By M. Britt Hayes
Rex Ryan said, “We will not be pushed around, we will build a bully” in his introductory press conference as the Buffalo Bills new head coach. The ground work for his master plan is already in place. The Bills ranked 4th among total defense in 2014. All they need is a leader, just a spear head to awaken the monster within and steer it to do their bidding. So Ryan was called in by GM Doug Whaley to guide this force, like the Emperor summoning Darth Vader to command the Dark Side. Rex is a defensive master mind with his teams annually being among the league’s best, though lacking elite talent. Well, if talent was money the Bills defense would be Warren Buffet. Sounds like a match made in IDP fantasy heaven.
Williams has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons, and 2014 earned him his first All-Pro first team selection. He’s the most efficient pass rusher on a defense that hands out quarterback sacks like Halloween candy, 111 of them in the last two seasons to be exact. He’s racked up 38 sacks in the last 3 seasons, that’s the fourth-highest total in the NFL over that span. J.J. Watt (51.5), Justin Houston (43), and Robert Quinn (40) are the only three players that have more. Williams did all of this while playing under a Jim Schwartz defense that did not rely on heavy blitzing. Rex Ryan’s high pressure schemes can only increase Williams’ production. It is a safe bet to expect more of the same from Mario on a defense that finished in the top 5 a year ago, and is expected to continue to improve under the tutelage of Ryan. Williams should remain top 10 DE and could push himself into the top 5 conversation.
Hughes was once a forgotten name with the Colts, but since taking his talents to Buffalo it’s been difficult for him to go unnoticed while accumulating 19.5 sacks in just 2 years time. In 2013, his breakout season, he totaled 10 sacks as a part-time player for Mike Pettine. Demanding a full-time starter slot in 2014 under Jim Schwartz he was just as impressive. He sacrificed some pass-rushing productivity in order to prove himself as stingy run defender. This was a much simpler defense that did not cater to Hughes’ strengths, but did allow him to expand his skills in defending the run. Rex Ryan has consistently lacked edge-rushing talent in his defenses, but that won’t be a problem in Buffalo with Hughes. He turns the edge faster than Kylie Jenner’s new Farrari. Now that Rex has the controls, the best of Jerry is yet to come. Hughes is knocking on the door of top 10-15 DE status.
People tend to focus on sack numbers with defensive tackles, mainly because that’s the most important total when discussing DT’s. Well, Dareus has them. In fact he has 28.5 sacks in four seasons. Dareus has raised the bar for NFL defensive tackles, boasting 17.5 sacks in the last two years. But where Marcell truly impresses is as a run defender. Over the course of his 4 year career he has amassed more tackles and sacks then Ndamukong Suh, the NFL’s reigning top DT. The man deserves Suh money. Chances are this remains par for the course and Dareus continues as a top 5 DT.
Despite living in the shadow of Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus, Williams has continued to chug along, in ” the little train that could” fashion to secure two more Pro Bowls in the last two seasons and establishing himself as one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the NFL. He didn’t put up flashy number last season, but in 2013 he accumulated 68 tackles and 10.5 sacks. This was his role in a Mike Pettine ran defense. A role that Rex Ryan insists he will incorporate identically for Williams. Look for Kyle be a sleeper top 25 DT in 2015 but keep in mind the salty old veteran is 32 year old.
To say the Bills were reliant on Brown’s play in his rookie campaign, would be like pointing out Donald Trump’s hostile comb over. He ranked 18th in the NFL among linebackers in playing time percentage, contributing to 93.8% of defensive snaps. That playing time percentage figure should rise for Brown in 2015. Rex Ryan is notorious for playing two traditional linebackers in the majority of his wide alignments. Preston tallied 109 tackles and 1 interception as a rookie. This was enough to land him the 30th overall LB ranking for IDP fantasy football in 2014. With even more playing time on the way Brown has an opportunity to emerge as a franchise LB in 2015 and cement himself in the top 10 of the position going forward.
Bradham could possibly receive more hype heading into the 2015 season than Brown. He is coming off of a career year, with 104 tackles and 2.5 sacks even though he missed two games. Bradham is expected to move to the inside in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. He profiles as a chameleon on defense, being extremely mobile. Rex tends to fancy these type of players. His uncanny athleticism, ability on the blitz, and his animalism at the point of attack will allow Ryan to repurpose him in the alignment. So Nigel should make many more big plays as a result. Already ranking in the top 25 among LB’s last season, look for the 25 year old to attain a top 10-15 slot in the near future.
Lawson will most likely play the strong side in 3-4 fronts. He was limited to just 349 snaps in Jim Schwartz’s scheme last year. It is believed that he should get back up around the 700 mark under Rex Ryan. Look for his totals to increase from a year ago but the veteran should still remain mostly fantasy irrelevant.
McKelvin broke his ankle in November of 2014. He was placed on Injured Reserve, had surgery, and was expected to be ready for training camp this year, but apparently suffered a setback at some point to where the team is keeping all weight off of the ankle. Rookie 2nd round pick Ronald Darby has filled in with the first team during preseason and OTA’s. McKelvin’s 2015 status is simply a question.
Darby is as big of a question mark as even the Riddler could think of heading into the 2015 season. At Florida State he registered 18 tackles and broke up seven passes in 2012, which earned him ACC Rookie of the Year honors. As a sophomore he had 14 tackles and two interceptions. In his junior year of 2014, he started all 14 games and recorded 43 tackles. He may be a possible fantasy flier being that the CB position is usually hit or miss, and rookies will be tested by opposing QB’s.
During the 2014 season, Rex Ryan’s New York defense sent extra pass rushers on 33.1 percent of pass plays, the 10th-highest percentage in the NFL. This was actually conservative considering the aggressiveness of Ryan’s past defenses. The Jets CB’s being repeatedly burned by opposing QB’s is largely the root of his conservative approach. The Ryan defenses of old should reemerge in Buffalo, and Gilmore will be the greatest beneficiary of these corner blitz type schematics. This could easily inflate his tackle total of 46 from a season ago. Gilmore will also play the Derelle Revis Role in Ryan’s defense, covering the opposition’s top WR each week. That means targets, targets, targets. Stephon could certainly splash into the top 25 CB pool in 2015 and beyond.
Aaron Williams is Buffalo’s most consistent safety. For a second straight season, the Bills have concrete plans at corner and safety, He has a firm grip on a starting job in coach Rex Ryan’s new scheme. Coming off a season of 75 tackles and 1 interception. Aaron should remain a consistent option at Safety around the top 40 mark.
Graham was relegated to reserve status for the beginning of the 2014 season, but the cream always rises to the top and that’s just what he did. Not only playing at one position, but two as a corner back and safety. A feat not many players can capably pull off in a career, let alone a single season. After all is done and the dust settled, Graham played 778 snaps for Buffalo last year. Along the way, he snagged 2 interceptions, 16 defended passes, and 1 fumble recovery to accompany with his 84 tackles. At 30 years old, Graham doesn’t have much left in the tank for fantasy longevity, but if you’re in need of a top 25 Safety for the next 2 seasons, he could be your man.