BBD Editor: Dan Hope
Much has changed since I published my mid-preseason Buffalo Bills depth chart projection. Although that was published just last Thursday, the Bills have played two games since. Last Thursday, Bills fans were full of hope and confidence for the upcoming season. The tone is different one week later: the Bills lost their last two preseason games by a combined score of 65-20, but more importantly, they lost a number of key players to injury.
Last Saturday versus the Washington Redskins, the Bills lost potential starting quarterback Kevin Kolb to a concussion and No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a fractured wrist. The offensive line has also taken a big hit in the past week. Starting right tackle Chris Hairston was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Illness list Monday (ending his season), and top interior line backup Doug Legursky was carted off the field Thursday night with what looked like a serious knee injury.
Those injuries are especially devastating because they hit the Bills at what may be the three weakest position groups on their roster. As a result, there are many wide-open spots on the Bills’ depth chart, which will leave the Bills with more tough-to-keep than tough-to-cut players.
1. EJ Manuel (Injured) 2. Jeff Tuel 3. Thaddeus Lewis
Kevin Kolb’s status for the season is uncertain, but given the report by Tim Graham of the Buffalo News that his concussion is potentially career-ending, it seems likely that Kolb will end up on injured reserve (possibly with an option to return after eight weeks). Manuel’s status is also uncertain for Week 1 as he works his way back from a minor knee procedure, but with Kolb out, Manuel will be in line to start as soon as he is healthy.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone announced that the team is planning to start Tuel if Manuel remains sidelined in Week 1, so Tuel is in line to be Manuel’s backup for the season.
The battle to be the No. 3 quarterback in place of Kolb is where it gets interesting, but that spot should go to Thaddeus Lewis. A younger and more athletic quarterback with a stronger arm, he outperformed Matt Leinart in the Bills’ preseason finale versus the Detroit Lions on Thursday, and he has more ability to make the downfield throws and plays outside the pocket that Manuel and Tuel can.
1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Tashard Choice
The running back depth chart is one of the team’s only clear-cut roster breakdowns. 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 and Goodwin are deep threats with big-play speed, both safely within the team’s top four on the receiving depth chart.
Hogan and Easley both left the game briefly with injuries on Thursday night, but fortunately both returned to the game. They have done enough this preseason to earn the last two spots at wide receiver on the Bills’ roster.
Hogan is a great route-runner and reliable catcher whose ability to get open makes him an asset out of the slot, and he received significant work with the first-team offense this preseason. Easley had more than double the receiving yards of any other Bills wideout this preseason, and finally started to show his potential as a big, fast downfield weapon. Importantly, both players also showed that they contribute on special teams, where they will be asked to play consistently.
Veteran receiver Brad Smith has little value to the team, as Goodwin can replace him as a kickoff returner while he has done little as a wide recever in two seasons with the Bills. Undrafted rookie Brandon Kaufman will be a tough cut, but Hogan and Easley have done enough to beat him out this preseason.
1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith 3. Chris Gragg
Chandler hasn’t played since tearing his ACL last season, but he is the team’s only well-rounded tight end and should start in Week 1 assuming his recovery has not had a significant setback. He is an asset as both a receiver and a blocker, and can line up both in line and flexed away from the line.
Smith is a blocking specialist who should see work in short-yardage and red-zone situations given his size and strength. The team’s third tight end should also serve as the team’s H-back, and that role should go to either Chris Gragg or Dorin Dickerson. Both are great athletes with the potential to be receiving playmakers (and little blocking ability), but Gragg’s rookie upside should give him the edge over Dickerson and his serious lack of production through his first three NFL seasons.
LT: Cordy Glenn LG: Colin Brown C: Eric Wood RG: Kraig Urbik RT: Erik Pears
6. Sam Young (OT/G) 7. Antoine Caldwell (G/C) 8. Waiver Claim
With Hairston out for the season and Legursky likely in the same boat, the Bills have a serious lack of offensive line depth. Brown and Pears won the competitions to start at left guard and right tackle by default as a result of the injuries, but the rest of the team’s roster spots on the offensive line remain wide open.
Of the rest of the Bills’ offensive linemen, the most solid player is Young, who has the versatility to play both tackle and guard. Caldwell, who has starting experience as a right guard, should take Legursky’s place as the team’s primary interior line backup.
Given the lack of depth, any of the Bills’ other offensive linemen (David Snow, Thomas Welch, Zebrie Sanders and Zach Chibane) could end up getting a roster spot. The Bills will most likely keep one of them in their initial roster cutdowns, but expect the Bills to scout the waiver wire heavily to find a better option for offensive line depth from a player who fails to make another team’s 53-man roster.
Turn to page 2 for defensive and special teams projections.