Rotoworld’s Nick Mensio is watching every football game from the 2012 season and taking notes. Bang it here for Arizona Cardinals Tape Review, here for Atlanta Falcons Tape Review, and here for Baltimore Ravens Tape Review.
Next up in Mensio’s offseason Tape Review series: The Buffalo Bills.
The Offense: Despite featuring one of the sport's most electric players in C.J. Spiller, the 2012 Buffalo offense was one of the most plain attacks in the league due to inept quarterback play. Head coach and play-caller Chan Gailey ran the closest thing to a college spread offense as you’d find in the NFL. The Bills routinely used four- and five-receiver sets. The offensive line, especially the interior, was super athletic, which allowed Buffalo to be proficient in the screen game. There just weren’t enough weapons outside, and sometimes it was hard to figure out what was going through Gailey’s head.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: The 30-year-old cannot drive the ball down the field or outside the numbers, holds onto the ball too long, makes bad reads, and throws the least-effective deep ball in the league. Fitzpatrick routinely short-hopped throws on basic pass patterns. It looked like he needed to put all of his power into simple ten-yard routes. The arm strength just isn’t there. Fitzpatrick also had a special knack for turning the ball over at the worst times, killing his team. One example of this whole summation of flaws occurred in Week 7 versus the Titans. Up 34-28 late in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick targeted Donald Jones 15 yards down the right sideline and badly underthrew the pass. Jason McCourty picked it off with ease, setting his team up at the 50-yard line with 3:00 to go. Nate Washington later caught the winning touchdown. In Week 10 at New England, "FitzMagic" recreated another horrific ending to a game the Bills were in position to win. Down by six on the final drive, Fitzpatrick threw a back-breaking, mind-numbing interception in the end zone to Devin McCourty. The pass wasn’t even near his intended receiver. ... When Fitzpatrick didn’t turn the ball over, the Bills were 4-0. They went 5-1 in games that Fitzpatrick didn’t throw an interception. … Fitzpatrick was released this offseason and is now the backup to Jake Locker in Tennessee.
C.J. Spiller: Spiller is one of the most electrifying players in the league with homerun ability every time he touches the ball. Spiller’s lateral agility is second to none. He possesses elite burst, acceleration, and elusiveness. Spiller’s jitterbug style gives linebackers nightmares, and he’s a chore to tackle in the open field. A ten-yard touchdown run in Week 6 versus the Cardinals made Kerry Rhodes, one of the league’s better safeties last season, look foolish as Spiller broke Rhodes' ankles. In Week 13 against the Jags, Spiller broke off one of his better runs of the year. A stretch run designed to the right was bottled up, so Spiller jump-cut and shuffled back behind the line all the way to the left before shooting upfield for an untouched 44-yard score. … The 25-year-old possesses natural hands in the pass game, but his blitz pickup skills need work. Spiller turned dump-offs and check-downs into monster gains on a regular basis. … Although Gailey’s creativity allowed Spiller to get into space, the old-timer often criminally underutilized his Ferrari back. New coach Doug Marrone’s offenses at Syracuse finished with more rushing than passing attempts in each of his four seasons at the university, and Spiller should finally take over lead-back duties in 2013. His fantasy potential is through the roof.
Fred Jackson: Jackson is the one-cut back and steady veteran complement to Spiller, but Gailey trusted F-Jax too often in 2012. The 32-year-old was never healthy after spraining his LCL in Week 1, and his season ended in Week 14 after Jackson sprained his MCL in the same knee. … Jackson isn’t going to make many guys miss and is a back that will lower his head instead of trying to run around a defender. That particular running style made him the Bills' go-to back in the red zone. Spiller touched the ball just six times inside the opponent’s ten-yard line all season. Unfortunately, Jackson had a bit of a fumbling issue in scoring position. He fumbled at the one-yard line against the Patriots in a game the Bills went on to lose by six points. He also lost a fumble at the 14-yard line in Week 14 against the Rams. Buffalo lost that contest by three points. … Like Spiller, Jackson is a tremendous pass-catcher. In Week 4 against the Patriots, he split out wide left, drawing Jerod Mayo in single coverage. Jackson roasted Mayo down the sideline for a 34-yard gain on third-and-three. In the same game, Jackson picked up 16 yards on a third-and-15 screen play to the right, setting up a Donald Jones touchdown. Jackson’s ability to pick up the blitz is what gave him a leg up over Spiller on passing downs. … Jackson has missed 12 games over the last two seasons, and his longest run of 2012 was just 15 yards.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Stevie Johnson: Johnson isn’t your prototypical No. 1 receiver. He’s not going to stretch the field much, and his game is based on quick, precise routes and timing. Johnson is quicker than fast, and his route-running chops are some of the best in the league. He’s more of a possession receiver with strong hands. … Johnson put his skills on display in Week 15 against the Seahawks. Working against Richard Sherman -- the top corner in the league -- Johnson reeled in three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown stood out. Lined up in the left slot, Johnson faked a short post route before putting his foot in the turf and busting wide open on a corner route for the 20-yard score. Johnson also made a one-handed, highlight-reel grab over the middle in the same game. … Johnson started lining up in the slot more as the season progressed, and it’s expected that he’ll make that his home more in 2013 as the Bills try to find a true No. 1 receiver. Johnson should see plenty of targets from Kevin Kolb, who has a history of peppering inside receivers with targets.
T.J. Graham: Graham was a fish out of water as a rookie. He possesses 4.3 wheels, but was an extremely poor fit for the vertically-challenged Bills. Graham also battled a case of the dropsies down the stretch, dropping four passes in a game he started versus the Seahawks. It was a chore to get the ball in Graham’s hands all season long. Gailey clearly wanted to get it to the third-round pick, but Fitzpatrick didn’t have the arm to do it. Instead, screen passes and quick throws were forced to Graham, and that’s not his game. His longest catch of the season went for 51 yards, and that came when he ran by Jaguars cornerback Kevin Rutland in Week 13, getting down to the one-yard line. … Like Fitzpatrick, new quarterback Kolb doesn’t throw the deep ball very well. Graham is also likely to face more competition for snaps on the outside.
Donald Jones: Jones started in two-wide sets opposite Johnson, but he was the main slot receiver when Graham came on the field. Jones is a pedestrian, run-of-the-mill wideout. The pluses with the 25-year-old are that he can play all over the field and is a willing blocker. Jones did seem to be a favorite of Fitzpatrick’s when the offense got into the red zone. In Week 7 against the Titans, Jones beat safety Michael Griffin on a post route for an easy 15-yard touchdown. In Week 10 versus the Patriots, Jones beat cornerback Alfonzo Dennard for a two-yard touchdown on a quick slant out of the slot. … Jones has since been picked up by the Patriots. He’ll try to earn a roster spot this summer.
Scott Chandler: Chandler kick-started his career under Gailey in Buffalo, but he’s workmanlike and very limited athletically. He’s not going to stretch the field. Chandler also has a nose for the end zone, having scored 12 times in the last two seasons. His 6-foot-7, 260-pound frame makes him a mismatch for slower linebackers and smaller safeties over the middle. In Week 4 against the Patriots, Chandler beat both Pat Chung and Brandon Spikes for 20-plus-yard touchdowns. In Week 13 versus the Jaguars, the lumbering tight end scored from 13 yards out on third-and-six behind Paul Posluszny. Chandler was one of Fitzpatrick’s more reliable third-down targets, along with Johnson. … Chandler is a poor blocker. … Unfortunately, Chandler tore his ACL in Week 16 against the Dolphins. There’s a good chance that he’ll start the 2013 season on the PUP list. Expect the Bills to have their eyes on a pass-catching tight end in the draft.
The Defense: The Bills ran a passive 4-3 under Dave Wannstedt. Blitzes were rare and pressure had to come from the front four. The run defense was absolutely shredded, but Buffalo quietly put out a top-ten pass defense. … Left end Mario Williams started painfully slow after inking a monster contract, but wreaked havoc weekly in the second half of the season. Defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus were also top-notch players, especially Williams. The right side of the line with Mark Anderson, Kyle Moore, and Chris Kelsay are where opposing offenses took advantage of the Bills. Anderson was a free-agent bust, and Kelsay was just too old and slow. He's since retired. … The linebacker corps didn’t trot out stars, but veteran weak-side ‘backer Nick Barnett was nails against the run. Once Nigel Bradham stepped in on the strong side in place of Arthur Moats, the run defense improved slightly. Barnett has been released, so the Bills will be looking for linebackers to fit new DC Mike Pettine’s scheme. … The defensive backfield contains two studs in right cornerback Stephon Gilmore and free safety Jairus Byrd. Gilmore held his own in coverage, but he was called for some ticky-tack pass interference penalties as a rookie. It was impressive the way he shut down fellow rookie and first-round pick Justin Blackmon in Week 13. Byrd is the premier ball-hawking safety in the league, and he came up with timely interceptions in Week 6 against the Cardinals to position the Bills for an overtime win. The weak spot was left cornerback. Aaron Williams was beaten like a drum in coverage. Nickel corners Ron Brooks and Justin Rogers also gave up way too many catches. Wes Welker had his way with Rogers in Week 4, and Brooks gave up the game-winning touchdown to Brandon Gibson of the Rams in Week 14. Leodis McKelvin was re-signed this offseason, and he’s expected to compete for the starting left corner spot. Williams might be asked to move to safety.
2013 Fantasy Player to Watch: C.J. Spiller