The 2016 NFL Combine gets going next week, and we are less than three weeks away from the start of free agency. Since news is going to start picking up shortly, I thought it was a good time to begin our annual review of the San Francisco 49ers upcoming opponents.
We will be providing three breakdowns. This first one will review the previous season for each team. It will also include a list of each team's free agents, and a look at some potential needs heading into free agency and the draft. The second one will come in April, providing a look at where teams are at following free agency, and what the draft means for each team. The third set will come in July, providing a recap of the offseason and a look ahead to training camp for each team.
Today, we start looking at the 49ers AFC opponents, beginning with the Buffalo Bills. It was a wildly inconsistent year in Rex Ryan's first season at the helm. They never won more than two games in a row, finishing the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Ryan had plenty of bluster, like normal, but the team did not sufficiently back it up on the defensive side of the ball.
The biggest story of the season was Tyrod Taylor, and it's not really close. After four seasons as a backup in Baltimore who got very few opportunities, Taylor emerged as the Bills starter, and provided the Bills with at least an answer for now at quarterback. He threw for 3,035 yards, with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, completing 63.7 percent of his passes. He rushed for 568 yards, and was a big reason the Bills offense ranked so well. The team was 8-6 in games he started. He missed two games in October due to injury.
The defensive side of the ball had some big performers in the secondary, but the pass rush was a mess. Oh, and they couldn't stop the run to save their lives, with Football Outsiders ranking them No. 30 against the run. They did get a big year from Ronald Darby, their second round pick out of Florida State. The cornerback had two interceptions and 21 passes defensed in his rookie season.
Unrestricted free agents: OT Cordy Glenn, OG Richie Incognito, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Ron Brooks, DT Alex Carrington, WR Percy Harvin, WR Leonard Hankerson, QB Josh Johnson
Restricted free agents: DT Corbin Bryant, S Bacarri Rambo, WR Chris Hogan, OT Jordan Mills, LB Ty Powell, DT Stefan Charles, TE MarQueis Gray
Exclusive rights free agents: RB Cierre Wood
The biggest names on the list are Glenn and Incognito. They were key cogs on a line that produced a strong rushing attack. Tyrod Taylor was a big part of that, but Glenn and Incognito are two priorities for the team. The Bills are expected to designate Glenn their franchise player, which all but guarantees he returns in 2016. However, Incognito should get some serious offers this offseason.
On the defensive side of the ball, Nigel Bradham will be a name to watch for the Bills. He played weakside linebacker last season. Buffalo Rumblings thinks the Bills interest or lack thereof will give fans a good idea of whether or not the team will re-make their defense to a significant degree this offseason.
Speaking of defense, look for the Bills to release Mario Williams. It has simply not worked out for the two sides, and the team needs cap space this offseason if they want to franchise Glenn and re-sign Incognito.
The biggest need is going to be figuring out the Glenn/Incognito situation. If they get them back for next year, they are in good shape on the line. If that happens, defense will be the focus of the draft. They will be looking for Sammy Watkins to continue his development, and will need more from the rest of their pass catchers, but they are in a position where they can focus a bit on defense. Look for them to add significantly to their defensive front.
The Bills are expected to meet with Antonio Cromartie, so that will be something to track in their secondary.