BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The speculation as to how the Buffalo Bills depth chart should stack up this season is far from over, but we now know how the team currently sees it. Prior to their practice Monday evening, the Bills released their first unofficial depth chart of the preseason.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) July 28, 2014
If there was anything truly surprising on this first look at the team’s roster hierarchy, the Bills’ official Twitter account probably wouldn’t have asked that question in their tweet. So far, everything looks just about how one should have expected it to look, based upon practice reports and expectations for the team’s returning and new players.
Nonetheless, the depth chart provides some clarity as to who the current favorites are to make up the team’s 53-man roster. It shouldn’t be consumed as gospel: The Bills still have five preseason games that could shake many things up, while they wouldn’t make it obvious if they were planning surprise veteran cuts. But as we await the start of the preseason coming in this Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game, we can take a look at how the regular-season roster might look if decisions were made today.
Note: All players listed at their positions defined on the team’s depth chart.
1. EJ Manuel 2. Thad Lewis 3. Jeff Tuel
Projected Cuts: Dennis Dixon
Lewis and Tuel are currently splitting second-team reps as they battle to be Manuel’s primary backup, according to the Bills’ twitter account, but all three quarterbacks should have a spot on the final roster. Dixon should only be a serious candidate for a roster spot if one of the top three quarterbacks gets injured.
1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Anthony Dixon 4. Bryce Brown
Projected Cuts: Ronnie Wingo, Frank Summers and Evan Rodriguez
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora got Buffalo fans talking when he suggested that C.J. Spiller could become a trade commodity, but if the Bills are serious about making a playoff push, they shouldn’t even consider dealing Spiller, their most dynamic offensive player.
La Canfora justified speculation by stating that the Bills have more running backs than they need, but it’s likely they’ll keep four of them on the roster. Spiller and Jackson should continue to be one of the league’s stronger one-two punches if they can stay healthy. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the depth chart is that Dixon currently sits ahead of Brown, but Dixon, a big between-the-tackles runner, is likely to see playing time as a short-yardage and goal-line runner. The Bills traded a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick this offseason for Brown, so one would think that they would like to get him a share of carries as well.
The presence of Dixon, who is also a solid pass protector and special teams player, could push both fullbacks, Frank Summers and Evan Rodriguez, off the roster.
Starters: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods 3. Mike Williams 4. Marquise Goodwin 5. Chris Hogan 6. Marcus Easley
Projected Cuts: T.J. Graham, Kevin Elliott, Chris Summers, Caleb Holley, Tori Gurley, Naaman Roosevelt
Teams don’t often list rookies as starters on their early depth chart, but there would be no point to any such facade for the Bills with Sammy Watkins. Watkins has drawn nothing but rave reviews from those who have been at practices thus far, and Buffalo didn’t trade away its 2015 first-round pick to have Watkins come off the bench.
Watkins and Woods give Buffalo one of the most exciting young wide receiver tandems in the entire NFL. Both should be mainstays on the field, with Woods kicking inside to the slot and Williams coming in outside in three-receiver formations, which will likely make up most of Buffalo’s offensive sets.
One of the toughest battles on the roster could be between Hogan, Easley and Graham. Hogan and Graham are both listed ahead of Easley on the receiver depth chart, which they should be as they are better pass-catchers, but it’s likely that Easley will earn a spot for his special teams prowess. Between the two, it’s not unlikely to think Hogan, a sure-handed slot receiver, could beat out the underwhelming Graham.
1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith 3. Chris Gragg
Projected Cuts: Tony Moeaki, Dominique Jones
Chandler should continue to be Buffalo’s starting tight end while Smith is a solid run-blocking specialist. Moeaki is listed ahead of Gragg on the team’s depth chart, but Gragg should have every opportunity to beat out Moeaki, who is rarely healthy—he is going to miss “significant” time this preseason with a hamstring injury, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak—and underwhelming even when he is on the field.
1. Cordy Glenn (Non-Football Illness) 2. Seantrel Henderson
Projected Cuts: Edawn Coughman
The Bills shouldn’t hesitate to cut Henderson if he reverts back to the troubled ways that plagued him throughout his collegiate career at Miami, but as long as he keeps his nose clean off the field, the seventh-round pick already looks like a sure bet to make the 53-man roster. He has been taking all of Buffalo’s first-team reps at left tackle this offseason while Glenn has been out with an undisclosed illness.
1. Chris Williams 2. Cyril Richardson
Projected Cuts: Antoine McClain
Some believed (myself included) after the draft that Richardson would challenge Williams for the starting left guard job, but that seems unlikely considering he started camp with the third-team unit, according to WGR 550’s Joe Buscaglia. The fifth-round pick has moved up to the second-string offense, however, and should have the inside track to a roster spot backing up Williams, a veteran free-agent addition.
1. Eric Wood 2. Doug Legursky
Projected Cuts: Macky MacPherson, Jared Wheeler
None of the players listed as guards on Buffalo’s depth chart have any significant experience playing center, so Legursky, last year’s starting left guard, should secure a roster spot as a swing backup inside.
1. Kraig Urbik 2. Chris Hairston
Projected Cuts: J.J. ‘Unga
Incumbent starter Urbik is listed with the first team on the depth chart, but Bills coach Doug Marrone said last week that the spot is open to competition, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak. The Bills coaching staff has seemed surprisingly unimpressed with Urbik—they gave ‘Unga some playing time in Urbik’s place late last season—but he should still be considered the favorite to win this job.
If anyone is going to beat him, it will probably be Hairston, who should be a good bet to secure a roster spot as he has the versatility to play both guard and tackle. If Urbik loses the job, he’s a candidate for release.
1. Erik Pears 2. Cyrus Kouandjio
Kouandjio was expected to immediately push for the starting right tackle job. So far, however, the rookie has been a disappointment: WGR 550’s Joe Buscaglia went as far as to say that he “has not been the player the team was expecting when they selected him in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.” Pears was a weak link of the Bills offensive line last year, but he’ll remain in the lineup if Kouandjio is unable to turn it around.
See page 2 for defensive and special teams roster projections.