3 Guards Who Can Immediately Help the Bills

The Buffalo Bills' greatest weakness is their offensive guard play. If the team wants to improve at the position, there are some intriguing options in free agency. Here are three players the Bills should pursue to improve their offensive line.

Earlier this week, NFL writers looked at five changes their teams could make for a playoff push in 2015. For the Buffalo Bills, the top change listed was upgrading at offensive guard

To be blunt, Buffalo's guard play was awful throughout 2014. On the left side of the line, Buffalo started out with free agent addition Chris Williams. Williams had been a disappointment with the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams before joining the Bills. Unfortunately, that trend continued in Buffalo. Williams battled a back injury through three weeks before being placed on the injured reserve. During his limited time on the field, his play was lackluster. 

Following Williams' move to the IR, rookie Cyril Richardson started four consecutive games. Richardson wasn't ready to start and it became painfully evident against the Detroit Lions. Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Richardson a -10.2 grade (0.0 is average) for his performance. He was pulled after a start against the Vikings in favor of Kraig Urbik. Richardson finished 60th among 78 eligible guards on PFF in his limited time.

Urbik was the best guard on the Bills in 2014, but he still struggled throughout the season. He was steady in pass protection, but struggled as a run blocker. PFF graded Urbik as a -10.0 in run blocking, which doesn't bode well for him going forward as the team wants to run a ground and pound offense.

At right guard, Erik Pears started the entire season. Pears was a liability in pass protection and run blocking. Among 78 guards, Pears finished the season 76th with a -25.0 rating. Pears is a free agent and it's doubtful he returns to the Bills in 2015. 

The Bills are still hoping to develop Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio from this draft class, but the team needs an immediate upgrade at left guard. Who could the Bills pursue in free agency? Here are three options.

Mike Iupati

Iupati, 27, is the top run blocking option on the free agent market at guard. The fact that Iupati has played under new Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman in San Francisco could help Buffalo land him. He’d be familiar with the scheme and terminology and help revive Buffalo’s run game.

That said, Iupati struggled in pass protection in 2014. PFF credited the left guard with allowing seven sacks and 22 quarterback hurries. He’s ideal for Buffalo’s ground and pound attack, but he may not be the best overall option on the free agent market.

Spotrac recently projected that Iupati could receive a contract in the range of $6.2 million yearly on average.

Clint Boling

Boling, 25, has spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals. The offensive guard and the rest of the Bengals OL helped rookie Jeremy Hill rush for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He isn’t as dominant of a run blocker as Iupati, but he’s still strong in this aspect of the game. However, Boling is better than Iupati in terms of pass protection. This season, PFF credited Boling with two sacks allowed and 10 quarterback hurries in 16 games.

The only concern with Boling is that he suffered a torn ACL in 2013. This may not be too significant as Boling was able to come back and play in all 16 games this season, but teams will look into the injury. He’d likely come at a cheaper price than Iupati.

Orlando Franklin

Franklin, 27, may be the most intriguing guard option among the three candidates due to his versatility. This season, Franklin started all 16 games at left guard, but he also has starting experience at right tackle. In his career, Franklin has only missed one game. He’s played and started in 63 games with the Denver Broncos.

This season was Franklin’s first at guard and he looked dominant throughout the year in pass protection and run blocking. Franklin finished ahead of Iupati and Boling in PFF’s guard ratings (13th overall). In run blocking, Franklin also ranked 13th with a +7.6 grade. Franklin was 8th in pass protection with a +8.0 grade. The analytics site said that Franklin was responsible for allowing one sack, two quarterback hits and eight hurries in 2014.

While Franklin was outstanding in run blocking and pass protection, he had a problem with penalties. Franklin was called for 10 penalties throughout 2014 per PFF, the third highest total among all guards. Some will also question Franklin’s pass protection ability as Peyton Manning is known for getting the ball out quickly.

There are other guard options on the free agent market as well, but Iupati, Boling and Franklin are the top three choices on the market. Buffalo’s offensive line will be significantly better if any of the following players are signed by the team in free agency and their greatest weakness will quickly become a strength.

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