point where you feel like you can go out and play a game and then you can minimize some of those holes that we feel like we had when we first got here and continue to add good people to our building and build the way we believe it should be built,” McDermott said. “It doesn't mean we've made all the right decisions but we feel like we've taken steps forward in that direction.
“There have been some good players added in our division. Those teams probably feel like they’ve improved their football team as well. We certainly have our work cut out for us here and that’s where our focus is. We do look forward to getting these players in and also other guys who could become great pieces for us in time and will add to the competition early on.”
What it would take for a playoff run in 2019?
All the personnel improvements will need to translate to improved play collectively from the team. The talent on offense in particular should provide offensive coordinator Brian Daboll with more options in his playbook.
But to a large degree, the success on that side of the ball will hinge on second-year quarterback Josh Allen.
Can he raise the level of his short to intermediate passing game and lift his completion percentage so it’s closer to 60 than 50? Will he develop effective chemistry with new additions like Cole Beasley, John Brown and Tyler Kroft? And will he remain judicious with his decisions to run with the ball so he can stay healthy?
There are encouraging signs that the answer to all these questions will be yes, but they do depend on other variables.
The new starting five on the offensive line needs to jell quickly through the course of the offseason. Their chemistry will be crucial in protecting Allen and revitalizing a run game that had a down 2018. And young receivers and tight ends on the roster will need to fill roles.
The defense needs to remain a top 10 unit and find a way to get more sacks and takeaways than they did last year.
And special teams under new coordinator Heath Farwell has to take a sizable step forward to hold up their end with a host of new players including a Pro Bowl return man in Andre Roberts.
There is a lot to put together and it might take until Week 5 or 6 before it all blends and looks like a tight and consistent club. But if the players and coaches can accomplish that they could be well on their way to their second postseason berth under McDermott.
With the 2019 free agency period officially open, here's a look at Buffalo's acquisitions.
Who are the AFC favorites?
Even though both the Chiefs and Patriots will be without some key pieces, who helped them on their playoff runs last season, many believe those teams still have the firepower to be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.
But there are other teams who could easily work their way into the playoff equation. Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh are all teams that wouldn’t be surprising playoff participants with ascending clubs like Buffalo and Cleveland also worthy of consideration.
With the 2019 NFL Draft officially underway, follow along with the Buffalo Bills to find out which players the team selects. Bills draft coverage is presented by ECMC.