With just three days separating Buffalo Bills fans from the long-anticipated arrival of training camp, it's time to play a little game that I have sucked at for quite some time: predicting the final roster.
Yes, I am aware that the Bills have yet to actually conduct a training camp practice. I'm also aware that, once those practices actually do happen, plenty is likely to change. This isn't an attempt at clairvoyance - did I mention that I suck at this game? - but rather to bring up some talking points, give us a reference for when the roster is formed, and far more importantly, to get your predictions as well.
There's a lot we'll get to talk about in the next few days - (hopefully) six rookie signings, the start of camp, and all of that jazz. For now, let's throw on our thinking caps and take a far-too-early stab at ironing out Buffalo's final roster. You'll find my early projection after the jump, as well as my last five players on the roster and the last five players I cut.
Week 1 roster exemptions
I've got to get this out of the way first: there are two players that will ultimately be on the 53-man roster but aren't likely to start there. This is almost a virtual certainty for RB Marshawn Lynch, who is suspended for the first three games of the season. He'll start the year on the Reserve/Suspended list. WR James Hardy, who is still recovering from an ACL injury and did not participate in spring mini-camps, may not be healthy enough to practice at full-go right away this weekend, either. If he needs any additional recovery time, he'll likely be put on the PUP list. During camp, he can be removed from this last and added to the active roster at any time; if he starts the season on PUP, he will not be eligible to practice with the team until Week 6.
With those two exceptions in mind, here is my (very likely inaccurate) roster prediction. Starters in CAPS:
TRENT EDWARDS, ,
Running Backs (3)
FRED JACKSON, ,
Wide Receivers (6)
TERRELL OWENS, LEE EVANS, , , ,
Tight Ends (3)
DEREK SCHOUMAN, ,
Offensive Tackles (3)
LANGSTON WALKER, BRAD BUTLER,
Offensive Guards (3)
ERIC WOOD, ANDY LEVITRE,
Defensive Ends (5)
AARON SCHOBEL, CHRIS KELSAY, , ,
Defensive Tackles (4)
MARCUS STROUD, KYLE WILLIAMS, ,
Outside Linebackers (4)
KAWIKA MITCHELL, KEITH ELLISON, ,
Inside Linebackers (2)
TERRENCE McGEE, LEODIS McKELVIN, , , ,
DONTE WHITNER, BRYAN SCOTT, , ,
I'll also quickly note this: once Lynch and Hardy are available, the moves become pretty easy. Lynch replaces Bruce Hall on the active roster (Hall would likely end up on the practice squad for a second straight season). Hardy replaces Jenkins.
Last five on the roster
FB. He's not going to make this squad on much more than special teams merit. It's tough putting him here even though he's solid on coverage units because of the changes made to special teams rules this year. The "wedge buster" will quickly become less important, and that is McIntyre's specialty. Still, it's always nice to have at least one player that's comfortable as a lead blocker, and McIntyre can still be useful there as well as for Bobby April.
WR Justin Jenkins. He'll only make this team if Hardy isn't placed on the PUP list, and he certainly won't see much (OK, any) time on offense. He's not likely to last the entire year in either case.
S John Wendling. It's pretty clear that if he makes the team, it will be solely based on his incredible versatility insofar as special teams play goes. It might not be enough, particularly ifhas a good pre-season.
CB Ellis Lankster. Even as impressive as he was in mini-camps, Lankster was tough to put here. I did it for two reasons: his physical style of play and his aggressiveness, as well as the fact that the Bills have shown a propensity to protect project players by keeping them on the active roster, even if they never intend to use them (see: Bell, Demetrius). Lankster can play special teams too, which obviously helps his cause.
DE Chris Ellis. The Bills have a pretty significant investment in Ellis. They'd love to see a strong pre-season out of him, but any sort of improvement should land him a roster spot. Unless he shows real promise, he'll be one of those players that steals a roster spot from someone who is perhaps more deserving.
Last five to be cut
Again, pretty self-explanatory.
S Ko Simpson. Once Jairus Byrd was drafted, it became pretty clear that one safety was going - and after a tumultuous January which included an arrest, Simpson was, and remains, the popular choice to get the boot. He has an uphill climb to make this roster, but don't be so quick to rule him out. Simpson is talented, and who knows what a new season could mean for him? He's got a more-than-legitimate shot to beat out one of the other safeties for a roster spot. Simpson's special teams abilities are underestimated, too.
LS Garrison Sanborn. Along with Lankster, Sanborn is everyone's favorite sleeper right now. All he has to do is beat out Ryan Neill for the long-snapping job and he's got himself a roster spot. I still give the edge to Neill.
DE. You've got to feel for this guy. He's worked his tail off the last couple of seasons and finally saw some field time, where he acquitted himself better than most probably expected. But there is a serious logjam at end, and Bryan is a likely roster casualty because of it.
LB. I really wanted to keep a seventh linebacker, and my choice would have been Buggs, a tough, feisty player that would do well under April. In the end, there were just too many players (as in the final five above) that knocked him out. If he doesn't make the roster, he's a virtual certainty to end up back on the practice squad - the Bills really like him.
TE. This name might surprise you; it surprised me too. He's here because of McIntyre; I'm really not sure what types of players April will prefer on his coverage units after the rules changes. If the Bills don't keep a fullback, a fourth tight end seems like a certainty. Right now, I give Stupar the edge over UDFA TE (though, at 6'2" and 276 pounds, McCall could theoretically play fullback).
Projected Practice Squad (8)
RB Justise Hairston (to be replaced by Hall)
TE Jonathan Stupar
OT Chris Denman
OG Brandon Rodd
DT Ventrell Jenkins
LB Marcus Buggs
LB Ashlee Palmer
CB Cary Harris
We'll end this little exercise with a projected depth chart. (* denotes a rookie.) Then you're off in the comments section!
|WR||83 - L. Evans||82 - J. Reed||84 - J. Hardy||17 - J. Jenkins|
|LT||68 - L. Walker||77 - D. Bell|
|LG||67 - A. Levitre*||73 - K. Chambers|
|C||63 - G. Hangartner||66 - S. McKinney|
|RG||70 - E. Wood*|
|RT||60 - B. Butler|
|TE||80 - D. Schouman||86 - D. Fine||89 - S. Nelson*|
|WR||81 - T. Owens||13 - S. Johnson||11 - R. Parrish|
|QB||5 - T. Edwards||14 - R. Fitzpatrick||10 - G. Hamdan|
|RB||23 - M. Lynch||22 - F. Jackson||33 - D. Rhodes||42 - B. Hall|
|FB||38 - C. McIntyre|
|LE||90 - C. Kelsay||58 - A. Maybin*||93 - C. Ellis|
|DT||95 - K. Williams||97 - J. McCargo|
|DT||99 - M. Stroud||91 - S. Johnson|
|RE||94 - A. Schobel||92 - R. Denney|
|SLB||56 - K. Ellison||49 - N. Harris*|
|MLB||51 - P. Posluszny||52 - J. DiGiorgio|
|WLB||55 - K. Mitchell||50 - A. Bowen|
|LCB||28 - L. McKelvin||29 - D. Florence||46 - E. Lankster*|
|SS||43 - B. Scott||37 - G. Wilson||21 - J. Wendling|
|FS||20 - D. Whitner||31 - J. Byrd*|
|RCB||24 - T. McGee||26 - A. Youboty||27 - R. Corner|
|K||9 - R. Lindell|
|P||8 - B. Moorman|
|LS||72 - R. Neill|