2011 Was A Season That Crashed Hard

The 2011 season was the 12th straight year that the Bills missed the playoffs. They got off to a great start that for a minute made it seem like they may end that drought. The season came crashing down around them as they lost eight of their last nine games. Now for the 12th 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 what might happen with next season's roster:

Quarterbacks: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen, Brad Smith

The two halves of the season were polar opposites for Fitzpatrick. He was on fire the first half the year and used it to cash in on a big contract that makes him the face of the franchise. He put up some good numbers as he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 24 touchdown passes. He finished third in team history in yards and second in completions. The downside was that he led the league with 23 interceptions although many of those came when the team was trying to mount huge comebacks.
Final Overall Grade C: The Bills are committed to Fitz now he must stop making too many mistakes.
Fitzpatrick C: For better or worse he's the franchise quarterback and the starter for the foreseeable future.
Thigpen F: Will likely remain the backup but showed nothing in his brief appearances.
Smith Incomplete: Only threw one pass out of the wildcat and saw more time at wide receiver. Chan Gailey will look at more ways to get him involved.

Running Backs: Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Tashard Choice, Johnny White, Corey McIntyre

Jackson was having a season for the ages before he broke his fibula and missed the last month and a half of the season. He still managed 934 yards rushing and 442 yards receiving despite missing six games. His injury opened the door for Spiller to finally show signs of being a really good NFL running back. He ran the ball better as the season progressed and finished with 561 yards, most came after Jackson went down. He also saw some time at wide receiver. Choice was signed when Jackson went down and was used on third downs and by the goal line. He struggled a lot and scored one touchdown.
Final Overall Grade A: This may be the one position they don't have to worry about at all.
Jackson A+: Will be the starter again but Spiller will eat into his carries.
Spiller B+: Not a bust after all and is the future at the position. Chan Gailey said that they will likely split carries close to 50-50.
Choice D: Unrestricted free agent shouldn't be back next year despite his college ties to Gailey.
White Incomplete: They like his talent and should be back as the third back.
McIntyre B: He's a throw back blocking fullback and will be back.

Receivers: Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Brad Smith, Naaman Roosevelt, Derek Hagan, Ruvell Martin, Roscoe Parrish, Scott Chandler

Johnson became the first receiver in team history to have back to back 1,000 yard seasons. Nelson got off to a great start in the slot but struggled as the season went on. Jones struggled as the number two guy before being hurt and being replaced by Smith. Parrish suffered an early season injury and the rest of the receivers were used as depth players. Chandler was a nice surprise at tight end.
Final Overall Grade D: Just not enough talent on this unit.
Johnson A-: Says he wants to come back and the Bills have made him their top offseason priority. Now will he sign or look for more money elsewhere?
Nelson B: Likely to be the slot guy again unless they upgrade the position in free agency or the draft.
Jones D: Not talented enough to be a number two but Chan Gailey really likes him so he will likely be an integral part of the offense again.
Smith D: Gailey said he didn't have the benefit of an offseason program to develop ways to use the talented player. Let's see what he does this offseason.
Roosevelt C: Led the team in yards per catch and will likely be given a chance to make the team next year.
Hagan A: Showed promise in the short time he was on the field. Will likely be brought back and given a chance to move up the depth chart. He is an unrestricted free agent.
Martin C: No reason to bring him back unless they need another special teams player. He is an unrestricted free agent who won't likely command much attention on the open market.
Parrish Incomplete: Hurt very early in the season and likely won't be brought back because he can't stay healthy.
Chandler A: Should be a priority to re-sign but the Bills don't seem to think so. He was their first success at tight end in years.

Offensive Line: Demeterius Bell, Chris Hairston, Eric Wood, Adam Levitre, Erik Pears, Kraig Urbik, Chad Rinehart, Colin Brown

This unit had a rash of injuries that concluded with four different players starting at the center position. They also had to rotate between Bell and Hairston at left tackle because of injuries and Levitre had to play in three different spots. Despite all that the unit was surprisingly successful. They led the league in sacks allowed with just 23 and paved the way for a 4.9 yards per carry.
Final Overall Grade A: Incredible improvement for this unit and once healthy they should continue to improve.
Bell B: Really coming into his own but can't stay healthy. He's unrestricted but they will like to bring him back to battle Hairston and a new addition for the starting job.
Hairston B-: Showed a lot of promise and got more playing time in his rookie season than they thought. Has a good chance to start at left tackle next year.
Wood A: Will remain a fixture at center as he really stabilized the line. When he went out of the lineup with a season ending injury the offense suffered.
Levitre A: Showed tremendous versatility and succeeded at guard and tackle but struggled at center. Will start once again at left guard next year. .
Pears A: Very consistent at right tackle starting all 16 games. With new contract in hand will stay there next year.
Urbik B: Played well at right guard and filled in nicely at center. Will be back as he will definitely be tendered as a restricted free agent.
Rinehart B: Played a lot of guard while others got moved around to tackle and center. Played well and will be tendered as a restricted free agent.
Brown D: Saw little action at guard and started one game at center and really struggled. Likely won't be back.

Defensive Line: Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Dwan Edwards, Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, Kellen Heard

In the second season of the 3-4 defense the Bills continued to struggle despite getting a bit stouter in the middle of the defense. They got no pass rush as Dareus led the team with 5½ sacks. The injury to Williams really hurt this unit and Troup could not fill in because of a bad back.
Final Overall Grade C-: Showed some promise but need to get pressure on the quarterback.
Williams C: They need him to come back 100% healthy next year.
Dareus B: Had an acceptable rookie campaign but needs to take a huge step next year to be dominant.
Edwards C: Slowing down and will likely not fit in to their plans next year if they move back to the 4-3.
Troup Incomplete: Needs to fully recover from his back problems to start proving he's not a bust.
Carrington D: Showed a few flashes but not enough. He's heading into bust territory as well.
Heard B: Really played well down the stretch and could be a good backup next year.

Linebackers: Nick Barnett, Chris Kelsay, Shawne Merriman, Kelvin Sheppard, Andra Davis, Spencer Johnson, Arthur Moats, Danny Batten, Kirk Morrison, Chris White

This unit was strong up the middle as Barnett was an upgrade over Paul Posluzny and Sheppard really developed quickly for a rookie. The ends struggled in pass rushing especially when Merriman went down with his season ending injury. Kelsay and Johnson were playing out of position and did their best work when their hand was on the ground in the four man front.
Final Overall Grade C-: Hopefully the 3-4 experiment is now over.
Barnett A: Was solid as a rock in the middle of the defense. Will be there again next year.
Kelsay B: Will likely go back to his natural end position next year in a 4-3 defense.
Merriman Incomplete: Will get one more chance to prove he can be healthy.
Sheppard B+: Really developed quickly as a rookie. Will be the starter next season alongside Barnett.
Davis D Showed leadership despite not playing. He is as good as gone as an unrestricted free agent. Likely heading to a coaching job somewhere.
Johnson D: Played out of position and struggled in containment. Likely headed back to the defensive line.
Moats B: Showed flashes as a situational pass rusher. Will likely be used in that role again next year on the outside. May struggle more if they go 4-3.
Batten C: Will struggle if they go 4-3 since he's a classic tweener on the outside.
Morrison Incomplete: As Barnett's backup barely saw the field. Unrestricted free agent that likely won't return.
White Incomplete: They like this rookie's talent but need to get him healthy to see where he fits in.

Secondary: Terrence McGee, Drayton Florence, Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers, Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Da'Norris Searcy, Bryan Scott, Reggie Corner,

The secondary struggled more and more as the season went on. It didn't help that they couldn't get a pass rush leaving this unit hung out to dry. The safeties led by Wilson and Byrd played very solid all year long. The corners had uneven seasons with the two rookies Williams and Rogers showing promise and McKelvin looking more and more like a bust.
Final Overall Grade C: An A for the safeties and a D for the corners.
McGee D: Another injury plagued season may be his last in Buffalo.
Florence C: Had a very uneven season mixing in good games with bad ones. His veteran leadership will be needed next year as the young players develop.
Williams B: Was beaten on many plays like rookies often are but showed a lot of promise and should start from day one next year.
McKelvin F: Showed great technique but just couldn't make the plays. He was constantly being burned downfield. He may be released before next season starts and doesn't fit into their plans in the defensive backfield.
Rogers B: For a seventh round draft pick really showed some talent as a cover corner. May get a chance to start next year.
Byrd A: Has developed into an excellent all around safety and will be starting again next year. They need to lock him up this offseason as he is a free agent after 2012.
Wilson B: First year as a full time starter and didn't disappoint. Makes a solid duo with Byrd for years to come.
Searcy B Did a nice job when Wilson went down. Will be the main backup safety next year again.
Scott B: Played a unique role as a hybrid safety/linebacker. He's an unrestricted free agent they will try to bring back because of his unique abilities.
Corner D: Was released and brought back but barely played. An unrestricted free agent who's time in Buffalo has come to an end.

Special Teams: Rian Lindell, Dave Rayner, Brandon Couto, Brian Moorman, C.J. Spiller, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers, Brad Smith, Garrison Sanborn

Moorman followed his worst year with perhaps his best year as he broke his own club record with a 48.2 gross punting average. Lindell had his superb season cut short by a shoulder injury. The Bills used three kickers this year. McKelvin had the lone return for a touchdown as the new kick rules kept kick returns to a minimum.
Final Overall Grade B: Had a better than average season overall.
Lindell A: Is a free agent but they desperately want him back for next season.
Rayner B: Did a nice job early in replacing Lindell but struggled as the season went on. Won't be brought back.
Couto F: Played in season finale and missed his only field goal. Won't be given a second look.
Moorman A: Great year as he will continue his illustrious career with the team next year.
Return Game C: Hurt by kickoff yard line change. Justin Rogers looks like the real deal as a kick returner.
Coverage Teams A: Allowed worst average kickoff start by opponents in the league.
Sanborn A: Is one of the best snappers in the league. Restricted free agent who will be tendered.

Coaching: Chan Gailey, George Edwards, Bruce DeHaven

It was almost a tale of two halves for the Bills. The 5-2 start had the coaching staff doing nothing wrong but then the total collapse happened that resulted in a seven game losing streak. The defense actually regressed from 2010 nobody thought that was possible. It cost George Edwards his job. Special teams were average while the offense did show marked improvement.
Final Overall Grade C-: Very disappointing after hot start.
Gailey C-: Will be on the hot seat this time next year if the Bills don't show marked improvement in 2012.
Edwards F: It is now up to Dave Wannstedt to fix the defense.
DeHaven B: Special teams showed improvement in 2011 now they need to figure out how to get more out of the return game.

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