With the onset of training camp just a few weeks away, it’s a fitting time to look at which players on all 32 NFL teams are the most prominent faces of each franchise. They are those players whose on-field success will be inextricably linked to that of their respective teams. But also included are personalities who, despite being at the tail end of their career, are commanding veteran presences crucial to the locker room.
For this series, we will present the three most prominent figures for each team. In the case of the 2019 Buffalo Bills, it’s a healthy mix of youth and experience. And each of them will have to play their own unique role in order to ensure that the current postseason drought is significantly shorter than the previous one.
2019 Buffalo Bills: Three Faces of the Franchise
It’s a practical cliché at this point. Quarterback is the most important position in football. Though it is a team game and you need competent pieces around your signal-caller in order to compete for championships, shortcomings at the position almost always preclude you from doing so. It’s a situation that’s dogged the Bills franchise seemingly constantly since the retirement of Jim Kelly. But fans are hopeful that year two of the Josh Allen era is the latest step towards renewed relevance as a Super Bowl contender.
Head coach Sean McDermott initially sought to have Allen sit during the entirety of his rookie year. But the ineptitude of Nathan Peterman forced his hand and Allen ultimately made 11 starts last year. He went a respectable 5-6, with his win total equal with players such as Eli Manning and Carson Wentz. And the most eye-catching characteristic of his play in 2018 was his ability to make plays on the ground. Allen joined Michael Vick as the only quarterbacks since 2000 to rush for eight touchdowns and average 50+ rushing yards per game during a season.
Having said all that, Allen has his work cut out for him if he wants to enjoy a Patrick Mahomes-level breakout campaign in year two of his career. This is especially true with respect to refining his overall passing technique. Allen’s 52.8 percent completion percentage was the lowest in the NFL among quarterbacks who completed at least 150 passes. And he and Josh Rosen were the only players to start 10 games last year and finish with a passer rating below 70. One can only hope that the most prominent face of the Bills franchise in 2019 realized massive improvement as a passer during the off-season and that it continues once training camp and the actual regular season rolls around.
NFL running backs north of 30 years old are few and far between. It’s just the nature of such a taxing position. And so constructing a roster with multiple players at the position on the “wrong side of 30” could be looked at as a head-scratching move. Well, that’s the situation facing the Bills with the team having signed Frank Gore who joins team stalwart, LeSean McCoy. Shady’s status as one of the longest-tenured Bills certainly confers upon him “face of the franchise” status.
But 2018 provided some indication that the mileage McCoy’s acquired over his impressive career may be taking its toll. His 514 rushing yards were a career low and he also managed a measly three total touchdowns. Now part of it was due to poor quarterback/offensive line play which meant he saw a lot of stacked boxes. But McCoy’s always been known for his ability to hop-cup laterally to elude would-be tacklers. And McCoy may have lost a step in that regard.
But the battle-hardened veteran still has a lot to offer. He joins a running back corps that, despite the presence of him and Gore, received an infusion of youth when the Bills drafted Devin Singletary. The receiving corps and offensive line got much better in the off-season with the free agency acquisitions of players such as John Brown, Cole Beasley, Mitch Morse, and Quinton Spain. That should take a lot of pressure off the run game and enable McCoy to reassert himself as a formidable presence in the 2019 Buffalo Bills offense.
No defense allowed fewer passing yards last season than the Bills. And they’re poised to carry that success over to 2019. There are quite a few players deserving of recognition as a “face of the franchise” from that unit. Jerry Hughes led the team with seven sacks last year and Pro Football Focus gave him the seventh-best grade among the league’s edge defenders. Tre’Davious White has quickly endeared himself to fans during his two seasons in Buffalo while emerging as a legitimate shutdown corner. And even Ed Oliver could make this list as a top-10 pick with the expectation that he’ll be an immediate impact rookie.
But the edge ultimately goes to Lorenzo Alexander. The 36-year-old is certainly defying father time late in his career. Last season, he totaled 6.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups, and even two interceptions. At one point, he received the highest grade among edge defenders in the entire league. Barring injury, all indications are that he’ll continue to be an indispensable part of Buffalo’s talented front seven made all the more so with the addition of Oliver.
What gives Alexander the edge is his tremendous leadership in the locker room and his tireless work in the community. It’s for those reasons that Alexander was the Bills’ nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year the past two seasons. Younger players such as Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano credit his mentorship for their adjusting to the ins and outs of being a pro. Through his ACES Foundation, he works with young people in order to help them achieve academic excellence and become active in their community. Per their website, a primary goal of the foundation is “that every youth will be inspired to obtain a higher education, pursue a career, maintain a strong family unit while giving back to their community.” It’s activity such as this that makes him not just the face of the 2019 Buffalo Bills, but the face of a community.