It’s no secret the Bills have a lack of prime talent on the roster in 2018. However, going back to the beginning of the season and reaching the level they are playing at now, there have been some signs of encouragement from their young players, starting with the most obvious, rookie quarterback Josh Allen.
The Bills were forced to throw Allen into the fire during the first week of the season when most analysts thought he shouldn’t even see the field at all this year. Allen did not look comfortable at all and showed why he was deserving of the criticism before and after the draft. He also showed flashes of the upside that justified picking him in the draft, gutting out wins against the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans.
When Allen was injured in the game against the Houston Texans, many thought it would be a blessing in disguise (as long as the injury wasn’t too serious) because the injury would allow Allen to take a step back and learn from the sidelines. The time he spent off the field seemed to help him. During his first two games back at the helm, Allen has carried the offense.
Using both his arm and his legs, Allen has been by far the best offensive player on the field. There is still a hard learning curve for Allen but if he can have these types of performances at this stage of his career, it definitely gives signs of hope going forward.
At wide receiver, the Bills shifted the focus to their younger, faster players in Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie. Foster struggled with drops earlier in the season which resulted in him ending up on the practice squad. Since finding his way back to the active roster, he has made the most of his opportunity, emerging as deep threat option for Josh Allen. The Bills finally have a receiver on the field that defenses have to respect because of his speed.
The Bills picked Isaiah McKenzie a few weeks ago and he has also become a factor as a gadget type play-maker, getting involved in the running game as well as the passing game. In his second year in the NFL, wide receiver Zay Jones has made significant improvement after a rough rookie year and puzzling off-season. Jones is emerging as the number one receiver, showing why the Bills drafted him. He has a knack for getting open and making tough catches that he wasn’t able to hold on to during his rookie season.
It’s clear the offensive line has been a glaring weakness this season, so the Bills have been doing some shuffling across the front five in an attempt to find out what they have going forward. Wyatt Teller started his third straight game at left guard and despite some rookie mistakes (several holding penalties) he is showing some promise as a future piece of the offensive line, or at least a back-up who can step in when needed.
On defense, there are several young players making key contributions. Starting with the rookies, Tremaine Edmunds, at just 20 years old has taken on a big responsibility as the “quarterback” of the defense and run with it. His natural speed and athleticism has already been on display with several big plays. He’s also had some rookie growing pains along the way, getting caught out of position several times throughout the season. However, Edmunds has also shown he is the ‘total package’ at middle linebacker who has the ability to develop into the centerpiece of the Bills’ defense for years to come.
Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips has quietly become a key piece in the defensive line rotation who can take over for Kyle Williams when the time comes. Taron Johnson, who has a nose for finding the ball and isn’t afraid to make a big hit, is turning out to be a steal as a fourth round draft pick. Undrafted rookie cornerback Levi Wallace was also thrust in to the lineup opposite Tre’Davious White due to injuries and lack of depth. He’s been solid for the most part.
Second year players such as Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano have become Pro Bowl caliber players, picking up right where they left off last season. Shaq Lawson, after questions if he would even make the roster has become a pleasant surprise in the defensive line rotation. These are all young players who can continue to improve and anchor the defense for years to come.
Editor’s babble: Although it was a heart-wrenching loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, young Bills players got a taste of the Bills/Dolphins rivalry which has stood the test of time. Thanks to Erik Smeal for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819.