BBD Editor: Dan Hope
The Buffalo Bills have released 12 players in the past two days, first by cutting veteran defensive lineman Alan Branch then making 11 more roster moves Monday, but the biggest wave of cuts will come later this week.
The Bills play their final preseason game Thursday at 7 p.m. against the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson, and will then have until Saturday at 4 p.m. to trim their active roster to 53 players.
Which players will survive the next round of cuts? Furthermore, how should the team’s depth chart stack up heading into Week 1? And among the players who will be cut, who are the best candidates for the team’s 10-man practice squad?
1. EJ Manuel 2. Jeff Tuel 3. Thad Lewis or Roster Addition
Second-year quarterback Manuel has failed to exhibit satisfactory progression this preseason, but the depth chart behind him presents no legitimate replacement possibility.
The Bills were so disappointed in their backup quarterback competition that they played Dennis Dixon, who saw no playing time in the team’s first three preseason games and was released Monday as expected, ahead of Tuel and Lewis against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday.
Tuel, who ended up seeing playing time after Dixon on Saturday, has shown enough in his second summer with the Bills that he should earn the team’s backup quarterback job. Lewis, on the other hand, appears likely to be on the outs after not playing at all in Saturday’s game. Expect the Bills to keep an eye on which quarterbacks get cut by other teams this week, and it’s likely they’ll pick one of them to replace Lewis on the roster.
Update, Monday 9 p.m.: The Bills are reportedly set to sign Jordan Palmer, who was released by the Bears on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. Palmer would be the roster addition projected to replace Lewis on the 53-man roster.
1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Anthony Dixon 4. Bryce Brown
All four running backs on the depth chart should safely make the regular-season roster. Spiller and Jackson are expected to split the majority of the team’s carries, but Dixon and Brown have both been impressive this preseason and should see some playing time. Dixon could be the team’s short-yardage/goal-line specialist in the backfield.
1. Frank Summers
Projected Cuts: Evan Rodriguez
Summers has worked with the first-team offense all preseason and appears set to retain his job as Buffalo’s fullback. He offers more than Rodriguez as a runner and blocker, and gives the team another short-yardage running option.
1. Sammy Watkins 2. Mike Williams 3. Robert Woods 4. Chris Hogan 5. Marquise Goodwin 6. Marcus Easley
Projected Cuts: T.J. Graham, Caleb Holley, Naaman Roosevelt
Watkins and Williams should be the starting wideouts on the outside, but it’s unclear how the rest of the receiving depth chart will stack up. The Bills used Hogan as their first-team slot receiver in their first three preseason games, but he was relegated to the second-team offense behind both Woods and Goodwin against the Buccaneers on Saturday. Woods, who should see playing time both inside and outside, is the strongest candidate for regular playing time.
The battle for a sixth receiving spot between Easley and Graham is also among the toughest determinations to project on the team’s roster. Graham has more receiving upside than Easley and has shown some value in recent weeks as a kickoff and punt returner, but Easley’s proven skills on special teams should earn him the spot unless Graham has an outstanding performance in Buffalo’s preseason finale.
1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith 3. Chris Gragg
Projected Cuts: Tony Moeaki, Dominique Jones
Chandler is the Bills’ clear-cut starter at tight end, while Smith is a solid run-blocking specialist.
Gragg was left off our last roster projection, but linebacker Stevenson Sylvester’s move to injured reserve opened up a spot on the 53-man roster. The Bills increasingly incorporated the tight end into their passing offense on Saturday and will likely want to keep a third player at the position for depth.
LT: Cordy Glenn LG: Chris Williams C: Eric Wood RG: Erik Pears RT: Seantrel Henderson 6. Cyril Richardson 7. Cyrus Kouandjio 8. Doug Legursky 9. Chris Hairston
Projected Cuts: Kraig Urbik, Antoine McClain, Jared Wheeler
Glenn and Wood are the only sure starters on the Bills’ offensive line, but Bills coach Doug Marrone said Monday that he sees Pears as the starting right guard and Henderson as the starting right tackle, according to Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News.
Williams has missed the Bills’ past two preseason games due to injury but was signed to start at left guard and is likely to do so once healthy. He could still be challenged for his starting job by Richardson, who started in his place Monday. Richardson, a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, projects as the primary backup at both guard spots if he does not overtake Williams.
Kouandjio has struggled mightily this preseason, but although the Bills are going with seventh-round pick Henderson over second-round pick Kouandjio at right tackle, Kouandjio’s roster spot is safe for this year because of how highly he was drafted.
Where the roster cuts could be interesting are beyond the projected starters and the rookies.
Legursky and Urbik were the Bills’ starting guards last year but both of them have been shuffled down the depth chart this year. It’s unlikely Buffalo will keep both of them. Whichever one does make the roster will have to serve as the backup center, which could give Legursky the nod because he has more experience in the middle.
Hairston projects as the last man in this projection, occupying the roster spot that will be open for only one week because linebacker Nigel Bradham is suspended for the season opener. He hasn’t seen any first-team work this preseason, but could be kept as a backup tackle due to Kouandjio’s lack of readiness to play. That said, it’s likely that Henderson would move to left tackle in the event of a Glenn injury, with Pears moving back to right tackle, where he started last year, if Henderson moved across the line or was injured.
See page 2 for defensive, special teams and practice squad projections.