If you scan the various projections of most media outlets, the general consensus is that the, Bills have one of the weakest rosters in the NFL. Some say the Bills are the weakest, and at this point, at first glance, it’s tough to make a compelling counter argument.
Quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, and linebacker are four prime problem areas, and if coach Sean McDermott is going to will this team to the playoffs, it’s clear he’ll have to do so with talent that is below even last year’s mediocre group that somehow qualified for the tournament.
Here’s a look at the Bills, position by position, as they head into Baltimore for their season opener Sunday afternoon.
Starter: Nathan Peterman. Backup: Josh Allen.
The Bills conducted a comprehensive competition that began the moment OTAs got underway. All three players were given their opportunity with the first-string offense, and they each got a start in the first three preseason games. Ultimately, McCarron’s shoulder injury derailed him, and when he played the entire fourth game, it was clear he was no longer in the running to start. He was then traded to Oakland on the day the team cut its roster to 53 players, so the Bills will go into the season with two quarterbacks who have one combined year of NFL service time, and two starts. Sean McDermott officially named Peterman the starter Monday morning, though Allen is expected to play at some point this year, and the only question is when.
Starters : LeSean McCoy, Patrick DiMarco (FB). Backups: Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones.
McCoy is the Bills’ most indispensable player; if he were to get hurt, their offense would very likely sink to the bottom of the NFL. He is the key to the running game, which we know the Bills will have to rely on, and he’s also an important part of the passing game because the Bills do not have quality playmakers in their receiving corps. Ivory is a nice addition who can fill in if McCoy is out, and Murphy was one of the stars of the summer, though his role, at least early, will probably be limited to punt and/or kickoff returns.
Starter: Charles Clay. Backups: Jason Croom, Logan Thomas, Khari Lee.
Clay has been an underwhelming player during the first three years of his bloated five-year, $38 million contract. No one has really challenged him during his time in Buffalo, but Croom was impressive in training camp and the preseason games, and he could warrant meaningful snaps. Lee is the best blocker of the group and will mostly likely see playing time in short yardage and goal-line situations, though he did show that he can catch the ball. Ultimately, Thomas beat out fourth-year player Nick O’Leary who entered training camp No. 2 on the depth chart.
Starters: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones. Backups: Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, Ray-Ray McCloud.
Benjamin is the only proven player in this group, and even at that, he’d be a No. 2-type on the majority of NFL teams, but he’s No. 1 in Buffalo by default. He is a big-bodied, physical receiver who can make catches in the intermediate range, but it’s not too often that he’s blowing past anyone on a deep route. Jones is looking to put behind him a rough rookie year and an even rougher offseason, but the questions about his viability at this level remain. Kerley will be a useful player in the slot where he has often excelled. After that, the Bills have an abyss at the position.
Starters: LT Dion Dawkins, LG Vlad Ducasse, C Ryan Groy, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills. Backups: C Russell Bodine, G Wyatt Teller, T Marshall Newhouse, T Conor McDermott.
It was a nightmarish preseason for this group as they too often failed to protect whichever quarterback was behind them, most notably in the third game against Cincinnati when they played into the third quarter and offered no help to Allen in his lone start. Dawkins has already proven he’s a solid replacement for departed Cordy Glenn, but the losses of Richie Incognito and Eric Wood have severely depleted the talent level. Ducasse and Miller could be the weakest guard tandem in the league, and neither Groy nor Bodine outright won the center job. In terms of depth, there’s almost nothing as Newhouse seems past his prime, McDermott is a project, and Teller is a raw rookie whom the Bills hope can develop as fast as possible.
Starters: DE Jerry Hughes, DE Trent Murphy, DT Kyle Williams, DT Star Lotulelei. Backups: DT Harrison Phillips, DT Adolphus Washington, DE Shaq Lawson, DE Eddie Yarbrough.
Murphy has to get healthy because the Bills’ pass rush was one of the worst in the NFL last season. If he’s not the threat he was signed to be, it might be a long season for Hughes who will get doubled on every snap. Williams is currently injured, but the Bills are very happy with the progress of Phillips, their third-round pick, and he will start alongside Lotulelei until Williams is back. Lawson and Yarbrough provide adequate depth on the ends, but Washington, a former third-rounder, needs to do something in this, his third season.
Starters: MLB Tremaine Edmunds, WLB Matt Milano, SLB Lorenzo Alexander. Backups: Deon Lacey, Ramon Humber, Julian Stanford.
Edmunds, the Bills’ second of two first-round picks in April, really came on at the end of the preseason and he looks like a future star in the NFL, but he is flanked by two big question marks. Alexander is now 35 and clearly slowing down, so he won’t be an every-down player. And Milano is an undersized 223-pounder who flashed last season but needs to be stronger against the run. The depth is non-existent and the Bills have to pray they keep their starting three healthy.
Starters: LCB Tre’Davious White, RCB Vontae Davis, FS Micah Hyde, SS Jordan Poyer. Backups: CB Taron Johnson, CB Phillip Gaines, CB Lafayette Pitts, CB Ryan Lewis, S Rafael Bush, S Siran Neal.
Buffalo’s secondary was one of the NFL’s best last season, but there are two key changes this season. Davis takes over for E.J. Gaines on the outside, and rookie fourth-rounder Johnson is in line to replace Leonard Johnson as the nickel CB. At this point, the Bills do not appear better at either of those spots. White is a star in the making, while Hyde and Poyer joined the Bills as free agents last season and were an outstanding tandem in combining for 10 interceptions. Depth is an issue at CB, while Bush is a solid reserve at both safety spots.
K Stephen Hauschka, P Corey Bojorquez, LS Reid Ferguson, PR Marcus Murphy, KOR Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones, Ray-Ray McCloud.
Hauschka is superb, and in his first season playing in windy New Era Field, he had very few problems as he made 12 of 14 field goals and all 17 of his extra points in Buffalo’s eight home games. The Bills parted ways with Colton Schmidt. After he held off a late challenge from former Seahawks veteran Jon Ryan to keep his roster spot, he was waived Sunday and the Bills signed rookie Corey Bojorquez who had been cut by the Patriots. Ferguson was unchallenged. The return game still needs to be fleshed out, but Murphy, Jones and McCloud (assuming his knee injury from Thursday’s preseason finale isn’t serious) are the leading candidates.
WR Cam Phillips, OT Gerhard de Beer, OT De’Ondre Wesley, OL Ruben Holcomb, RB Keith Ford, DE Mike Love, DT Robert Thomas, S Dean Marlowe, LB Corey Thompson, CB Levi Wallace.
Phillips was a player who showed some promise in practice, though he didn’t make too many plays in the preseason games. Marlowe seemed destined to win a backup safety spot on the 53-man roster, but he lost out to rookie fifth-round pick Siran Neal. Marlowe may be the better player at this stage, so keeping him on the practice squad could be tricky.