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and return to playoff consideration Dawson Knox Jersey Boys , the team is going to need to surround quarterback Josh Allen with skilled playmakers at wide receiver, solve the running back situation, and add several pieces along an erratic offensive line. The defense certainly did its part to keep the Bills in many games last year, and it appears that Sean McDermott’s defense will once again be the strength of this team heading into 2019. There are solid contributors in the secondary: cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, and Taron Johnson and safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde; at linebacker: Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, and Lorenzo Alexander; and on the defensive line: Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Harrison Phillips, and Star Lotulelei. Every year, there are players who show glimpses of their potential one season, then take a major step forward the following year. This article is one writer’s take on who those breakout players will be in 2019. While I firmly believe that Allen will continue to make strides with his play, for the sake of this article I am focusing on eight other players. TE Jason CroomWith another unproductive season from Charles Clay in the rear view mirror, Croom has a chance to elevate his game and potentially take over as Buffalo’s starting tight end. Croom actually led Buffalo’s tight ends in receptions (22), yards (259), and touchdowns (one) last year, appearing in 15 games (three starts). Croom, 24, was more than serviceable in the blocking game, and he was more than capable as a route runner. Croom, who was a wide receiver at the University of Tennessee, was a preseason breakout candidate last year White LeSean McCoy Jerseys , and should have an even bigger role in Brian Daboll’s offense in 2019—especially with how his size (6-foot-5) can present match-up problems to the opposition. Croom would make a logical replacement for Clay if the Bills decide to part ways with the veteran.WR Robert FosterFoster was a revelation as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Alabama, catching 27 passes for 541 yards (an average of 20 yards per catch) with three touchdowns. Foster posted three 100-plus yard games during his rookie season, making him the first undrafted wide receiver to rack up three games with 100 or more receiving yards since the 2001 season, and the first undrafted free agent in team history to post back-to-back games with 100-plus yards. Once he was brought back onto the team after being released in October, Foster was dedicated to making an impact on the field. With a strong rapport with Allen and with continued developments this off-season, look for the speedster to get even better next year. DE Shaq LawsonThe former first-round pick finally delivered a breakthrough season in 2018, hopefully turning the corner on his first two mostly forgettable years in Buffalo when the “B” word (bust) was being tossed about in connection to Lawson’s play. After appearing in 14 games (six starts) and finishing with four sacks, 12 QB hits, 30 total tackles (five for a loss), five passes defended, and two forced fumbles, Pro Football Focus graded Lawson as the league’s 20th-best edge rusher. After enjoying an even timeshare with veteran defensive end Trent Murphy on the left side of the defensive line, Lawson should be in line for even more action in 2019—especially after he displayed the same athleticism that made him a standout at Clemson, leading the defensive line in balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. When Lawson wasn’t sacking the quarterback, he was causing chaos in the opposing backfield.WR/RB Isaiah McKenzieThe Bills made no qualms about their interest in McKenzie, first trying to sign him off of the Denver Broncos’ practice squad before eventually claiming him off waivers. McKenzie showed why Buffalo liked his potential, catching 18 passes for 179 yards and adding ten rushes for 66 yards with two touchdowns. He also accounted for 324 combined punt and kickoff return yards. Whether as a potential slot receiver, a speedy running threat, or a dynamic return man, McKenzie should once again contribute in multiple areas in 2019.RB Marcus Murphy On a team with two running backs over the age of 30—LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory—opportunity is there for Murphy to take over a large share of the ball-carrying duties in 2019. Murphy demonstrated that he is just as elusive and runs with a more decisive and aggressive style than Ivory or McCoy in 2018, racking up 250 rushing yards on 52 carries (an average of 4.81 yards per rush) while also catching 11 passes. Murphy was Buffalo’s most efficient running back, is not getting paid much, and should have every opportunity to expand his role in 2019. DT Harrison PhillipsWith fellow DT Kyle Williams retiring LeSean McCoy Jerseys 2019 , opportunity is there for Phillips to step in and assume Williams’s spot on the defensive line. Phillips appeared in all 16 games, making 35 tackles (four stops for a loss) to go with two quarterback hits and one fumble recovery. The former Stanford Cardinal standout was just as productive as Williams in terms of overall tackles, and with another strong off-season showing, Phillips, otherwise known as “Horrible Harry” should be able to stake his claim to a starting role on defense. G Wyatt Teller Teller displayed a ton of promise in eight games (seven starts), allowing only eight quarterback pressures with no sacks and five committed penalties. The fifth-round draft pick proved himself capable in pass protection, though his run-blocking has room for improvement. He was on the field for 45 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps as a rookie, and given the uncertainty at both guard spots heading into next year should give Teller ample opportunities to prove himself worthy of a starting role. I see big things for Teller. CB Levi WallaceWallace outperformed expectations in 2018, especially considering he went undrafted and didn’t even initially earn a scholarship to the University of Alabama—but impressed head coach Nick Saban enough to not only earn a scholarship but start for the national championship Crimson Tide team in 2017. Called up from Buffalo’s practice squad prior to the Week 10 win over the New York Jets, Wallace started the team’s final seven games, finishing with 37 tackles, three passes defended, and one quarterback hit. Earning a grade of 83.5 from PFF, best among all rookie cornerbacks and fourth overall among cornerbacks, Wallace was outstanding in pass coverage, and definitely proved himself to be a more than capable member of the secondary. Sam Darnold had difficulty containing his excitement after the New York Jets rookie enjoyed his first fourth-quarter comeback victory in the NFL.On the other side of the tunnel, Buffalo rookie Josh Allen had difficulty keeping his frustrations in check after his three turnovers contributed to costing the Bills.Darnold, drafted third overall, one-upped Allen in their first meeting as AFC East rivals by rallying the Jets to a 27-23 win Sunday."As a kid, you dream of converting two-minute drives and going down there and scoring," Darnold said. "To be able to score a touchdown and put the ball in their hands at the end of the game was awesome."Allen, drafted seventh overall, was left dejected in a game he outran White Kyle Williams Jerseys , out-passed and ultimately out-turnovered Darnold."I've got to be smarter with the football," said Allen, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. His fumble and first interception led to the Jets kicking two field goals.His second interception sealed the loss with 59 seconds left, when he was picked off by Trumaine Johnson at Buffalo's 45.Running back Elijah McGuire scored on a fourth-and-goal run from the 1 with 1:17 remaining to cap a drive during which Darnold completed three of five passes for 52 yards. The rookie quarterback particularly showed off his deft touch on a 37-yard pass to Robby Anderson, who made an over-the-shoulder catch up the right sideline.Darnold finished 16 of 24 for 170 yards with a 7-yard touchdown to Anderson and an interception in his first start since missing three with a strained right foot. Aside from shaking off the rust, Darnold also overcame a scare in the first quarter when he left for one series after hurting the same foot.Darnold was cleared to return after having the injury examined.The Jets (4-9) snapped a six-game losing streak, and bounced back a week after squandering a 16-0 lead in a 26-22 loss at Tennessee.The Jets won when embattled coach Todd Bowles elected to gamble after Darnold was stopped at the 1 on third-and-goal from the 4.McGuire scored by taking a handoff and running to his right before finding a crease to squeeze his way into the end zone. He finished with 60 yards and was playing in place of starter Isaiah Crowell, who left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter."No decision whatsoever. We came up here to win the game," Bowles said on deciding to go for the touchdown. "I'm just happy for them. ... To see them smile makes me smile."Buffalo dropped to 4-9.Allen went 18 of 36 for 206 yards and scored on a 6-yard run. He also had 101 yards rushing to become just the second quarterback in NFL history to top 90 yards in three consecutive games, joining Tobin Rote, who did that with Green Bay in 1951.Allen didn't care much for the feat, and wasn't in the mood to discuss the matchup with Darnold. The two became friends while spending the pre-draft process working out with each other."I mean, it was cool," Allen said. "But, I'm playing against their defense, and we just didn't make as many plays as we needed to."Buffalo squandered a 14-3 lead, and was undone by a special teams unit that allowed Andre Roberts to return five kickoffs for 176 yards. Roberts' 86-yard return set up Trenton Cannon's 4-yard run, which cut Buffalo's lead to 17-13 with 6:31 left in the second quarter.It was the first touchdown scored by the Jets' offense in 24 possessions, dating to the first quarter of a 27-13 loss to New England two weeks ago.The Jets' special teams also blocked Stephen Hauschka's 49-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the first half.New York trailed until Darnold capped an 11-play, 85-yard drive by hitting Anderson for a 7-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 20 with 12:06 left.The Bills responded with Hauschka hitting a 36-yard field goal with 2:31 remaining.Allen scored on a 7-yard run and Isaiah McKenzie also scored on a 15-yard run.BANGED UP BILLSBuffalo was down to third-string running back Marcus Murphy after LeSean McCoy was sidelined by a hamstring injury in the first quarter and Chris Ivory hurt his ankle in the third quarter. Starting linebacker Matt Milano was carted off the field after getting his leg tangled while stopping Darnold at the goal line. Coach Sean McDermott provided no updates on his injured players.CATCHING ONBills undrafted rookie Robert Foster had 104 yards receiving in his first career start after the Bills released Kelvin Benjamin on Tuesday. Foster now has two 100-yard outings, both of them coming against the Jets. He had 105 yards receiving in a 41-10 win at the Meadowlands on Nov. 11.LEE SUSPENDEDJets linebacker Darron Lee served the first game of a four-game NFL suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. "A great disappointment," Bowles said. "He made a big mistake and only time will tell whether he will learn from it or not."UP NEXTJets: Host Houston on Saturday.Bills: Close their non-conference schedule by hosting Detroit on Dec. 16.
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