Starters: Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes 3. Manny Lawson 4. Jarius Wynn
Projected Cuts: Jacquies Smith, Ike Igbinosun, Bryan Johnson
Williams is one of the NFL’s best defensive ends and Hughes has had a fantastic preseason. Lawson, a starter at linebacker last season, looks good as a rotational defensive end this summer. Wynn is the likely choice to be the team’s fourth defensive end, but he might still be in a battle with Smith, who has displayed enough pass-rushing ability to make a case for himself this summer.
Starters: Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus 3. Corbin Bryant 4. Stefan Charles 5. Landon Cohen
Projected Cuts: Alan Branch, Damien Jacobs
It has become clear this preseason that defensive tackle is Buffalo’s deepest position, and it might result in a surprising veteran cut.
Williams and Dareus are terrific starters, but the stars this preseason have been Bryant, Charles and Cohen, who have all displayed impressive quickness and consistent ability to disrupt plays. That makes it likely the Bills won’t have a spot on their roster for Alan Branch.
The Bills clearly expected Branch to be part of their roster for at least 2014 when they signed him to a three-year, $8.5 million contract extension in December. However, his entire offseason has been a disappointment, from skipping OTAs to doing nothing of note yet this preseason. He doesn’t seem to be worth keeping around at this point.
1. Nigel Bradham (Suspended for Week 1) 2. Stevenson Sylvester
Projected Cuts: Xavius Boyd
Bradham has been a standout on the Bills defense this preseason and should be the team’s starting weakside linebacker from Week 2 onward. As previously mentioned, he will not count against the team’s 53-man roster for Week 1. That increases the likelihood that Sylvester, who has had a solid preseason and could replace Bradham in the lineup for the season opener, will be kept on the roster for at least one week.
1. Brandon Spikes 2. Preston Brown 3. Ty Powell
Spikes is one of the NFL’s best run-stopping middle linebacker. He’s best suited to only play against the run, but he’s been used as an every-down player thus far this preseason.
Brown was expected to compete for the starting weak-side linebacker job, but he’s struggled outside this preseason, and is best suited to be Spikes’ primary backup as a rookie. Powell deserves a spot as one of the team’s most versatile linebackers and as a core special teams player, but he will have to prove his worth in Week 1 or he could be the roster casualty of Bradham’s Week 2 return.
1. Keith Rivers 2. Randell Johnson
Projected Cuts: Jimmy Gaines
Rivers isn’t a great player, but he’s the clear-cut starter at strongside linebacker. It has appeared this preseason that he will only play in the base defense.
Johnson is a raw talent, but the seventh-round pick has made plays throughout the preseason. A terrific athlete who flies to the football, he’s seemingly done enough to this point to lock up a roster spot.
Starters: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin 3. Nickell Robey 4. Corey Graham 5. Ron Brooks 6. Ross Cockrell
Projected Cuts: Bobby Felder, Mario Butler, Sam Miller, Kamaal McIlwain
Gilmore and McKelvin are a strong starting cornerback duo while Robey is excellent as the slot cornerback in subpackages. Graham is in a similar position to where Robert Woods is at wide receiver: while he’s not a starter, he’ll be the primary backup at all three cornerback positions and could see playing time in dime packages.
Whether Buffalo keeps Brooks could depend on whether it wants to keep six cornerbacks, but he has rightfully earned a spot on the 53-man roster with a strong preseason showing. Cockrell hasn’t seen any meaningful repetitions this preseason and should only play on special teams as a rookie, but the sixth-round pick’s roster spot should be safe.
Starters: Aaron Williams, Da’Norris Searcy 3. Duke Williams 4. Jonathan Meeks
Projected Cuts: Deon Broomfield, Kenny Ladler, Jajuan Harley, Derek Brim
The Bills have been experimenting at safety, where each Williams and Searcy have each made two of three starts this preseason. Aaron Williams should be a clear-cut regular-season starter at one of the two safety spots, as he performed well at strong safety in 2013, but the battle between Searcy and Duke Williams could go either way. Searcy has played a bit better than Duke Williams this preseason and has more experience, but this battle should carry on through at least this Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Meeks should have the edge on the fourth safety spot. Coming into the preseason, Ladler was viewed as the strongest candidate among the undrafted rookies to potentially earn a roster spot as the fourth or fifth safety, but Broomfield has made plays in both run support and coverage this preseason and projects as a tougher cut.
1. Dan Carpenter
Projected Cuts: Dustin Hopkins
Carpenter proved Saturday, with four touchbacks on five kickoffs, that there’s no reason for the Bills to use a roster spot to keep Hopkins as a kickoff specialist.
1. Brian Moorman
Projected Cuts: Jake Dombrowski
Moorman was one of the NFL’s worst punters in 2013, but Dombrowski hasn’t looked like an improvement this preseason.
1. Garrison Sanborn
Sanborn is the only long snapper on the roster. Lee Smith is listed as the emergency long snapper, which further secures his place on the 53-man team.
Deon Broomfield, Jimmy Gaines, J.J. ‘Unga, Kenny Ladler, Macky MacPherson, Bobby Felder, Jacquies Smith, Caleb Holley
The Bills probably won’t fill their eight-man practice squad entirely with players from their own roster cuts—and some of these players could get scooped up by other teams—but among the players with practice squad eligibility, these eight seem like the most promising and likely candidates among their cuts to be kept in the system.
Broomfield and Gaines have been the most impressive players from the team’s undrafted rookie crop this preseason, and both should priority practice squad pickups if they are cut from the 53-man team. MacPherson, who played for Bills coach Doug Marrone at Syracuse, could be a fallback option at center, while fellow undrafted rookies Ladler and Holley have enough potential to be worth keeping around if they are not claimed elsewhere.
‘Unga spent time on Buffalo’s active roster last season, but is still practice squad eligible and would be a good choice to keep if possible on the practice squad. Felder and Smith have both been in the NFL since 2012; neither has played in a regular-season game, but both have shown some promise this preseason.