BBD Editor: Dan Hope
It’s time for the Buffalo Bills to start thinking about cutting their roster down to size.
Their preseason is more than halfway over, as they have played three exhibition games and only two more to go before the regular season begins. On Aug. 26, the Bills will have to trim their roster from 90 players to 75. Just four days later, the Bills will only be able to have 53 players—the regular-season limit—on their active roster.
In two weeks, the Bills will only have 53 players on their active roster. Over the course of their contests against the New York Giants (Hall of Fame Game), Carolina Panthers (Aug. 8) and Pittsburgh Steelers (Saturday), it has become more clear who those 53 players should be, and which of those players should be leading the depth charts at their respective positions.
After the team’s release of its first unofficial depth chart prior to the Hall of Fame Game, I took my first stab at projecting who the team’s 53 players would be after its final cuts. Going into Week 3—arguably the most important and telling week of the preseason—some depth charts have been reconfigured and four players who were previously left outside now look like they will be sticking around.
1. EJ Manuel 2. Jeff Tuel 3. Thad Lewis
Projected Cuts: Dennis Dixon
EJ Manuel hasn’t displayed as much progress as many had expected he would this preseason, but the Bills are committed to him as their starter for 2014 and will need him to play better to have any realistic hopes of a postseason run.
None of Buffalo’s quarterbacks have been very impressive this summer, but Lewis has been the worst of the three who have seen playing time. He was so bad Saturday against the Steelers that he recorded a 0.0 quarterback rating. Despite starting five games for the Bills last year, Lewis is likely to be behind Tuel on the depth chart and could be released if Buffalo decides to only keep two signal-callers on its roster. Dixon, who has not seen a single snap this preseason, is almost certainly going to be released.
1. C.J. Spiller 2. Fred Jackson 3. Anthony Dixon 4. Bryce Brown
Projected Cuts: Ronnie Wingo
The Bills have shot down all rumors that they could trade Spiller, which would have been a surprise in the first place as he remains the most dynamic and explosive runner.
Spiller and Jackson form one of the NFL’s best one-two punches at running back, but Dixon and Brown are also expected to get some touches. Dixon was initially viewed as a short-yardage specialist, but while he’s actually struggled somewhat in short-yardage situations, he’s been impressive for the most part running the ball in three preseason games. Brown needs to commit more to running north-south than always trying to beat the edge of the defense with his speed, but he gives the team another big-play threat in its backfield.
Wingo’s only hope of making the roster would be for multiple injuries to occur in front of him.
1. Frank Summers
Projected Cuts: Evan Rodriguez
The presence of Dixon, a big tailback with lead blocking ability, might eliminate the need for the Bills to keep a true fullback, but Summers and Rodriguez have already seen a combined 104 snaps this preseason, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), so it would seem keeping a fullback is in the team’s plans.
Summers, who was with the Bills all last season and offers more than Rodriguez as a runner and blocker, should have the edge to a roster spot.
1. Sammy Watkins 2. Mike Williams 3. Chris Hogan 4. Robert Woods 5. Marquise Goodwin 6. Marcus Easley
Projected Cuts: T.J. Graham, Tori Gurley, Kevin Elliott, Chris Summers, Caleb Holley, Naaman Roosevelt
Woods was initially expected to start on the outside and kick into the slot in three-receiver sets, but through three preseason games, Watkins and Williams have been the starters outside while Chris Hogan has worked with the first-team offense as the slot receiver. At this point, it seems that the Bills view Woods, a talented second-year receiver who has performed well this preseason despite his apparent demotion, as the primary backup on the outside to Watkins and Williams.
Goodwin has battled injuries again this preseason like he did in his rookie year, but his roster spot should be safe. Easley is one of Buffalo’s core special teams players, but he could be in for a roster spot battle the next two weeks with Graham, who showed his own special teams value Saturday with an impressive performance returning kickoffs and punts versus the Steelers.
1. Scott Chandler 2. Lee Smith
Projected Cuts: Chris Gragg, Tony Moeaki, Dominique Jones
If the Bills decide to carry three tight ends this year, the third tight end will probably come from outside their current roster. Chandler is a reliable starter while Smith is a good run-blocking specialist, but the other tight ends have done nothing to prove their worth this summer.
The Bills don’t seem to be prioritizing the tight end within their passing offense, but it wouldn’t be very surprising if they only keep two.
LT: Cordy Glenn RT: Erik Pears 3. Seantrel Henderson 4. Cyrus Kouandjio
Projected Cuts: Edawn Coughman
Henderson has performed admirably as the first-team left tackle while Glenn recovers from illness, but Glenn will retain the starting job once healthy. Henderson could potentially replace Pears, a well-below-average starter at right tackle, but he hasn’t much opportunity to work on the right side.
Kouandjio’s roster spot is safe for this year, considering he was a second-round draft pick, but he has performed far too poorly to be a legitimate challenger to Pears.
LG: Chris Williams RG: Kraig Urbik 3. Cyril Richardson 4. Doug Legursky
Projected Cuts: Chris Hairston, J.J. ‘Unga, Antoine McClain
Richardson could potentially replace Urbik at right guard—and Urbik could potentially take Williams’ spot at left guard—but it seems more likely, especially after Richardson saw no first-team work Saturday, that the fifth-round pick will be the primary backup to Williams and Urbik to start his rookie season.
Legursky struggled as the starting left guard last season and he has played poorly with both starting and reserve units this preseason, but he’s likely to retain a roster spot because of his versatility to play center.
Hairston was in our original 53-man roster projection, but he now looks likely to be the odd man out unless an injury hits the offensive line. Rather than challenging for a starting guard spot, he has been backing up Henderson at left tackle, and it would be a shock if the Bills cut any of their three rookies to keep Hairston.
1. Eric Wood
Projected Cuts: Macky MacPherson, Jared Wheeler
Wood is a solid starter, and the aforementioned Legursky is likely to be kept on the roster over MacPherson and Wheeler.
See page 2 for defensive, special teams and practice squad projections.