2006 Was A Year Of Development

2006 started off with the Bills being a team of chaos in the offseason. A "rookie" GM, a returning coach who quickly resigned, and more press conferences in the first month of the offseason then during the season. Dick Jauron came on board and with a solid draft and sound, disciplined play, gave us a team that showed tremendous growth and a respectable 7-9 finish which had the team in the playoff hunt until week 16. That gives everyone great hope for a playoff berth next season. Now for the seventh year in a row we do our position by position final exam grades as well as individual player grades for key players at each position. We also will take a look ahead at one might happen with next season's roster:

Quarterbacks: J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Craig Nall

The Bills went into this season with one main goal... to find out if Losman can play quarterback in this league. The answer was a resounding yes. Dick Jauron has already named Losman as the quarterback for next season based on a solid season. He struggled after a 2-2 start making people wonder if a change was needed but the coaching staff stayed with Losman and gradually opened up the playbook and he started to shine. He finished the year 11th in the league with a QB rating of 84.9 as he became only the third Bills quarterback to take every snap in a season. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He led back to back last minute victories against Houston and Jacksonville which was his coming out party.
Final Overall Grade B: Showed solid improvement as the year progressed.
Losman B: The Bills have their quarterback of the future.
Holcomb Incomplete: Will likely not be in the Bills plans next year.
Nall Incomplete: The Bills spent a lot of money on Nall, expect him to be the number two guy next year.

Running Backs: Willis McGahee, Anthony Thomas, Shaud Williams, Damion Shelton, Brad Cieslak

McGahee got off to a fine start thanks to a 150 yard game against the Jets in week 3 but after injuring his ribs, that cost him more than two games, he struggled. He just missed his third 1,000 yard season, finishing with 990 yards on just 259 carries for a 3.8 yard average. When he was hurt Thomas came in and played well. He showed his worth in the opener when he rumbled for a touchdown, he also had two fine starts in place of McGahee. Williams barely saw the field and was inactive for most games. He had two carries for two yards. Shelton struggled a lot in blocking and was replaced by the TE Cieslak late in the year after suffering a head injury. Cieslak didn't fare much better.
Final Overall Grade D: McGahee hasn't proven to be an elite back yet.
McGahee D: He wants a new deal but will likely not get it, he may holdout or even be traded.
Thomas B: Showed he's a solid backup and they will look to resign him this year, he's an unrestricted free agent.
Williams Incomplete: Can't see him fitting into the team's plans next year.
Shelton D: At 35, he's likely played his last game in Buffalo.
Cieslak C: He played admirably out of position but will move back to TE next year.

Receivers: Lee Evans, Peerless Price, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, Andre Davis, Sam Aiken, Robert Royal, Brad Cieslak, Ryan Neufeld, Kevin Everett

The question in this unit was if he Evans could be a true number one receiver with Eric Moulds gone. It was made even harder by the lack of production from the number two slot. Evans overcame that and had a fantastic year and developed into a budding superstar at receiver. After a slow start as he got used to the top spot, he really shined. He finished with 82 catches for 1,292 yards, fifth highest yard total in club history. His best game was against Houston when he caught two 83 yard touchdown passes in one quarter and had 265 yards receiving in that game alone. Price never developed a chemistry with Losman and caught only 49 passes for 402 yards. His highlight also came in the Houston game when he made a nice diving catch for the winning touchdown with seconds remaining. Reed played well in the slot this year and was a go to guy on third downs and finished with 34 catches for 410 yards despite missing a few games with a bruised kidney. Parrish showed some explosiveness but wasn't overly used. He had a pretty catch and run touchdown early in the first game against the Jets. He finished with 23 catches for 320 yards. Davis was used very sparingly at receiver finishing with just two catches. Aiken was used mainly on special teams. At tight end, the Bills finally started throwing to this group late in the season and Royal finished with a career high 23 catches for 233 yards and touchdowns in three straight games. He also had one big bonehead play when he didn't get both feet down on an option pass from Evans against Tennessee. Cieslak was activated after Neufeld went down with a season ending knee injury. He caught six passes while Neufeld caught one, but that was for a touchdown. Everett was supposed to develop into a downfield receiving threat after missing his rookie year with a knee injury. That didn't happen as he caught only one pass for one yard.
Final Overall Grade C: The unit improved when the offense improved.
Evans A: Is the premier receiver on this team for the foreseeable future.
Price D: Will probably be back but the team may look elsewhere for a true number two receiver.
Reed B: Did a real good job in his role, and will be back next year.
Parrish C: Showed he can take a hit despite his smallish size. Look for a bigger role in the receiving game next year.
Aiken Incomplete: Didn't see the field at receiver, will be back for his special teams play.
Davis Incomplete: Also a special teamer, barely played receiver but the team will likely want him back.
Royal B: They are very happy with what they got from this free agent signee.
Cieslak C: They love his attitude but he'll have to fight for a job next year.
Neufeld Incomplete: The injury may end his career in Buffalo.
Everett F: A third round bust from the Donahoe era, can't see him being back.

Offensive Line: Jason Peters, Melvin Fowler, Chris Villarrial, Duke Preston, Mike Gandy, Tutan Reyes, Terrance Pennington

The Bills had many problems with the offensive line and did a major overhaul during their bye week and it showed some positive results. The team moved Peters from right tackle to left tackle at the bye week. Peters really came on and developed into a top notch tackle, always holding his own against the top pass rushers. Gandy moved from left tackle to left guard. He was awful at tackle as he was a human turnstile that caused Losman to get hit on his blind side too many times. He performed much better at guard which is his natural position. Fowler started every game at center and despite a lack of size, he used his speed and performed well. Villarrial was the starting left guard until a season ending injury forced Preston into the lineup. Villarrial struggled as his age is showing. Preston showed promise and played well despite being next to a seventh round pick in Pennington. He took over when Peters moved to the left side and performed better then expected but did get help from the tight ends and the backs. Reyes was a free agent signee and slotted in at left guard but was benched in the shakeup and never was activated again.
Final Overall Grade C-: The shakeup helped but much work needs to be done in the offseason.
Peters A: They have a fixture at left tackle for years to come.
Fowler B: Was the steady ship in the middle of the defense. Will be there next year.
Villarrial D: The aging veteran will likely retire.
Preston C+: Will have a chance at starting next year but will likely face competition.
Gandy C: Will likely be back to fight for a guard spot but he's an unrestricted free agent.
Reyes F: Won't be back next year.
Pennington B: Showed promise but the first round pick may be used on a left tackle putting him back on the bench.

Defensive Line: Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay, Ryan Denney, Larry Tripplett, Kyle Williams, Tim Anderson, John McCargo, Jason Jefferson, Anthony Hargrove

Schobel finally got his due and was named to the Pro Bowl thanks to his 14 sacks on the season. He had help from the combination of Kelsay and Denney on the other side as Kelsay had 5½ sacks and Denney had 6. The ends really were helped by the new cover two defense that had them attacking the quarterback instead of dropping into coverage. While the ends were great the tackles struggled. Tripplett was the big free agent signing but only had two or three good games. He had 2½ sacks and was constantly moved out of the middle. The rookie Williams beat out the veteran Anderson for the starting spot next to Tripplett early in the year. Neither player performed well although Williams had his best game in the finale against Baltimore. McCargo struggled early but the light bulb appeared to be going off just when he hurt his foot and missed two-thirds of the season. Jefferson saw very limited action but they did give him an extended look in the finale. Hargrove was traded for early in the season and showed a lot of promise. He is a fiery guy who was always around the ball.
Final Overall Grade C-: A B for the ends and an F for the tackles.
Schobel A: Still a fixture at right end.
Kelsay B+: Solid season entering free agency, will likely keep him.
Denney B+: Could become every down player next year if Kelsay doesn't return.
Tripplett F: A real disappointment, may have to battle for his job next year.
Williams C: Showed some development, looks to improve next year.
Anderson F: May not be back next year.
McCargo Incomplete: Likely still another year away from showing his first round talent.
Jefferson Incomplete: Will get a look in training camp next year.
Hargrove B+: Could be a major contributor next season.

Linebackers: London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, Angelo Crowell, Keith Ellison, Coy Wire, Josh Stamer, Mario Haggan

Another year, another year of leading the team in tackles for Fletcher with 146. He also led the way with four interceptions. He had to call the plays for a very young defense and still made a lot of plays, unfortunately too many of them were made downfield. Spikes had a tough year returning from his Achilles injury. He had a triumphant return on the first play of the season where he sacked Tom Brady, forcing a fumble that Fletcher returned for a score, one of two touchdowns Fletcher had on the season. The next series he pulled a hamstring costing him a month of the season and he never got back to the player he once was. He did play better late in the season. Crowell moved between weakside and strongside when Spikes was hurt and had a fantastic year until he broke his foot late in the season. Ellison was the surprise of the rookie class and played very well, especially for a sixth round pick. He was all over the field replacing Spikes and Crowell. Wire made a surprise move to linebacker from safety and made some plays in the running game. Stamer got hurt early in the season and Haggan played mostly special teams and goal line defense.
Final Overall Grade C: Would have been better with a healthy Spikes.
Fletcher A: Was the heart and soul of the defense but is as good as gone in free agency.
Spikes D: With an offseason of rest, he hopefully rediscovers his game next year.
Crowell A: A new fixture at linebacker, may move the middle next year if Fletcher leaves.
Ellison A: Unsung rookie hero, may challenge for starting job next year.
Wire C: May return next year to battle for a spot on the depth chart at linebacker.
Stamer Incomplete: Solid special teams player, will never be a starter at LB.
Haggan Incomplete: See Stamer above.

Secondary: Nate Clements, Terrence McGee, Donte Whitner, Ko Simpson, Kiwaukee Thomas, Jabari Greer, Ashton Youboty, Jim Leonhard, Matt Bowen

After some early season struggles, the Bills decided to lineup Clements against the opponents top receiver every game. The moved worked to make Clements a very rich man next year. Clements took the challenge and had a great season constantly shutting down top receivers like Marvin Harrison. Andre Johnson, and Chris Chambers. He had three interceptions including a score. McGee had a nightmarish first half of the season and lost confidence. He was even benched once but he rallied for a strong second half. Thomas emerged as the nickel back and was a solid player. Greer played in the dime and he replaced McGee for a time in the lineup. Youboty only played in one game after missing most of training camp due to the death of his mother. At safety, rookies Whitner and Simpson had to play earlier then expected because of injuries to Bowen and Troy Vincent. Whitner finished second in the team in tackles. Simpson had two picks, neither rookie allowed big plays in the passing game. Leonhard had one surprise start at safety when Whitner was hurt.
Final Overall Grade B: Pass defense finished 7th in the league.
Clements A: He will leave for a big contract elsewhere in free agency.
McGee C-: Will likely be the number one guy next year.
Whitner A: Will be even better next year.
Simpson B Whitner and Simpson will be a fixture at safety for years to come.
Thomas B: Will likely play elsewhere next year since he wants to play closer to home.
Greer C: Will have to fight for a job next year.
Youboty Incomplete: Needs to make a huge leap next year to battle for a starting job.
Bowen Incomplete: Barely played because of a leg injury in preseason, will likely be back though in a reserve role.
Leonhard B: They love his attitude and work ethic, he'll be back.

Special Teams: Rian Lindell, Brian Moorman, Terrence McGee, Roscoe Parrish, Mike Schneck

Lindell had the best kicking year in team history. He was 23 of 25 on field goal attempts including 10 of 12 from outside the 40 including a perfect 2 for 2 from 50 yards or more. He has never missed an extra point in his career. Moorman got to his second straight pro bowl and fell just short of a 40 yard net average. McGee had a slightly down year with a 26.1 yard average. Parrish averaged 11.4 yards on punt returns including a magical 82 yard return for a score. The coverage teams did a great job covering punts and kicks led by Haggan, Davis, Greer, and Aiken.
Final Overall Grade B+: Bobby April's unit was consistent again.
Lindell A+: Armed with a new contract, he will be here for five more years.
Moorman A+: He continues to be the best punter of the game.
Return Game B: slight regression from last year, but still very good.
Coverage Teams B: Had a few mishaps but did a solid job.
Schneck B: Had some snaps offline but Moorman got them all down.

Coaching: Dick Jauron, Steve Fairchild, Perry Fewell, Bobby April

Jauron took over a team in turmoil and settled the ship. The players believed in him and played hard until the end. The team finished with a team record low in penalties and yards for a 16 game season, that showed the new found discipline on the team. Fewell's unit improved in the second half of the year and he was fantastic in making second half adjustments as the unit always performed better after halftime. Fairchild did a nice job bringing Losman along and opened up the playbook at the right time when his quarterback began developing.
Final Overall Grade A: It's nice to have consistency on the coaching staff.
Jauron A: Looking forward to what he'll do with a year under his belt.
Fairchild B: Look for the offense to open up even more next year.
Fewell B: If he can get the team to play in the first half like the second half, it will be an elite unit.
April A: Continues to get everything he can out of the unit.

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