One week from tomorrow, on August 27, NFL teams will need to cut upwards of 15 players in the first of two scheduled cut-downs that will reduce rosters to 53 players on August 31. The Buffalo Bills will need to release 14 players by that time, making the proverbial roster bubble more important than ever.
Which players, exactly can be considered "on the bubble" - i.e. more than a longshot, but with much to prove? This is my attempt to systematically identify Buffalo's bubble players. We'll start by identifying guys that are locks to make the team, fill out minimum numbers requirements from there, and then use that to help identify the Bills' bubble.
By my count (and I'm certain many of you will disagree with small parts of this), I consider 45 players as locks for the final roster already. That obviously doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for Buffalo's bubble players, and we haven't even gotten to filling out numbers requirements yet, either. The locks:
- QB (3): Ryan Fitzpatrick, Vince Young, Brad Smith
- RB (2): Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller
- TE/FB (2): Scott Chandler, Corey McIntyre
- WR (5): Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Donald Jones, Derek Hagan, T.J. Graham
- OT (3): Cordy Glenn, Erik Pears, Chris Hairston
- G/C (4): Andy Levitre, Eric Wood, Kraig Urbik, Chad Rinehart
- DE (4): Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, Shawne Merriman
- DT (4): Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Spencer Johnson, Dwan Edwards
- LB (6): Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard, Bryan Scott, Arthur Moats, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder
- CB (6): Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks
- S (3): Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Da'Norris Searcy
- SP (3): Rian Lindell, John Potter, Garrison Sanborn
The Numbers Bubble
With 45 locks, just eight roster spots remain - and of those eight, six must be dedicated to making sure that the team has the right numbers at certain positions. One more player must be kept at running back, at (ideally middle) linebacker, at punter, and between the tight end and fullback positions, while two more offensive linemen will be retained.
In order to fill out the required numbers for the roster, all we need to do is complete the following:
- Pick one (1) RB: Tashard Choice or Johnny White
- Pick one (1) TE/FB: Lee Smith or Dorin Dickerson
- Pick two (2) OL: Sam Young, Zebrie Sanders, Colin Brown or Mark Asper
- Pick one (1) LB: Kirk Morrison, Scott McKillop or Chris White
- Pick one (1) P: Brian Moorman or Shawn Powell
By definition, all of these players are on the bubble simply because they're all part of a numbers crunch. That's 13 names right there, with six likely to make the team. Of the seven that don't make the cut because of the numbers game, three can be added into the free-for-all at the back end of the roster, as I'll explain below.
The Roster Bubble
With 45 locks and six more players making the cut to satisfy numbers requirements, we're left with just two open roster spots to divide among a large group of players.
As mentioned previously, three players from the numbers crunch can be added right back into this pool; I'm talking about whichever tight end/fullback wasn't chosen, and whichever two linebackers weren't picked. All three of those players can still be assets to the team, particularly as specialists, and therefore all of them still have a shot even if they miss the first proverbial cut. On the flip side, the team almost certainly won't be keeping a fourth running back, a tenth offensive lineman or a second punter.
Before I add eight more names to the list of 13 bubble players identified in the previous step: you're free, of course, to disagree with any of the opinions I've put forth above. I'd be interested to know how you'd re-structure the argument to suit your opinions, because it's the thought process of building a roster that intrigues me most.
Onto the final roster bubble: