The NFL's slow season is rapidly approaching.
With teams in the middle of spring practices, a voluntary minicamp looms in June before the league basically shuts down for about six weeks before the start of training camp in early August. While there will still be some noteworthy moves made -- like the Buffalo Bills releasing Cyrus Kouandjio last week -- rosters for the most part are pretty well set.
With that being the case, ESPN polled a panel of six NFL experts to answer eight questions about the upcoming season. One of those was identifying which team got measurably worse this offseason. Aaron Schatz, the editor of Football Outsiders, chose the Buffalo Bills as his answer to that question, offering up the following reason:
"Departures will leave the Buffalo Bills depending an awful lot on rookies this year, and rookies don't always fulfill their potential right away (if ever). Two of last year's top three receivers are gone. Two of last year's top three cornerbacks are gone. And while LeSean McCoy is still around to keep the running game dangerous, Mike Gillislee was outstanding last year and losing him really hurts Buffalo's depth."
Let's break down Schatz's reasoning and offer our takes:
"Departures will leave the Buffalo Bills depending an awful lot on rookies this year, and rookies don't always fulfill their potential right away (if ever)."
Our take: This is true. The Bills will be expected to start their first three draft picks in cornerback Tre'Davious White, wide receiver Zay Jones and offensive tackle Dion Dawkins. Quarterback Nathan Peterman is in the running for a backup job, while linebackers Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo should contribute on special teams. That is a lot to ask of a rookie class.
"Two of last year's top three receivers are gone."
Our take: Can Jones replace Robert Woods as the team's No. 2 receiver? Woods averaged 50 catches, 613 yards and three touchdowns per season in four years. Those numbers would equal a solid rookie season, but don't look unattainable if Jones can stay healthy (he's out right now with a sprained knee). Marquise Goodwin had 29 catches for 431 yards and three touchdowns as the No. 3 receiver. Goodwin's deep speed was his best attribute. The Bills will likely decide between Andre Holmes and Philly Brown as the No. 3 receiver. While they don't possess Goodwin's speed, they could match his overall production.
"Two of last year's top three cornerbacks are gone."
Our take: Losing Stephon Gilmore and Nickell Robey-Coleman presents a very similar issue to the one the Bills face at receiver. White will be counted on to step in for Gilmore, who made his first Pro Bowl last season (as an injury replacement). Gilmore caught a lot of grief from Bills fans, who might find out that replacing him isn't as easy as they hoped it would be. That depends on the job White does. Replacing Robey-Coleman in the slot is likely to be either Kevon Seymour or Leonard Johnson, who spent last season with Bills coach Sean McDermott in Carolina and knows the defense.
And while LeSean McCoy is still around to keep the running game dangerous, Mike Gillislee was outstanding last year and losing him really hurts Buffalo's depth."
Our take: Schatz is dead on here. The Bills hope they have Gillislee's replacement on the roster in Jonathan Williams, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016, but they can't be sure of that. Cedric O'Neal, a 2016 undrafted free agent of the Philadelphia Eagles, has looked good in the spring and could push Williams. That race still has a long way to go.