It’s a universal constant in the NFL that by the third year in the league a player begins to define how effective they can be. For the 2010 Buffalo Bills draft class this upcoming season is vitally important. Keep in mind this was Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey’s first draft with the organization. Taking a look back a few years ago the Bills selected C.J. Spiller with the 9th overall pick, Torrell Troup in the second round, followed by Alex Carrington, Marcus Easley, Ed Wang, Arthur Moats, Danny Batten, Levi Brown and Kyle Calloway. With the exception of Spiller, Wang, and Calloway the majority of the draft class came from smaller schools lacking in reputation for having strong football programs. Wang, Brown and Calloway are no longer with the team and the majority of those remaining have yet to have much of an impact at the pro level.
Spiller: Spiller burst onto the scene in his rookie season, winning the starting running back job over both Marshawn Lynch and Freddy Jackson, only to be unseated after the first week of the season. Spiller struggled mightily to make much of an impact for the remainder of the year and was relegated mostly to return duties. In his sophomore campaign he was a non-factor for the first 11 weeks of the season, with exception of a solid performance in week two against the Raiders. Looking like another in a long line of first round busts, Spiller finally got his opportunity to shine after Jackson went down with a season-ending injury in week 11 against the Dolphins. In Jackson’s stead, Spiller exploded onto the scene, finishing the last six games rushing for 446 yards along with 205 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. Spiller still has plenty to prove to justify his status as a top ten pick but if the final half of the 2011 season is any indicator, 2012 looks like it could be a breakout year for the former Clemson star.
Troup: The remainder of the draft class has done little or nothing in their two years in the league thus far. Troup may be the most disappointing of the class. In 21 career games he’s amassed 31 total tackles, no sacks and has had trouble staying on the field with multiple injuries impeding his progress. Troup was expected to be the centerpiece around the Bills’ 3-4 front, developing into the team’s nose tackle of the future. With the emergence of Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams locked in as a starter next to him, Troup will be counted on as a rotational player in the middle when the Bills switch to a 4-3 front this season. He will be facing some stiff competition in camp however with Spencer Johnson, Dwan Edwards, fellow 2010 pick Carrington and 2011 upstart Kellen Heard all expected to battle it out for playing time. It’s not incomprehensible to think that unless Troup has an exceptional training camp and preseason he may get cut before the season starts.
Carrington: Carrington was drafted as a 3-4 defensive end out of football powerhouse Arkansas State (I’m being sarcastic if you can’t tell). In two years in the league thus far Carrington has totaled just two sacks and 24 tackles. He has shown a propensity to block kicks on special teams but for all intents and purposes he’s had little impact on the defensive side of the ball. Carrington has shown flashes of being able to put pressure on opposing QBs at times but with a loaded defensive end corps that includes Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, and Shawne Merriman, his best chance of making the team will likely be at defensive tackle. At 6-5, 301 he has a build similar to that of Chris Canty who’s made a solid career of being a pass rushing defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. Like Troup, 2012 will be a make or break year for Carrington and with a loaded defensive line depth chart, he’ll need to impress in training camp and the preseason to stay on the roster.
Easley: With the exception of Spiller, Easley is the most intriguing member of the class. Going into camp in his rookie season he was an early favorite to be a big part of the offense. A knee injury in camp cost him his rookie campaign however. Going into last season he was the odds on favorite to take over the number two receiver job opposite of Stevie Johnson after Lee Evans was traded to Baltimore. In fact, it looked like he had the job locked down after a couple impressive preseason performances but never played a game in 2011 because of a defective heart condition. Once a player with such promise is now in a vitally important year to prove he can produce at this level and he’s never even played in a regular season NFL game. Heading into this offseason the Bills were very interested in former New Orleans receiver Robert Meachem to hold down the number two receiver position but he fled town without a contract to be a number one in San Diego. When the free agent market dried up the Bills opted to select T.J. Graham with their third selection but he’ll be used more as a slot receiver/deep threat instead of a number two. Most experts speculate that the starting spot opposite of Johnson is Easley’s to lose With an impressive camp Easley should be locked in opposite of Johnson when the Bills travel to New York on September 9.
Batten and Moats: Batten and Moats have had vastly different results thus far in the NFL. Both coming from small schools (South Dakota State and James Madison respectively) the pair was expected to be developmental outside linebackers who chipped in on special teams. Batten lost his rookie season to injury, while Moats showed flashes of brilliance. Moats showed a propensity for getting after the quarterback and the defining moment of his career thus far saw him hammer Brett Favre, causing an interception and effectively ending Favre’s record consecutive start streak. He finished the season with 2.5 sacks and was a constant presence in opposing backfields for the majority of the season. Moats took a step back last season mostly because he was rarely utilized but again finished with 2.5 sacks including one sack in each of the last two games of the season.
Batten made some plays on special teams last season but his inconsistent play decreased his playing time as the season wore on. Both Moats and Batten will face the stiffest competition of their young careers in camp this year. With Kirk Morrison, Kelvin Sheppard and Nick Barnett locked in as the starters at linebacker, Moats and Batten will be forced to compete for backup roles and special team spots. The Bills added Nigel Bradham in the fourth round and Tank Carder in the fifth of this year’s draft and both are essentially a lock to make this year’s roster. Add in last year’s fifth round draft pick Chris White, who was a solid special teams performer, and there’s no guarantee that there will be room for both Moats and Batten. Moats certainly has a better shot with his past pass rushing success but the Bills are only likely to keep six or seven linebackers and with a loaded depth chart he’ll need to separate himself from the competition.