One look at the Buffalo Bills’ roster makes it clear the team has speed to burn.
But just how fast are the Bills when compared to the rest of the NFL?
While there’s no definitive way to answer that, Bill Barnwell, an NFL writer for Grantland, recently devised a strategy to try and find out.
Barnwell compiled the 40-yard dash times of 10 skill-position players from each team – likely starters at quarterback (one), running back (two), receiver (two), tight end (one), cornerback (two) and safety (two). He added two-hundreths of a second to each player’s time for each year they’ve been in the NFL.
His results determined the Bills have the fourth-fastest roster in the NFL, with a combined time of 45.56 seconds. The Tennessee Titans, at 45.33 seconds, were the fastest team in Barnwell’s study, followed by Washington (45.44) and the New York Jets (45.48).
The presence of C.J. Spiller (4.47 adjusted time) and addition of Sammy Watkins (4.43) lowered the Bills’ number, as did EJ Manuel’s time (4.67 adjusted), which is lower than most quarterbacks.
But Barnwell’s study does not take into account the Bills’ reserves – where some of their speediest players can be found.
Trade acquisition Bryce Brown ran a reported 4.38-second 40 at his Pro Day in 2012, and second-year receiver Marquise Goodwin’s 4.27 40 at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is tied for the third-fastest time recorded there since 1999.
Bills coach Doug Marrone, however, said the team doesn’t just have a fondness for speed.
“I think our point of emphasis was to get better, whether it be with speed or size or mobility or productive veterans,” he said. “That was the emphasis – not necessarily just speed.”
Nevertheless, Manuel isn’t complaining about the weapons at his disposal.
“We’re very explosive,” he said. “I thought we had fast guys last year, but to add Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams to Robert Woods and Chris Hogan and Marquise Goodwin – all those guys can fly and make possession catches. It really adds a lot of diversity to our wide receivers.”
The challenge for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is how to best use those pieces. As training camp and the preseason have shown, it’s not as simple as running past people. Sometimes, the defense will be determined not to let the Bills’ burners behind them, leaving Manuel to work underneath options.
Hackett highlighted an example from this year’s preseason game at Pittsburgh in further explaining that point.
“A lot of people play certain coverages to try and take away that stuff,” he said. “That’s going to happen when you have a lot of speed and talent like we do, guys who can hurt defenses down the field. They’re going to want to make you check it down.
“The most important thing for us is to get a completion. We always want a completion so our guys can catch and run. When you do get those check downs, you’re putting the ball in the hands of guys like C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Boobie Dixon and Bryce Brown, guys who can make big plays after the catch.”
Thinking goes that the more success the team has working the ball underneath to its playmakers the more defenses will gradually have to creep closer to the line of scrimmage. If that happens, it should open up opportunities deep.
“We definitely want to get the ball down the field and we’re trying to make the right reads, only checking down if we have to. We never want to force anything,” Hackett said.
“If all of a sudden we say we want to throw the ball down the field and we’re forcing, forcing and forcing, it causes turnovers and stuff like that. We never want that to happen. We just want to be able to take what the defense gives us and keep being aggressive, keep on working forward.”
While Jackson may not have the speed of some of his offensive counterparts, the presence of so much explosiveness has him high on the unit’s potential.
“Some of the moves we made in the offseason, putting the pieces around us, I think that’s got to have a lot of guys excited, and I’m one of them,” he said.