BBD Editor: Dan Hope
We’ve seen the Buffalo Bills’ official preseason depth chart, but we also know that depth chart is very much subject to change and not a true reflection of where some players stand on the roster. Halfway through the preseason, the preseason games themselves have likely been a more accurate glimpse into what the depth chart will actually look like when the regular season begins.
Who will make the Bills’ 53-man regular season roster, and where does each player on the roster fit on the team’s pecking orders? While we can’t know for certain until the regular season actually begins, I took an educated guess based upon what we have seen from the Bills thus far this preseason.
1. Kevin Kolb 2. EJ Manuel 3. Jeff Tuel
Before you lose it regarding Kolb being ahead of Manuel, consider this to be a Week 1 depth chart. While the rookie quarterback has been more impressive than Kolb this preseason, Manuel is losing two crucial weeks of repetitions following his minor knee procedure. Even if Manuel is fully healthy for the beginning of the regular season, the Bills would be smart to go with Kolb’s experience in Week 1 and give Manuel time to catch up. Chances are good that Manuel will end up starting at some point this season, but the time missed due to injury decreases the likelihood that he will start the season opener.
Behind Kolb and Manuel, undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel has earned a roster spot as the No. 3 quarterback. Given Manuel’s lack of experience and that he is coming off an injury, the Bills would be smart to keep a third quarterback.
1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Tashard Choice
The Bills’ running back hierarchy is quite clear. Spiller is one of the NFL’s most dynamic offensive playmakers, and Jackson forms a very strong one-two punch with Spiller. Tashard Choice is a solid No. 3 running back whose job should be safe.
1. Stevie Johnson 2. Robert Woods 3. T.J. Graham 4. Marquise Goodwin 5. Chris Hogan 6. Marcus Easley
Wide receiver has quickly changed to a strength from a weakness on the Bills’ roster. Johnson is a consistent No. 1 wideout whose three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons speak for themselves. Woods, a rookie, has already displayed the ability to consistently get open with his route-running and quickness and be an immediate go-to target. Graham could face competition from Goodwin for the No. 3 receiver spot, but both players are deep threats with big-play speed and are safely within the team’s top four on the receiving depth chart.
The last two spots on the wide receiver depth chart is where the team will have to make some of its toughest cuts. Hogan looks like to have a significant lead on the No. 5 receiver spot, however, as he has received significant work with the first-team offense this preseason and is a reliable, consistent option who can also contribute on special teams.
Given his performance thus far this preseason, Easley should have the upper hand on what is likely to be the sixth and final roster spot at wide receiver. Undrafted rookies Brandon Kaufman and Da’Rick Rogers, however, are both going to be tough cuts.
Veteran Brad Smith should be on the outs, as he has not produced much at wide receiver while he is no longer needed as a return specialist with the additions of Goodwin on kickoff returns and Woods on punt returns.
1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith 3. Chris Gragg
The Bills are likely to keep three tight ends, with each having a defined role. Chandler is the only tight end on the roster who is well-rounded as both a receiver and in-line blocker. Smith is a blocking specialist who should see work in short-yardage and red-zone situations given his size and strength.
The third tight end should also serve as the team’s H-back. The Bills have two very good athletes, Dorin Dickerson and rookie Chris Gragg, who are good candidates to fill that role. Assuming the Bills only keep one of them, Gragg should have the upper hand as Dickerson’s production has seriously lacked through his first three NFL seasons.
LT: Cordy Glenn LG: Colin Brown C: Eric Wood RG: Kraig Urbik RT: Chris Hairston
6/7. Erik Pears (OT), Doug Legursky (G/C) 8/9. Antoine Caldwell (G/C), Sam Young (OT/G)
The Bills have two question marks in the starting offensive line at left guard and right tackle, but those positions are likely to be filled by Brown and Hairston. Brown has not yet been named the starting left guard, but he has received all first-team repetitions ahead of Legursky through the team’s first two preseason games. Hairston remains on the team’s Physically Unable to Perform list, but should retain his starting spot ahead of Pears once he is healthy.
Even if they are not in the lineup, Pears should be the team’s priority backup at tackle while Legursky should be at the three interior line spots.
Although the depth is weak behind the top seven, the Bills are likely to keep either eight or nine offensive linemen on their roster. Caldwell is a veteran whose starting experience is an asset for further interior line depth, while Young is a solid backup given his versatility to play both tackle and guard.
Do not be surprised, however, if the Bills end up cutting their last offensive lineman (either Caldwell or Young) in favor of another offensive lineman from another team’s final cuts. The Bills could really use an upgrade in this area of depth, and another team’s trash could be a treasure in Buffalo.
2012 fifth-round pick Zebrie Sanders is another candidate to make the roster, but that is looking less likely as he has been a disappointment this preseason.
Turn to page 2 for defensive and special teams projections.