As is our wont throughout the season, prior to each game we will be sitting down with the folks who run the SB Nation site for the Minnesota Vikings’ upcoming opponent. With the 2017 preseason opener just slightly more than 24 hours away (WE MADE IT WE MADE IT HOLY CRAP WE MADE IT FOOTBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALL), I had the opportunity to swap some questions with Jeff Hunter, who writes for Buffalo Rumblings, SB Nation’s site dedicated to Buffalo Bills football.
I answered some questions about the Vikings that Jeff had posed to me, and you can read those questions and answers right here. Below are the questions that I posed to Jeff, as well as his answers.
1) Despite Tyrod Taylor appearing to be a pretty solid quarterback, it seems that Bills' ownership is hesitant to commit to him. What are your impressions of Taylor as a quarterback and why do you think the Bills don't want to make him the long-term guy?
The Tyrod saga was just so draining last year, so it's good to be able to put it behind us for at least one more season. The lack of commitment really stems from the fact that he's so hard to judge as a quarterback; when it comes to mobility and the deep ball he's one of the best in the league, and he's only thrown 12 interceptions over the last two seasons combined. That said, he's struggled with placing the ball well on intermediate throws and he holds on to the ball for far too long (he took a league-high 42 sacks last year, and not all of those were the offensive line's fault). There's also the question of how much he's been weighed down by the Bills' receivers, as top target Sammy Watkins missed half of last season and guys like Brandon Tate and Walt Powell earned significant playing time in his stead.
I've gone back and forth with my opinion of him a lot over the last couple seasons but I think I've settled on this: he's good enough to get a good team into the playoffs, but he's not going to win any championships. At this point, that's all the Bills can ask for.
2) The Bills sent the Rex Ryan circus out of town after two seasons and hired Sean McDermott to be their new head coach. What sort of impression has McDermott made with fans in Buffalo thus far?
There is a ton of guarded optimism around McDermott. Frankly, a lot of fans are just happy to see Rex out of Buffalo, but McDermott (and new general manager Brandon Beane, who worked with McDermott in Carolina) have been doing a fine job of turning the Bills into a respectable team both on and off the field. Schematically, the move to a base 4-3 defense with new defensive coordinator (and former Vikings boss) Leslie Frazier is a welcome change for many players, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is bringing a West Coast Offense that will hopefully help the team find the end zone a little more consistently. All in all, McD has been welcomed with open arms so far, but that can always change if the team isn't competitive.
3) Which of the Bills' new additions has fans of the team the most excited going into this preseason opener?
I'll set brand-new wideout Anquan Boldin aside, as he just joined the team on Monday and probably won't see a ton of work, if any. There are going to be a lot of eyes on the team's top two rookies, especially first-round cornerback Tre'Davious White. Replacing Stephon Gilmore is no small task, but White has been very impressive in training camp and it'll be good to see how he handles actual game action. Second-round pick Zay Jones had more receptions than anybody in FBS history with East Carolina, but there have been concerns around his ability to run a full route tree given the emphasis on the short passing game at ECU. He can silence a lot of skepticism with some good performances in August.
4) Give us one guy on each side of the ball that most fans of other teams haven't heard of but you think (or hope) could end up making the team and having a big impact in 2017.
On the offensive side, I'm going to go with a veteran that doesn't get a lot of love but who I think could be huge for the Bills this year. Most people only know the name Nick O'Leary because his grandfather is Jack Nicklaus, but he's a very capable tight end who finished second in PFF's run blocking grades at the position last year. He hasn't made much noise in the receiving game, but with more opportunities (especially if starter Charles Clay ends up missing time with his stagnant knee injury) he could make a name for himself in his contract year.
Defensively, there's an undrafted rookie from Wyoming whose name keeps popping up in my Twitter feed: defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. Even in the context of FCS football he never really stood out, but he's been making all kinds of pays throughout camp: sacks, tipped passes, tackles, you name it. He was really overlooked early on, but at this point he has a very good chance of making the 53 and earning plenty of playing time during the season.
5) Being in a division with the machine in New England is tough, but do you think this is the year the Bills finally snap their playoff drought?
When the schedule was first released, I pegged the Bills at 8-8. A few things have changed since then, such as injuries to the Chargers' top two rookies (I had that game as a loss for the Bills) and the injury to Ryan Tannehill (although the Bills and Dolphins don't play until Week 15). This really doesn't feel like a playoff team, but those are the Bills teams that have seemed to make it the closest to the playoffs during The Drought. I still feel like 8-8 is a good bet, which would make a playoff spot unlikely. If Tyrod is capable of running Dennison's offense, the receivers can produce, and the defense goes back to playing like it did before Rex showed up, a playoff spot is entirely possible. I just wouldn't bet on it.
Bonus question: How excited are you to see a bunch of guys that are going to be selling insurance in Topeka in a few weeks playing NFL football?
I'm not going to be able to watch the game live, but I can't wait to load up the replay on Game Pass on Friday morning to watch the replay. Is that more or less sad than being hyped about the live game?
Well, Jeff, if that’s sad, then we’re both in the same sad boat, as I probably won’t be able to see the game live, either. But, yes, the DVR is already set to record the replay.