For a season filled with high expectations for the Bills as a team, the expectations at quarterback were quite the opposite heading into the 2015 campaign. How could there be any expectations when the starting quarterback was an unknown commodity until head coach Rex Ryan named Tyrod Taylor the starting signal caller on Aug. 31st? What Taylor provided through the course of the 16-game schedule however, has given the organization and Bills fans concrete evidence that they have a burgeoning playmaker at the most important position.
Taylor's first season as a starter was a rousing success. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman brought him along steadily as Taylor attempted the fewest number of pass attempts per game among quarterbacks who made more than 10 starts this past season (27.1). Supported by the league's top-ranked rushing attack, Taylor did not have too much on his plate and that allowed him to make consistent progress.
"We were built in a way with a young quarterback that as he comes along you've got to really try to help him to where he doesn't have to do everything all the time," said Roman. "I don't think it takes a brain surgeon to figure that out."
The first-year starter performed admirably on the whole, making good decisions with the ball, when to leave the pocket and gain yards with his legs and when to throw the ball away and live for another play.
He set a franchise record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback with 568 with four rushing touchdowns.
Among his greatest strengths was his ability to lengthen plays by manipulating the pocket and his consistency in being on target with the deep ball. Buffalo led the league in points scored outside the red zone by a wide margin with 194, and Taylor was fifth in the NFL in yards per completion (12.54).
Perhaps most important was Taylor's ability to protect the football. His six interceptions were a league low among quarterbacks with 10 or more starts this season, and his 3.33:1 touchdown to interception ratio was seventh-best in the NFL.
"I think I played well this season," said Taylor. "Of course, wins are more important than personal performances and you want to be higher in the win category. But I've definitely taken steps forward as far as my game goes. I'm looking forward to getting better this offseason."
All those personal strides has Taylor entering the 2016 season as the team's starting quarterback.
"He's warranted enough (faith) for us to continue down the road to see if he can be the franchise guy of the future," said general manager Doug Whaley. "If I told you a former sixth-round pick in his first year starting went 8-6, and with his stats and his quarterback rating (99.4) and what he's brought to the team, I think it warrants him a chance to prove it. And the thing that we like the most about him is the locker room believes in him, we believe in him, and hopefully the fans believe in him."
Center Eric Wood, who has had to snap to a number of different quarterbacks in his seven seasons with the Bills, was not going to jump to any conclusions about any of the three signal callers he had to work with through training camp. But it became readily apparent to him that Tyrod Taylor was a cut above his competitors come the close of the preseason.
"I don't know that I was surprised that I was impressed," said Wood. "His skill set wowed me in the spring. I was impressed with his mental aspect and going into training camp he impressed throughout. He was the most consistent guy and made the most plays and earned that spot.
"Through the season I was extremely impressed with the way he takes care of the football. He didn't put our team in bad positions very often and that's a tremendous quality. Toward the end of the year he started to make some really big plays with his arm. Him and Sammy (Watkins) are a pretty dangerous combo and they proved it. I'm really impressed by the way he played this year."
What may have gone largely unnoticed about Taylor's first year as Buffalo's starting quarterback was the way he embraced the leadership component of the job. Not since Drew Bledsoe more than a decade ago has a Bills starting QB led as effectively as Taylor.
Whether it was running extra offensive team meetings himself, calling on teammates to help him pull the team together following losses, participating in extra community events or putting his body on the line in games, Taylor did it all.
"Tyrod is a guy who works extremely hard," said Charles Clay. "I don't think I've ever seen someone with the work ethic he has. It doesn't come as any surprise whenever he plays real well. I see the way he works and studies and lifts weights. His work ethic is second to none."
"He is soft-spoken, and that's fine. Great leaders can be soft-spoken. When Ty says something, everybody listens," said Eric Wood. "He's calling plays, and he's vocal when he need to be. When Tyrod makes a point, it's generally really valid."
"He's handled himself well," said LeSean McCoy. "He leads by different examples. He's one of the guys who is always here on time, does the right things. He's bought in and those are different ways to be a leader. As far as I know he's my leader. He's my quarterback."
"He's a great player and a great leader for this team," said Sammy Watkins. "He's only going to get better."
That's what encourages head coach Rex Ryan the most. Sure he's generally pleased with Taylor's play on the field. But seeing how much the team has rallied behind Taylor after just one season is big.
"His teammates see him now as a leader," said Ryan. "I think you've got to earn that. Every step he has taken he earned that. I think part of that is through preparation and everything else like winning every single sprint in the conditioning workouts. It is all those things and they are adding up and now when he talks they all listen. So I think that is a great thing. I think he's legit and he's real and I think people are starting to realize that."