2017 Buffalo Bills All-22 in Review: Defensive Tackles

(WKBW) - For the Buffalo Bills and every franchise in the NFL, the reality of the offseason has set in. Preparations by teams of how to attack the offseason, their own free agents, and late April’s draft are starting to take hold.

So as the next deadlines start to creep up, WKBW.com is taking a hard look at the roster and evaluating what happened in 2017, what could be on the horizon in 2018, and a recommendation for what to do moving forward. The grades you’ll see attached to the players are the result of film study of each and every week throughout the 2017 season for the Buffalo Bills.

Up next, a position that is in need of an infusion of youth this offseason — defensive tackle:

2017 In Review
*In order of 2017 Grade

Kyle Williams
2017 Season GPA: 2.85 (Snap Count: 803)
2018 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 34 (DOB: 6/10/1983)

- The Buffalo Bills found an emotional and veteran leader in the locker room in Kyle Williams — and along with him, a certain motivation that permeated throughout the locker room. That psychological factor simply can’t be ignored. And on the field, he was the best and most consistent defensive tackle on the Bills roster — even at the age of 34 years old. You could clearly see the flashes of the prime of his career in spots throughout the season, where he would get off the line quickly and fire through to the backfield to bring down the ball carrier. The trouble is, those started becoming a bit more infrequent than what we’re used to. His grade from 2016 was 3.48 — a phenomenal season-long score — so based on the 2017 grade, you can certainly see there has been a decline even though he still played at a well above average level. Among the biggest difficulties: holding the point of attack and being able to split double teams as well as he used to. You also have to consider that he was given quite a bit of focus on the interior because he was the best defensive tackle they have. So even though it wasn’t a typical year for Williams’ standards, it was a good year nonetheless.

Rickey Hatley
2017 Season GPA: 2.67 (Snap Count: 43)
2018 Contract Status: $555,000 cap hit, signed through 2019
Age: 23 (DOB: 3/29/1994)

- The Bills added Hatley to their active roster late in the season, which means there wasn’t a great sample size in which to work from. However, in those two games, Hatley flashed some ability with his big frame to hold up against an opponent’s rushing attack. Used as just a rotational player, he proved useful over two huge games — the Week 17 win over Miami, and in the playoffs against Jacksonville. But again, it is a small sample size, but since he is signed through the next two seasons they can use him to develop some depth, and to battle for a roster spot.

Cedric Thornton
2017 Season GPA: 2.60 (Snap Count: 407)
2018 Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Age: 29 (DOB: 6/21/1988)

- In an effort to bring in some interior defenders that are a better fit for Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme, the Bills went out and signed Cedric Thornton just before the regular season began. And in their minds, his presence helped make an underperforming Marcell Dareus expendable — and his massive contract off the books for the long-term. He certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was a lot steadier than some of the other players they trotted out on the field through the season (see: Jerel Worthy, Deandre Coleman, and even Adolphus Washington). The 2.60 grade is slightly below average on the scale, and while he only garnered a ‘B’ grade once through the season, he only dipped below the average grade of ‘B-minus’ three times out of the 16 game season. If they wanted to bring him back on a low-cost one-year deal to see if he can crack the roster in the summer, they could do far worse.

Adolphus Washington 
2017 Season GPA: 2.47 (Snap Count: 537)
2018 Contract Status: $848,574 cap hit, signed through 2019
Age: 23 (DOB: 11/24/1994)

- In his second season since being drafted, former third-round pick Adolphus Washington did many of the same things he did in his rookie year. He battled some fairly inconsistent play, but then flashed incredible ability at least once or twice a game — a frustrating conundrum for positional coaches to try and figure out how to unearth that more consistently. He had the lowest grade on the team of the defensive tackles but is a better fit for McDermott’s defensive scheme than with the one he was in last year with Rex Ryan. As defensive tackles go, he’s a bit longer and lean than most, which he takes advantage of on occasion — but that’s what the Bills need to see more of. He certainly had every opportunity to do so in 2017 by getting multiple starts once Marcell Dareus was traded away. He’s still signed for the next couple of seasons on a cheap rookie deal.

Those that did not have a snap, or had minimal snaps in 2017 but are signed for 2018: Marquavius Lewis

Recommendations for 2018

1) Draft at least one defensive tackle early
- Considering the inconsistent nature of the position, its importance to the Sean McDermott defense, and with how much the Carolina Panthers dipped into the defensive tackle market early on in drafts while he was there, you’d have to expect its a position that they target pretty early on in 2018. Now, everything hinges on if they’re able to move up to secure a quarterback to develop. If they do not, defensive tackle — like finding a middle linebacker — should be a strong consideration to help rescue the Bills from the porous nature of the 2017 run defense. If not in the first, one of the two second-round picks should be a defensive tackle. Heck, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they take a defensive tackle with two of their top five selections — barring them keeping all of them. That’s just how important it is to this scheme, and how pressing it is to infuse the position with talented youth.

2) Try to rope in Kyle Williams for one more year
- Even though there was a decline from 2016 to 2017 for Williams, there is a lot to be said about him still being the best defensive tackle they had on the roster. They’re already losing some leadership with Eric Wood finding out that he’s unable to play any longer, and to a man in the Bills locker room, they all want Williams to come back for one more season. If they were able to find two starting caliber defensive tackles, having him as a key rotational piece, or even if they find someone to split the snaps down the middle with him, that could increase his effectiveness throughout the paces of a 16-game season. Really, it’s up to Williams and his family about if they think its best for him to hang up the pads for good. He’s accomplished quite a bit in his career, and if he wanted to go out, leaving with the team’s first playoff berth since he got to the organization seems like a fitting way to leave.

3) Try to crack Adolphus Washington’s code
- I mentioned it before, but Washington must be such a frustrating entity for coaches given all the things you see from him in games. But when you see the big ability on tape — when he fires through the line unencumbered and makes a tackle for loss look as easy as can be — you just think of what could be. Still only 23 years old after a couple of seasons in the NFL, I don’t think the Bills — especially at this position — should give up on Adolphus Washington just yet. No, I don’t think his play in 2017 warrants him hanging on to a starting position, but I think if developed properly, he could turn into a solid rotational player for the scheme, and one they could keep at a low cost. So while the impulse for some fans will be ‘get rid of him, he was Whaley’s pick,’ you have to hang on to the fact that a 22-year-old former third-round pick makes great plays once or twice a game. Leslie Frazier and his staff have to try to channel that into his game, and if he does in 2018, they could see a major ascent with both consistency and ability through the season. For Washington, his battle will be if the ‘what could be’ feeling develops into something, or if it turns more into ‘what could have been.’ This is a huge year coming up for the defensive tackle.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia

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