No. 7 – Buffalo Bills
Uniforms – 4, Fan Experience – 4, Management – 11, Players – 19
The Bills gained major points, in large part due to their fans sticking with the club through the NFL's longest playoff drought. When the Bills revamped their uniforms after Nike became the league's provider, their jerseys went from hideous to classic. With one of the league's fastest rosters, the Bills are on the rise.
15) Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills: Despite a disappointing end to his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers, Roman remains one of the top offensive tacticians in the game. He has the rare ability to blend creative personnel packages and odd formations into a smash-mouth attack that punishes opponents between the tackles. Considering his ability to also manage and develop young quarterbacks, it is hard to dispute his inclusion on this list.
13) Dennis Thurman, defensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills:** Rex Ryan's right-hand man doesn't garner the headlines, but he is a key contributor to his boss' defensive success as the pass-coverage specialist. Thurman masterfully builds coverage concepts to match Ryan's exotic pressures, which is why the defensive scheme flusters even the most experienced NFL quarterbacks.
7. Bills: LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Karlos Williams
Buffalo is a candidate to lead the league in carries under Rex Ryan. Still, it's worth noting that LeSean McCoy's yards per tote last season (4.2) dropped almost a full yard off his 1,600-yard outburst in 2013. I'm not in love with this offensive line -- or the LeBron-free quarterback mess -- but the Bills have an intriguing mix of young talent behind the aging Fred Jackson. Bryce Brown feels like the odd man out if Anthony Dixon outplays him.
QB EJ Manuel
Weren't there murmurs not too long ago that former first-round draft choice EJ Manuel would not see a third season in Orchard Park?
Well, so much for that assumption. Team insider Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com reported that the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft (who has played in just 15 games in two seasons) is back on track.
"He has had some moments," new Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan said following the team's last minicamp practice. "I thought EJ did well; he threw the touchdown pass in the two-minute [drill]. Kind of looked a little watered down there on defense, but it was good. It was great to see. He looked pretty good and he had some nice plays."
It's still anyone's guess who will open the season against the Indianapolis Colts, but Manuel has certainly remained in the running as a contender for the spot.
Running back: Shady McCoy, Buffalo Bills
There's not a close second in the division. (For the record, the second-best RB is probably McCoy's new Bills teammate, Fred Jackson.)
Wide receiver: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
He didn't quite keep pace with superstar first-year pros Odell Beckham and Mike Evans last season, but Watkins showed enough to validate the Bills' affection for the Clemson burner -- and to edge out yet another fellow rookie dynamo from 2014, Miami's Jarvis Landry, for this spot.
Defensive tackle: Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills
This large person might not be as good as Suh -- he might be better. But is he as good as teammate Kyle Williams?
Outside linebacker: Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills
We had to find room for Williams, who has been better than ever since moving to Buffalo three years ago; luckily for us, it seems he'll likely serve as an outside linebacker under new coach Rex Ryan after functioning as a 4-3 defensive end for the Bills last season. (Almost a decade after he went ahead of Reggie Bush and Vince Young in the 2006 NFL Draft, Williams is the clear-cut best of that trio.)
Kicker: Dan Carpenter, Buffalo Bills
Stephen Gostkowski made a league-leading 35 field goals for the Pats last year. Carpenter made just 34 ... but he hit a remarkable 6 of 8 from 50-plus yards out.
97. Richie Incognito, Guard, Buffalo Bills
The Bills desperately needed to upgrade an offensive line that ranked among the worst in the NFL last season, especially in order to field the kind of run-driven offense new head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman prefer. They went out-of-the-box with part of their solution: Richie Incognito, who had been out of football since Nov. 2013 after being implicated in the Miami Dolphins' bullying scandal. Before signing in Buffalo, Incognito met with new owners Terry and Kim Pegula. "We want to be a tough physical team, and that's his game," Bills GM Doug Whaley said this spring. "We had Terry and Kim talk to him, and after that conversation, we knew he accepted responsibility. He has some failsafes in his life so he doesn't go there, and he realizes this might be his chance to have a platform to institute change."
—Jenny Vrentas (@JennyVrentas)
No. 8 – Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills
Hands - 38/40
Charles Clay is part fullback, part tight end, but as a receiver he's proved to be one of the best in the game. He was targeted 81 times in 2014 and dropped just two passes while pulling in 58 catches.
Blocking - 5/5
Clay is at his best when he's moving pre-snap to secure an angle as a blocker. He fills the H-back role nicely, though, and can come out of the backfield, the slot or the end of the offensive line to pop defenders in the run game. He lacks the length to be great in pass protection but more than earns his keep as a run-blocker.
Route Running - 22/25
The Miami offense asked Clay to be a zone route-runner primarily, and he did a great job feeling out zones and sitting down to get open with defenders on his back. He's a sharp in-cut route-runner and will leave defenders in space on breaking routes. His upfield routes will never be great due to his lack of elite size or speed.
Speed - 17/20
Clay isn't known for his speed, but our friends at Pro Football Focus counted 12 missed tackles he created with his legs and strength. Clay is fast enough to consistently get open—especially in space—and can get upfield to pick up plus yards, too.
Starter - 5/5
Clay isn't a fit for every offense, but he's a Pro Bowl-caliber talent as a blocker and receiver—and he can line up in multiple spots for an offense, making him a chess piece you can use in multiple personnel groupings.
Overall - 87/100