WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: Bills among top 100 players in NFL and 2015 predictions

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51. Marcell Dareus, DT, Buffalo Bills: He has developed into a force in the middle of the Buffalo defense. When his weight is in check, he has the ability to dominate inside. It's too bad he will miss the opener this season for a league-imposed suspension.

69. Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo Bills: He had 14 1/2 sacks last season for the Bills as a part of one of the league's best defenses. Williams had a sack in all but four games last season, getting four against the Dolphins in one game. He's also solid against the run.

89. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills: McCoy was traded to the Bills in March in a blockbuster deal that will make him the feature back in Rex Ryan's ground-and-pound attack. McCoy's numbers dropped some last season for the Eagles, but he is still only 26. The concerning number is his yards-per-rush went down to 4.2 last season from 5.1 the year before.

100. Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills: He had 5 1/2 sacks last season and continued to be a good run player for a smallish defensive tackle because he plays with such good leverage.

Defensive line: Buffalo Bills

Key Players: DE Mario Williams, DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes

The sky could be the limit for the Buffalo Bills this upcoming season. There is a lot of optimism surrounding the team, and much of it focuses on a defensive unit that can bring the heat.

This past season, the Bills led the NFL with 54 sacks one season after finishing second in the league with 57 sacks. In each of these past two years, the club has had three players with at least 10 sacks.

Along with the ability to get after the quarterback, Buffalo defense improved to 11th in the league against the run this past season (after ranking 28th or worst five straight years from 2009 to 2013). Now enters head coach Rex Ryan, who may be able to do even more with this group.

On the other hand, there is that talent-laden group in the Gateway City as well.

Honorable Mention: St. Louis Rams

Defensive end: Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills

Hughes received his net worth in a new deal this offseason, and he earned it as a member of the best defensive line in football. Perhaps only the Jets can claim their unit is equal to the group in Buffalo, and Hughes' 20 sacks over the last two seasons have played a big part in that success.

2. Doug Whaley, Buffalo Bills

Analysis

Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley entered this offseason needing to revamp the offense, and he did exactly that.

Trading for LeSean McCoy and adding Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Matt Cassel gives the offense a new identity. This is good news for a unit that ranked just 26th overall (318.5 yards per game) a season ago. Sure, Cassel isn't a truly inspiring addition, but there weren't a lot of other veteran options available with which to replace the retired Kyle Orton.

Whaley also managed to find a potential starter in rookie John Miller, who has been running with the first-team offense in OTAs.

Losing guys like Kiko Alonso and Da'Norris Searcy may hurt the defense a little. However, this is a unit that was ranked eighth overall by Pro Football Focus in 2014 and is now under the leadership of Rex Ryan.

Buffalo is shaping up to be a legitimate contender in 2015, and Whaley didn't put the team in a dire cap situation in order to put everything together. He has easily had one of the best offseasons of the year. 

Stephon Gilmore

Bowen:"I think it is cornerback Stephon Gilmore and this is why. You talk about what they have at the defensive front and the linebacker position; they got good young safeties in the middle of the field. But I look at the cornerback position and Rex's defense. Why? That is Darrelle Revis' position. I am not comparing the skill sets here. ... You're going to be out there on an island in man coverage. Rex is going to send pressure, creative pressure, exotic pressure, complex pressure to try and force that quarterback into a panic and unload the football. That is going to create situations for Gilmore who can go make some plays. Yeah is puts a lot of pressure on him because Rex is going to put you on an island and you're not going to have a lot of help. We are going to go get the quarterback and put him on the ground, but you got to the play for it. I think he is at the point in his career, in the prime years of his career, where he can be that playmaker in that secondary for a defense he is an ideal fit."

Tight end, Charles Clay

Grabbing Clay from the Dolphins as a restricted free agent was smart for the new Rex Ryan regime in Buffalo, as much to help the Bills as to hurt a division rival.  Pro Football Focus' advanced stats ranked Clay just one spot behind Julius Thomas and two behind Jimmy Graham last season.  He's caught 127 passes and nine scores the last two seasons, blocks on the run and converts on third down, and fourth.  He's more old school hybrid H-back than new-school hybrid wideout, and that still has value.

Preston Brown

Preston Brownwas drafted in the third round out of Louisville in 2014 and was expected to be a backup behind the starting trio of Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, and Nigel Bradford. A season-ending injury to Alonso, however, meant he was pushed into the starting lineup sooner than expected and tallied 94% of the team's defensive snaps on the year, the highest percentage on the Bills' defense.

Grading out 15th overall among 4-3 outside linebackers, Brown's season mark of +3.9 was held down by a pair of poor performances. Looking past those two games (Week 1 and Week 16, both ends of the season, understandable for a rookie), Brown notched a +11.5 grade over the other 14 contests.

There are two clear strengths to Brown's game: the first is as a coverage defender and the second as a pure tackler. Posting impressive numbers when in coverage, he allowed just 0.57 yards per coverage snap, which was third-best for all off-ball linebackers and his +3.6 coverage grade came in 11th among all 4-3 OLBs and ILBs combined. The moments he showed some struggle in coverage were nearly all down to over-aggressiveness in reacting up to the run first and having trouble getting back to find his zone. Certainly a fixable issue. ...

9. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills: The best change-of-direction player in the NFL, McCoy has a new beginning in Buffalo this season. He catches the ball with natural instincts and has very good speed and a unique ability to reverse course and find open space. He's not an overly powerful back, but McCoy can consistently make defenders miss in the hole and turn what would be negative plays into forward progress. He's one of the premier backs in the NFL on runs that can stretch to the perimeter.

13) Greg Roman, Buffalo, offensive coordinator

Age: 42
College: John Carroll
Pro experience: 17 seasons, five as coordinator (San Francisco 2011-14)
Résumé: The fast-rising coordinator has almost two decades of pro experience under his belt (despite having never played in the league) and a monumental test ahead of him. ... He takes the Bills job under defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan, with the challenge of competing in the AFC East, with either Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel as his starting quarterback.
M.O.: Arguably the best running game architect in football today. And he knows it. If that confidence and intelligence translates into strong leadership, he could be some team's diamond in the rough.

32) Anthony Lynn, Buffalo, running backs, assistant head coach

Age: 46
College: Texas Tech
Pro experience: 15 seasons
Résumé: Forced to retire early due to neck injuries, Lynn began his coaching career in Denver as a special teams assistant. Three teams later, Lynn coached the Jets' running backs for all six years of Rex Ryan's tenure. When Ryan was hired in Buffalo, Lynn followed. Ryan preached ground-and-pound, and Lynn was at the heart of its execution.
M.O.: Running backs coaches aren't typically considered for head-coaching positions, but his job title in Buffalo includes "assistant head coach" for a reason. He's a teacher of the game who sticks up for his guys.

After finishing the 2014 NFL season with a 9-7 record, former head coach Doug Marrone exercised an option in his contract allowing him to opt out of his contract. He did so because he thought that he would easily get hired by one of the other clubs looking for a new coach. He guessed wrong, and he is now the offensive line coach in Jacksonville.

To replace Marrone, the Bills hired former New York Jets' coach Rex Ryan, and the hire has rejuvenated the fan base in Buffalo. Love him or hate him, Rex Ryan excites people.

Between Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley, the Bills made some outstanding personnel moves and now hope to challenge for a playoff spot for the first time in years. While playing in the AFC East won't be easy, on paper, the Bills look like they have a chance. They are strong at just about every position except the most important one: quarterback. >> MORE

Bills gain swagger with Ryan, finally add playmakers

Although he was beloved by his players, the Jets fired Rex Ryan at the end of the 2014 season. With Doug Marrone opting out of his contract, the Bills gained a new head coach and some much-needed swagger when Ryan was appointed in January.

Buffalo was arguably the most active team during a turbulent offseason that reshaped the foundation of the league. In a shocking move for both parties involved, the Bills acquired 2013 rushing champion LeSean McCoy in exchange for burgeoning inside linebacker Kiko Alonso.

McCoy is the most dangerous weapon the Bills have featured at running back in a decade. Since Ryan is a major proponent of a strong running game, McCoy will be provided with ample opportunities to lead the league in yardage again. It's a savvy move that will also see Fred Jackson used judiciously.

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