Keys to Bills Offensive Improvement

BUFFALO, N.Y.- Last summer, Bills offensive coordinator Nate Hackett had elaborate plans for the offense, and he excited the team's fans with proclamations of giving C.J. Spiller the ball "until he throws up." NFL insiders took notice and some had him on future head coach watch lists.

When the season started, very little went according to plan.

Injuries hit the Bills offense hard, most notably with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. Hackett had to water down his plans with different quarterbacks leading the offense from week to week. In addition to that, the Bills had a glaring lack of depth at key offensive positions.

Enter wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams, and running backs Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown, and Hackett should be able to have some fun designing this year's offense.

After surrendering next year's first and fourth-round draft picks to Cleveland to move up and select Watkins at fourth-overall, the Bills intend to win now. The acquisitions should help them do just that.

Buffalo hasn't had this amount of depth at playmaking positions in quite some time. Just how improved will the skill positions be?

Wide receivers

Watkins will receive the most attention from other team's defenses. While not the biggest receiver available at 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Watkins adds size and will finally put an end to the Bills never-ending need for, from the words of Bills executives Buddy Nix and Doug Whaley, a "receiver who is open when he's not open."

Watkins had three extremely successful years at Clemson, leaving the school as the all-time leader in receptions with 240. Whaley has called him a potentially dominant offensive weapon, and the Bills reportedly believe Watkins will eventually be a top-five receiver in the league.

Joining Watkins in the Bills new, deep crop of receivers is former Syracuse Orange player Williams. The Buffalo (Riverside) native played collegiately for one season under Bills coach Doug Marrone in 2009, but quit the team during the season. He has had difficulty staying out of trouble since being drafted by the Buccaneers in 2010, running into the law several times after signing a six-year, $40 million contract with Tampa Bay in 2013.

The 27-year-old averaged nearly 1,000 yards in his first three seasons in Tampa and received recognition in 2010 for being one of the top rookies in the league. But the Buccaneers thought he was too much of a problem and dealt him this spring.

Williams brings added height to the Bills at 6-foot-2, 204 pounds.

Second-year players Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin and third-year pro T.J. Graham return.

The Bills envision Woods, Watkins and Williams as the top three receivers. Having such talent in the top three should keep defenses more honest than last year when they could key in on Stevie Johnson, who has since been traded to San Francisco.

Last season, Goodwin showed off his ability to pull away from defenders when he caught deep touchdown passes. If Manuel stays healthy, the former track star from the University of Texas should stretch the field even more this season.

Marcus Easley, Chris Hogan and others will most likely battle for the sixth and final roster spot.

Running backs

Buffalo has been very fortunate in the last decade for the talent it has had at the running back position. From Travis Henry to Willis McGahee to Marshawn Lynch, the team has always had one, if not two or three, solid starters at the position.

Lately, Spiller and the 33-year-old Fred Jackson have been splitting reps.

That may be about to change.

With both Spiller and Jackson able to test the free agent market after the upcoming season, the Bills signed former 49ers backup Dixon and acquired Brown from Philadelphia. The moves may be about the future, but they have the potential to make the Bills' rushing attack even more potent.

Spiller remains one of the most electrifying players in the NFL, but last season he often played hurt and struggled at times to be the go-to guy. Brown will look to take away some of the handoffs from both Spiller and Jackson and add another element to the offense.

Brown has averaged over 4.5 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Eagles. The 23-year-old may be more involved in the offense than fans may assume.

Dixon figures to be mostly a short-yardage back, something he did frequently in San Francisco. Dixon, 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, is substantially stouter than most of the other running backs on the roster. He will also see a lot of time on special teams.

If nothing else, the Bills four-deep running back rotation should be able to keep Spiller and Jackson fresher than last year.

The offense is deeper than last year's, with more size and speed at both wide receiver and running back. The added talent should help Manuel improve in his second year. ‚Äč


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