The Top 5 List: Which young players I’d like to step up for the Bills

Now that the Bills 2010 roster has been mostly finalized, I thought it would be a perfect time to hand out expectations for some of the young core players that need to step it up. Yes, 7-9 seems to be out of the question for this bunch, but there are ways to find a silver lining with a non-playoff team. All I’m saying is that if the Bills go 4-12, we can always find some solace in individual players. Unless, those guys don’t step up.

5) Wood-HangartnerLevitre
Yes, the Bills didn’t really address their tackle situation this offseason. I could have put Cornell Green and Demetrius Bell in this category. However, I’m not going to waste my time, because I have absolutely no confidence in the duo. I’ve seen enough from Bell to know that I have seen enough. As for Green, the guy had more penalties than starts last year. So if my confidence is shaken by the tackle situation, you then have to look for others to pick up the slack. This is where the interior line comes into play.

Both Eric Wood and Andy Levitre are high draft picks that had pretty solid rookie years. Geoff Hangartner was a really nice surprise at center for the team last year with his toughness and grit (Sounds like Adam Mair). Hell, at least he was better than Tutan Reyes and Melvin Fowler. However, if offensive line is suppose to be a collected group effort, the end results were quarterbacks getting sacked and running backs getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage. If the Bills didn’t feel like adding legit tackles, they are then telling me that their interior line can carry the load for this team.

Obviously, the biggest question mark for the Bills line is how effective will Eric Wood be in returning from a devastating leg injury. Hopefully, he’ll be back because I haven’t gotten a clue who would replace him. Do we even have back-up guards on this team? I guess they plan on calling the Green Bay practice squad if someone gets hurt. I’m sure if the offensive line plays like it did last year, the tackles are going to get the majority of the blame.

However, line play is all about being a cohesive unit. It’s about having anchors on the line that can make the crappy guy playing next to you look better than what he is. It’s not too much to ask for Levitre and Wood to make their teammates better. OK, maybe it is with the likes of Bell and Green. I just want to see this interior line gel and open up holes for Spiller and Jackson. Too many times last year we saw running backs getting hit 0.9 seconds after a hand-off.

NFL coaches always talk about having the ability to run between the tackles. The running game is going to be very key for the Bills next year. Hell, is there even an argument that it’s the team’s strongest point of attack? The trio of inside guys are going to have to carry the load for this team. God knows they aren’t going to get much help from the outside.

4) James Hardy
Man, it seems like it was 10 years ago when we saw James Hardy catch the game-winning touchdown pass against the Jaguars. The Bills were down by six points with a little over four minutes remaining in the game. The team drove down the field and were inside the Jags 10-yard line with Trent Edwards lined up in shotgun. Edwards took the snap, looked over the middle and then threw a perfect ball-in traffic-to Hardy in the right corner of the end zone. Touchdown, Buffalo! Trent Edwards is a star and we are going to the Super Bowl. Seriously, that’s how I felt at that moment. Gosh, how the start of the 2008 season was such a tease.

Trent’s perfect pass and Hardy’s size are what made that touchdown possible. That kind of play was exactly what the Bills wanted from their rookie wide receiver. The Bills basked in Hardy’s size and wanted him to be the go to guy in the red zone. That’s all we heard about the guy when the Bills used a second round pick on him. Well, that was the last play Hardy really made for the Bills. Of course, the guy had a season ending injury late in 2008 and couldn’t supplant T.O. or Josh Reed on the depth chart in 2009. With Owens and Reed gone, Hardy, once again inherits the 2nd wide receiver spot on this team.

However, unlike his first year, the pressure is really on him. The Bills decided not to go out and sign or draft a legit number two receiver for this upcoming season. At times during Hardy’s rookie year, he seemed to really have problems getting off the line of scrimmage and gaining separation from defensive backs. I remember during a home game against the Jets in 2008, Trent Edwards lobbed a jump ball in the end zone for Hardy, which was intercepted. Hardy was completely out muscled by the corner back and looked as if he could only jump two inches off the ground in trying to catch the pass.

Hardy is entering his 3rd season in the NFL, which represents a year that wide receivers tend to blossom. Just check out Eric Moulds and Lee Evans 3rd year stats. Now, I’m not asking for Hardy to be a 1,000 yard wide receiver this season. However, a nice 50-catch, 700 yards and 6 touchdown year would be an accomplishment. Hey, I’m not asking for a lot. I’m only asking for a former second round pick to achieve his draft status.

3) Paul Posluszny
I’m not going to sugar coat this, but I truly feel that Paul Posluzny is vastly overrated. First off, two of his three years in the NFL have been mired in injuries. Secondly, he plays poorly against the pass and doesn’t have the side to side movement that you would want from your best linebacker. And lastly, he just doesn’t make enough plays. Sorry, but take away his Polish name and his Penn State background and the guy’s jersey wouldn’t even be sold at Bills.com.

Now, I’m probably going a little overboard on the Poz bashing. He’s an OK player, but he needs to step up his game. It should only help him going into a 3-4 defense, because it means that he will only have to cover half the field with Andra Davis playing right next to him. Poz really needs to work on his coverage ability and make some plays behind the line of scrimmage. You know, be a play-maker.

Look, I know there are other players on this defense that I should be more worried about. Hell, besides Poz, it seems like everyone else is playing a new position on the front seven. However, like James Hardy, I want Poz to live up to his 2nd round selection. If Poz looks average this season, the Bills are going to have to add inside linebacker to their wish list for next year.

2) Leodis McKelvin
Everyone seems to want to scrutinize Marshawn Lynch, Donte Whitner and Aaron Maybin as being 1st round disappointments. But what about Leodis McKelvin? Lets flashback to the corner’s first year with the Bills. Even before the fumble against the Patriots, a lot of fans were calling out McKelvin for the start of his rookie year. It took McKelvin almost half the season to even make it into the Bills nickle package.

After Jabari Greer went down with an injury, McKelvin finally got his opportunity to start and really only had one stellar game against the Chiefs…which isn’t really saying that much. At the end of his rookie season, McKelvin started six games and recorded two interceptions. I’ll admit, it was an OK season for a rookie, but not the type that is going to make you think he’s a star in the making.

Then there was last year. Now, I’m not going into preambles about McKelvin’s opening night fumble or his lawn care needing miracle grow. Besides those two incidents, I saw McKelvin and the secondary get torched by Tom Brady and company the first week of the season. Yes, McKelvin’s year was cut short after just three games, but you have to wonder whether this guy is going to be an elite corner back.

Now, he has shown some glimpses of being a good player. However, after just starting nine NFL games, I really need to see more from this guy. McKelvin was the 11th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. For being that highly drafted, I need to see a shutdown corner. Not an elite kick returner or someone that bobs his head like Merton Hanks. I want a guy that can shut down Braylon Edwards, Randy Moss and Brandon Marshall.

1)Aaron Maybin
I assure you, I’m going to have a very large microscope planted on Aaron Maybin’s crappy Leonard Smith wannabe hair cut during this season. I don’t have to get into Maybin’s rookie year. In short: it was like a cross between Eric Flowers and Raffi Torres. By some reports, the Bills switching to a 3-4 defense was in the works even before Chan Gailey or Buddy Nix were hired. I don’t care what anyone says, but the reason the Bills decided to switch to a 3-4 defense was to try and jump start Aaron Maybin’s career. Whether it was inexperience or being undersized, Maybin just didn’t look like a true defensive end.

If you look at Maybin, he has outside linebacker written all over him. He’s got a nice first step and his game is all about speed. That’s exactly what you want from your outside linebacker. Maybe a full training camp and the experience he learned last year will help him avoid back-to-back terrible seasons. Now, I’m not asking Maybin to become the next Lawrence Taylor for his 2nd year. I’m just looking for a sack or two. Maybe a defensive play behind the line of scrimmage. How about a celebration from Maybin that doesn’t involve a special teams tackle. I’m just looking for anything that shows progress.

If you want some optimism for Maybin, consider the career of Terrell Suggs. Suggs started his career kind of like the opposite of Maybin. Well, sort of. Suggs played defensive end in college and seemed to be a little undersized when entering the NFL. The Ravens moved Suggs to outside linebacker during his rookie year and he was named ROY with his 12 sack performance. A couple of years later, the Ravens moved to a 4-3 defense and Suggs really suffered from the move to defensive end. Whenever Suggs is playing at end, he hasn’t come close to eclipsing his 12 sack rookie year.

All I’m saying is that even if you have all the talent in the world, you have to be put in a position to succeed. Hopefully, Maybin is in the right position to take a run at being a game changer for the Bills. If Schobel retires, the sack leader on this team becomes Chris Kelsay (5.5 sacks last year). Hell, there’s no telling if Kelsay will even make it out of training camp with his salary and age. Even with Kelsay in the fold, Maybin has to be the guy to get pressure on quarterback.

Overall
If there’s one thing that most of these players have in common, it’s that they were high draft picks. Since the Bills decided to keep Tom Modrak and the same scouting staff, it’s very important for me to see these younger guys make progress this season. If they don’t, it’s is going to cast an even larger storm cloud over One Bills Drive. How can we give Buddy Nix the benefit of the doubt when these scouts that are helping him pick players have this sort of track record? All you need is for one cook in the kitchen to burn down the whole thing. If these players can take the next step this season, my expectations would have been met for the Bills. If not, status quo all over again.

Honorable Mention

1) Brian Brohm: At one point, some scouts thought he would be the number one pick in the NFL Draft. BTW, I’d rather have Brohm win the starting job in camp over Fitzpatrick and Edwards; only to have him lose it to Jake Locker in 2011. Hence the reason why I don’t want Brohm to break out. 😛

2) The entire 2010 rookie class: Hey, we need all the help we can get this season.

3)Donte Whitner: Pssh, that ship has sailed already.

4)Trent Edwards: See: Donte Whitner

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