Why aren't the Bills starting Kraig Urbik?

Buffalo's guards are among the worst in the NFL, yet their best OG has yet to start a game. Why aren't the Bills starting Kraig Urbik?

Kraig Urbik started 16 games for the Buffalo Bills in 2013 and didn’t miss many snaps. He was on the field 1,162 of a possible 1,180 snaps. Urbik wasn’t completely healthy in 2013, yet he was still on the field for all 16 games. No one could question his durability.

Playing time is all well and good, but what about his performance? According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he fared well in 2013 (Subscription Required). The analytics site gave Urbik an overall rating of +9.3, the ninth highest grade for a right guard with over 900 snaps. The analytics site graded him out at +5.1 in pass blocking and +3.0 in run blocking, both respectable grades considering a 0.0 is considered to be average play. In his 1,162 snaps, Urbik was only called for a penalty once.

Urbik’s play was generally positive, but he wasn’t perfect by any means. There were times that Urbik was stood up on run plays and PFF said the right guard was responsible for two sacks, five quarterback hits and 13 quarterback hurries. You’re bound to have some negative plays when you’re on the field for over 98 percent of your teams offensive plays. Besides Cordy Glenn, you could argue that Urbik was the team’s best offensive lineman.

So why has Urbik only played 55 snaps in 2014? No one really knows.

Urbik’s only play this season came in Week 3 when Chris Williams went down with an injury at left guard. In Williams’ absence, Urbik performed well. One thought that this was the opportunity that Urbik needed to get on the field. Instead, the Bills have started rookie fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson at left guard the last three weeks.

What about right guard? This spot has been manned by Erik Pears, formerly the team’s right tackle from 2011-13. There’s obviously a transition time needed to go from tackle to guard, but Pears has struggled in his new role. PFF has given Pears a -17.2 rating through six weeks, with a -5.1 in pass protection and -13.3 in run blocking. According to PFF’s grades, Pears is rating 72nd out of 73 among all guards who have played at least 25 percent of a team’s snaps.

The analytics are telling, but you don’t need them if you’ve watched the first six games of the season. Pears has been pushed around at will and looked completely overwhelmed. He’s on pace to have the worst season of his career and could be benched in the near future.

Would Urbik return to right guard, his natural position, if Pears is benched? Not necessarily. The Bills have started working out Cyrus Kouandjio at the position. Kouandjio, Buffalo’s second round pick in the 2014 draft, had a very underwhelming training camp and preseason at right tackle. There’s nothing wrong with getting a high draft pick on the field, but would he be Buffalo’s next best option? Certainly not.

Whenever Doug Marrone is asked about Urbik, the head coach explains that he is the backup center. Why should this stop Urbik from playing guard now? Eric Wood has been healthy all season and until that changes, Urbik should be given the opportunity to win the guard job.

There’s more to this story than we know. Last season, Marrone seemed intent on benching Urbik late in the year. He made a push to get J.J. Unga playing time, but Urbik fought off his competition. This season, Urbik has been an afterthought for the Bills coaching staff.

In late August, Jason La Canfora reported that the Bills were gauging trade interest in the right guard. Urbik is due $2.275 million this year, $2.575 next year and $2.9 million in 2016 per Spotrac. The salary isn’t outrageous by any means based upon his play in 2013, and he’s the 21st highest paid guard in the league.

Marrone has stated that the Bills will put their best five linemen on the field every week, but don’t let him fool you. Buffalo’s best option at guard hasn’t started a game for the team in 2014.

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