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Pro Football Focus: Bills using young players, but not all are starring so far

Pro Football Focus Senior Analyst Billy Moy will be contributing to BNblitz.com all season long. 

The Bills have one of the older opening day rosters in football, according to research by the News' Mark Gaughan, with an average of 26.47 years. That was seventh oldest as of the 53-man roster on Sept. 1. The Bills' starting lineup for the season opener was tied for 13th oldest.

Despite those ages as a team average, the Bills are playing a significant number of young players for major snaps. Bills coach Sean McDermott has consistently talked about developing his young players. He used the word "young" six times during his Monday news conference as in, "We’re developing some young players who are also learning how to play in this league and continue to grow every week."

Buffalo ranks third in terms of percentage of snaps played by either first- or second-year players: 34.1 percent of their snaps have been played by rookies or sophomores while their 14.1 percentage of snaps played by rookies also ranks third.

In this week’s PFF breakdown, we take a look at how those first- and second-year players for the Bills have performed so far in their young careers.

OFFENSE

Dion Dawkins

Position: LT
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2017, 2nd (63)
Career Snap Count: 1,215
Career PFF Grade: 76.2

When Buffalo drafted Dawkins, it wasn’t with the intent of rushing him into their starting left tackle job with incumbent Pro Bowler Cordy Glenn on the roster. Injuries to Glenn forced Dawkins into action early last season, however, and he’s performed admirably right from the start, so much so that Buffalo felt comfortable trading Glenn in the offseason.

Since the start of the 2017 season, Dawkins ranks 22nd out of 118 offensive tackles who’ve seen at least 100 offensive snaps in terms of overall grade, and he ranks 14th with an 80.5 pass-blocking grade. Dawkins has graded consistently well in pass protection throughout his career, but his performance as a run blocker has taken a dip to start 2018: He finished last year with a great 80.6 run-blocking grade that ranked fourth among tackles. This season, however, his run-blocking grade has dropped to 44.8, which ranks  73rd out of the 79 tackles who’ve seen at least 100 run-blocking snaps. Dawkins was a great run blocker while at Temple and he certainly demonstrated an ability to do it as a rookie last season. His poor start as a run blocker in 2018 figures to be more of an aberration than the norm.

Zay Jones
Position: WR
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2017, 2nd (37)
Career Snap Count: 1,157
Career PFF Grade: 56.7

Jones ranks 156th out of 196 wide receivers who’ve seen at least 100 offensive snaps since the start of 2017 in terms of overall grade.

Over that stretch, there have been 168 wide receivers who have been on the field for at least 100 passing snaps. Among that group, Jones currently ranks 145th with a receiving grade of 54.4, 146th with an average of just 0.76 yards gained per route run and 143rd with just a 75 catch percentage (percentage of passes that were deemed catchable that were caught). Jones has performed better as a run blocker; his 72.9 run-blocking grade since turning pro ranks 36th.

Josh Allen
Position: QB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2018, 1st (7)
Career Snap Count: 322
Career PFF Grade: 51.4

When Allen was drafted, it was widely known that he was a bit of a project who would likely struggle if forced into action early. As it turns out, Allen made his debut in the second half in Week 1. As many expected, the immediate results weren’t pretty.

Allen ranks 37th out of 39 quarterbacks who’ve seen at least 100 offensive snaps this season in terms of overall grade, and among the 35 players who’ve dropped back to pass at least 100 times, he ranks 34th with a 50.2 passing grade.

Among those 35 quarterbacks, he ranks 33rd with a 64.7 adjusted completion percentage, his 4.2 turnover-worthy play percentage ranks fourth highest and his 43.2 adjusted completion percentage and 21.0 passer rating while throwing under pressure are dead last.

Allen has had some success on the ground though during the first stages of his career as he’s picked up a combined 15 first downs and touchdowns as a runner this year, the fifth most by a quarterback.

Nathan Peterman
Position: QB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2017, 5th (171)
Career Snap Count: 154
Career PFF Grade: 27.3

The second-year quarterback out of Pittsburgh has had a disastrous start to his professional career. He ranks 56th out of the 56 quarterbacks who’ve seen at least 100 snaps since the start of 2017 in terms of overall grade. Blaine Gabbert ranks 55th and he’s nearly 20 points ahead of Peterman.

Among those 56 quarterbacks, Peterman ranks 52nd with a 60.8 adjusted completion percentage, last with a 30.6 passer rating (if a QB is simply incomplete on all of their pass attempts they finish with a 39.6 passer rating) and he leads the group with a 9.9 turnover-worthy play percentage. He’s one of just four quarterbacks since the start of 2017 with a TWP percentage of 5.0 or greater.

Jason Croom
Position: TE
Draft Year, Rd (pick): Undrafted
Career Snap Count: 124
Career PFF Grade: 57.6

Croom ranks 85th among the 117 tight ends who’ve played at least 100 offensive snaps since the start of 2017 in terms of overall grade. He’s struggled as a run blocker (his 49.6 run-blocking grade ranks 102nd among that group) but he has produced with the limited opportunities he’s gotten as a receiver. Croom ranks 36th out of 112 tight ends who’ve played at least 50 passing down snaps since the start of last season with an average of 1.31 yards per route run.

Other first- or second-year offensive players seeing snaps this season: Ray-Ray McCloud (WR), Cam Phillips (WR), Conor McDermott (T) and Robert Foster (WR). Foster has been released and then signed to the practice squad.

DEFENSE

Tre’Davious White
Position: CB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2017, 1st (27)
Career Snap Count: 1,541
Career PFF Grade: 84.3

White – PFF’s Rookie of the Year in 2017 – has been sensational. Among the 174 cornerbacks who’ve seen at least 100 defensive snaps since 2017, White ranks 10th in terms of overall grade; his 86.5 coverage grade ranks ninth; and his 1,541 defensive snaps played over that stretch are the most among all cornerbacks.

White has been one of the best in football since joining the league at breaking up passes. His 25.0 forced incompletion percentage ranks fourth among corners and he’s been good at limiting the damage done on completed passes as well as his 16 coverage stops over that stretch rank 23rd. Opposing quarterbacks have a 69.3 combined passer rating when targeting White, the 24th-lowest allowed by a cornerback since White entered the NFL.

Matt Milano
Position: LB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2017, 5th (163)
Career Snap Count: 849
Career PFF Grade: 67.8

Milano has taken a nice step forward in Year 2 of his NFL career as he ranks 18th among the 93 off-ball linebackers who’ve played at least 100 defensive snaps with a 73.4 grade after he finished 2017 ranked 69th with a 60.3 overall grade.

Among all off-ball linebackers who’ve seen at least 50 coverage snaps this season, Milano ranks 14th with a 72.5 coverage grade, 15th with an 11.5 forced incompletion percentage and ninth with nine coverage stops. Milano is starting to look like a steal from the 2017 draft despite his struggles in Indianapolis.

Tremaine Edmunds
Position: LB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2018, 1st (16)
Career Snap Count: 459
Career PFF Grade: 51.9

Edmunds ranks 71st out of 93 off-ball linebackers in terms of overall grade and he’s had his struggles both in run defense (53.0 run-defense grade) and coverage (51.0).

The uber-athletic linebacker has made some plays in coverage – his 10.0 forced incompletion percentage ranks 12th – but opposing offenses are picking up either a first down or touchdown on 50.0 percent of their targets into Edmunds’ coverage, the 14th-highest rate surrendered by an off-ball linebacker. Edmunds has also struggled with his tackling early into his NFL career, his 12 missed tackles are the third most and his seven missed tackles in coverage are the most.

Taron Johnson
Position: CB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2018, 4th (121)
Career Snap Count: 235
Career PFF Grade: 74.3

The Bills' secondary found themselves desperately needing a corner to contribute, and Johnson has answered that call. The rookie currently ranks 17th out of 121 qualified corners in terms of overall grade, and his 71.5 coverage grade ranks 22nd out of the 106 cornerbacks who’ve spent at least 100 snaps in coverage this year.

Johnson has allowed just a 75.3 passer rating into his coverage, the 26th-lowest rating allowed while his eight coverage stops rank ninth.

Harrison Phillips
Position: DI
Draft Year, Rd (pick): 2018, 3rd (96)
Career Snap Count: 184
Career PFF Grade: 67.7

Phillips currently ranks 60th out of 117 interior defensive linemen as the big man out of Stanford hasn’t been a star in any one area, but held his own both in run defense and as a pass-rusher.

He ranks 58th with a 66.9 run-defense grade, and of 123 interior d-linemen who’ve rushed the quarterback at least 50 times, he ranks 72nd with a 7.3 pass-rush win percentage (win percentage measures the rate at which a pass-rusher successfully sheds the blocker in pass protection, including instances where pressure was not able to land due to the quickness of the throw).

Ryan Lewis
Position: CB
Draft Year, Rd (pick): Undrafted
Career Snap Count: 137
Career PFF Grade: 66.7

While Lewis didn’t see the field in the regular season last year, this year he ranks 47th out of 121 qualified cornerbacks with his 66.7 overall grade. Passing attacks have been able to move the ball against Lewis as he’s surrendered a 98.1 passer rating to opposing QBs. But Lewis has made some plays on the football, ranking 33rd with a 15.8 forced incompletion percentage. He also forced a fumble in run defense against the Packers back in Week 4.

Other first- or second-year defensive players seeing snaps this season: Siran Neal

 

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