Jan 062014
 

Kiko Alonso2013 saw some outstanding performances among defensive rookies, and we have nominated eight for the award won by Luke Kuechly last season. This year’s nominees include (in alphabetical order):

Kiko Alonso, BUF (6-10, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INT)
Jarvis Jones, PIT (8-8, 40 tackles, 1 sack)
Star Lotulelei, CAR (12-4, 42 tackles, 3 sacks)
Tyrann Mathieu, ARI (10-6, 68 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT)
Alec Ogletree, STL (7-9, 117 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD)
Sheldon Richardson, NYJ (8-8, 76 tackles, 3.5 sacks)
Logan Ryan, NE (12-4, 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5 INT, 1 TD)
Desmond Trufant, ATL (4-12, 70 tackles, 2 INT)

This award generated a wide variety of opinions among our contributors, as three different players accumulated first place votes, and one player who received a second place vote and three third place votes didn’t make the final cut (Logan Ryan), nor did another player who received a first place vote (Star Lotulelei). When all the votes are tallied, here are the top three vote winners:

Third Place: Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis Rams

Ogletree led a resurgent Rams’ defense with 117 tackles while forcing six fumbles. Ogletree also returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown, had a sack and a half and ten pass breakups. The first round sellection from the University of Georgia, coupled with defensive end Robert Quinn, give Jeff Fisher a solid defensive nucleus entering the 2014 season.

Second Place: Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, New York Jets (2 1st place votes)

One of our two selections from the AFC East, Richardson single-handedly made new GM John Idzik look pretty bright this season, as the budding star dominated the line of scrimmage and was a force against opposition running games. Despite being a rookie and joining a very talented defensive front, Richardson proved to be arguably the best defensive player on the Jets’ roster. Richardson closed the season with 76 tackles and three and a half sacks.

First Place: Kiko Alonso, linebacker, Buffalo Bills (4 1st place votes)

Jets’ fans may disagree, but we agree with Mel Kiper on this one. Alonso was the best defensive rookie in the NFL in 2013, nearly on par with Kuechly’s performance in 2012. Alonso recorded 159 tackles in 2013, while helping the Bills improve to the tenth ranked offense (in defensive yards allowed). The secondary proved to be the bane of Buffalo’s defensive unit, but Alonso quickly established himself as a dominant and disruptive presence, picking off four passes while breaking up another nine, and tallying two sacks, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Alonso finished third in the league in tackles, behind only Vontaze Burfict and Paul Posluszny.

Jun 122013
 

Doug Marrone8. Buffalo Bills
Head Coach: Doug Marrone
2012 Record: 6-10
2012 Offense: 344 points scored, 21st in points, 19th in yards (25th passing, 6th rushing)
2012 Defense: 435 points allowed, 26th in points, 22nd in yards (10th passing, 31st rushing)

 

Key Additions
Head Coach Doug Marrone, QB Kevin Kolb, DL Alan Branch, LB Jerry Hughes, LB Manny Lawson, QB EJ Manuel, WR Robert Woods, LB Kiko Alonso, WR Marquise Goodwin

Key Losses
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB Tavaris Jackson, G Andy Levitre, DB Terrence McGee, DB George Wilson, LB Kelvin Sheppard, DE Shawne Merriman, DE Kyle Moore, LB Nick Barnett, WR Donald Jones, DE Chris Kelsay, WR David Nelson

Why 2013 will be better
To be blunt, it won’t be. Buffalo is entering (yet another) rebuilding year, with the Bills slugging it out with the Jets for the basement of the AFC East. Kolb showed some potential last season in Arizona before getting hurt, but his track record to date is that of an up and down quarterback with nearly as many interceptions (25) as touchdowns (28). EJ Manuel is a project with big potential upside, but he won’t be ready to save a season if Kolb falters or gets hurt again. The strength of the offense is in the running game, where the Bills feature Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller, two of the more talented backs in the league. The defensive line is a solid unit with Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alan Branch, and Alex Carrington. The Bills have the potential to shut down opposing running games and apply consistent pressure, but both Anderson and Dareus must step up their games on a consistent basis. Jairus Byrd is a solid safety playing on a franchise tag,and Aaron Williams has converted from corner to safety. The Bills also added two safeties in the draft, giving them plenty of depth in this group.

Why 2013 will be worse
Beyond mediocrity at quarterback, the receiving unit is thin, to put it mildly. After Stevie Johnson (a thousand yard receiver for the past three seasons), the burden immediately falls onto rookies Woods and Goodwin, with only TJ Graham and Brad Smith having any real experience. TE Scott Chandler promises to be a big target for Kolb, but will also likely draw a lot of defensive attention this season if he can successfully return from an ACL injury. The Bills failed to replace guard Andy Levitre in the off-season, and really failed to address the entire offensive line in the draft. Beyond center and right guard the line is in flux, which doesn’t bode well for protecting Kolb for sixteen games, particularly with a quarterback who is known to hold onto the ball too long. On defense, the linebacking corps is an underwhelming group anchored by Hughes and Lawson, and rookie Alonso figures heavily into their plans. The Bills ranked 31st in run defense last season, and they will face challenges anytime a back breaks through the defensive line this season. In the secondary, after second year player Stephon Gilmore, the Bills are decidedly undermanned at corner, with Leodis McKelvin the best among ho-hum options.

Outlook
I was fooled in 2012 into thinking the Bills had solved their defensive woes and would be a playoff contender. Instead, the defense fell apart and the offense was erratic, leading to another lost season in Western New York. I won’t be fooled this season into thinking that the new linebackers will be a huge improvement, or into believing that Kolb is a significant upgrade over Fitzpatrick. More likely the Bills are in the start of a two to three season overhaul, assuming their management has the patience to stick to the plan. And assuming, of course, that there is a plan. This is a Buffalo team that will score 40 points one week and seven the next, with a defense that will consistently give up 21 or more. Three to six wins appears to be this team’s range in 2013.