The big news today came out that Shawne Merriman, a free agent pickup by Buffalo in 2010, was released. Reportedly, the team felt not only that Merriman wasn't good enough to make an impact on the team, but that they also had some talented youth at the position they wanted to give additional reps to. The main benefactors of this move it seems are Kyle Moore and Jarron Gilbert (Gilbert was reportedly moved outside to defensive end after spending most of camp at DT). With both of those players being part of Buffalo's 2011 free agent acquisitions, I thought I'd revisit the posts I made talking about 2011 and Buffalo's waiver-wire strategy as a whole.
Buffalo started the 2011 season alert, picking up Lee Smith and Sam Young from other teams' initial cuts. After that, they stuck with their players until moving a large number of important players to Injured Reserve in November. In that month, the Bills added Kyle Moore, Derek Hagan and Tashard Choice. December was another busy month of IR'ing - Buffalo signed two new free agents, Fendi Onobun and Jarron Gilbert, and promoted another one they'd had on the practice squad: Kevin Brock.
All those players have thus far managed to stick with the team. Let's break down how their offseason has gone, player by player, and see if anyone will be continuing with the team and what kind of impact they might have.
When I first did my analysis of Buffalo's 2011 acquisitions, I left out Sam Young and Tashard Choice. Young, because he was not considered very athletic going through the draft, and Choice, because he was a free agent at the time. Since Choice has been re-signed and Young has outplayed my expectations, they will both be mentioned here.
Smith was one of the players who came in last year and did a good job specializing in one aspect of his position (blocking) but leaving people hoping he'd flash more going into his second year. So far he's been a disappointment by not having more of an impact in the passing game in training camp and the preseason. He also has been flagged for a couple penalties so far. Still, his blocking is much better than any of the other tight ends, and so he is a good shot to make the roster as the season starts.
Chances of making the roster: 90% (Only 1 TE is a lock, needs to outplay Dorin Dickerson and other TE prospects)
2012 season projection: 16 games played, 1 game started, 12 catches, 108 yards, 1 TD.
Young has me eating crow. I openly admitted I didn't see anything in Young to make him worth keeping around for another season, but despite his supposed athletic deficiencies he has managed to hold up quite well as a second string tackle. He even has had some great practices walling off Mario Williams. He shouldn't be starting at the RT position, but at this point I can think of some players who'd be worse. With Erik Pears still dealing with his nagging injury, Young might make the opening day roster as insurance, only to be cut when Pears is healthy again. Or he might stay on at that point. To make the roster though, he'll have to beat out a more athletic prospect in Zebrie Sanders who has had a similar quality preseason, has the benefit of being a rookie drafted by the team, but the downside of being lower on the depth chart than Young.
Chances of making the roster: 70% (In a "pick two of three" battle with Zebrie Sanders and Colin Brown, is an incumbent)
2012 season projection: 4 games played (Inactive unless Pears or Hairston have injuries during the season)
Kyle Moore has been one of the most improved players from this preseason. Someone who was a fringe player in 2011 and coming into the draft has turned in multiple solid performances that led to him being kept with the team as Shawne Merriman made his exit. He is now the second team LE, subbing in behind Mario Williams, and with Mark Anderson out today, he played some first team RE. With Chris Kelsay the only "lock" as a backup end, Moore should make the team and see several snaps this year - even though his upside is probably higher as a run-stopper than a pass rusher.
Chances of making the roster: 100% (Lock)
2012 season projection: 16 games played, 28 tackles, 1 sacks, 2 TFL
Hagan has bounced around the league as a journeyman receiver for a number of years now, never living up to his draft expectations. But when he landed in Buffalo, he suddenly developed a strong rapport with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and that led to him signing a contract to stay with the team for the foreseeable future. He has had a strong training camp this year, distancing himself from the "third tier" of fringe WR prospects and locking himself on the roster. While he isn't a star, he is a dependable veteran with enough athleticism to make catches at most levels of the field. And with his age only 27, he's somebody Buffalo could keep around for years if he remains consistent.
Chances of making the roster: 100% (Lock)
2012 season projection: 16 games played, 2 started, 24 catches, 310 yards, 3 TDs
Tashard Choice has been the target of vitriol from Rumblers for representing the last vestiges of Chan Gailey's "farm system" from Georgia Tech and the disappointments that brought. When Choice was brought in, the team needed RB depth behind CJ Spiller, and with the Georgia Tech connection it was pretty easy to see why he was signed. However, he greatly disappointed despite being handed a larger than usual number of carries while CJ Spiller was used mostly as a change of pace. Last year he rushed for a paltry 2.6 yards per carry. He has still been given many opportunities to make the roster though, being re-signed in the offseason and placed above Johnny White and the rookies on the depth chart. Again he disappointed, being stuffed on the goalline multiple times in preseason games. Despite his poor play, he might still be ahead of Johnny White in the roster crunch. White has dealt with injuries this preseason and not significantly stood out yet in his career. Ultimately though, it might be wise for Buffalo to just leave Choice off the roster. He doesn't bring anything positive to the offense, and he has no real impact on special teams.
Chances of making the roster: 40% (Leading Johnny White as of preseason game 2, but neither is playing well enough to make the roster right now)
2012 season projection: Cut
The best name in Buffalo is entering probably his last offseason in the NFL. With two seasons to distinguish himself, the athletic former basketball playing tight end never really caught onto the subtleties of football. Still though, he represents a tall "move tight end" that Buffalo doesn't already have on the roster, and he performed well enough to jump to the third string TE spot - just behind Lee Smith and ahead of Kevin Brock. If he has a good performance in games 3 and 4 of preseason, he might make the team. But right now, it's probably the end of the line for him, so best wishes to his future endeavors.
Chances of making the roster: 10% (Needs to play well enough to be kept on as 3rd TE, which might require outplaying Dorin Dickerson and/or Lee Smith)
2012 season projection: Cut
Gilbert has wallowed in the third string for much of the preseason, a victim of the numbers game at DT. But with Shawne Merriman's release came a move outside to DE at practice Monday, and it reportedly went quite well for Gilbert. If there's one benefit Jarron Gilbert brings to the defense, it's his tremendous athleticism and upside. He's a raw but high-potential pass rusher who would fit well as a 3-technique or a defensive end. With 4 DT's and 4 DE's locked in, Gilbert will be in a cutthroat battle with Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, Kellen Heard, and Robert Eddins for that last spot. Suddenly, his chances look a lot better.
Chances of making the roster: 40% (On the slim side, but he's better than Eddins, and Troup and Heard are battling injuries. Needs to outperform Carrington and hope the others don't get healthy)
2012 season projection: 8 games played, 12 tackles, 3 sacks
Brock is a journeyman tight end who has managed to play for 7 different teams since 2009, although SB Nation reports him only having one season of play in the NFL. That career course probably dictates what will happen to Brock. Despite a good sized frame for the TE position, he never distinguished himself, falling behind Fendi Onobun on the depth chart, and even though he's only played in 2 career games, I'm pretty sure his practice squad eligibility is up. It's the end of the road for Brock.
Chances of making the roster: 5%
2012 season projection: Cut
Players in review
So how'd I do guessing the players? (And how good was Buffalo's waiver scouting?)
Based on the predictions from my old post, here are the hits:
Lee Smith - I still feel strongly that he'll make the roster, though he's tempered my expectations somewhat
Kyle Moore - I said that if the DE depth became a concern, he'd make the team, and that looks to be just what's happening.
Derek Hagan - I identified him as a depth receiver, and he's back in that role with Buffalo again.
Tashard Choice (I hope) - I didn't think he'd be back for another season, and while Buffalo made him a part of training camp, I don't think he'll make it onto the roster.
Kevin Brock - He didn't really impress at the end of last season, and now it's clear he won't make the team
And my misses:
Sam Young - I thought he'd be gone before training camp, but he stuck around and might make the team
Fendi Onobun - I said he'd have a pretty good shot to make the roster. Between Dorin Dickerson's signing and the stunning revelation that Fendi isn't that great a player, this became a much longer shot.
Jarron Gilbert - I also said that he had one of the best shots to make the roster, and that he was the most likely impact player. Gilbert isn't likely to make the team right now, but if he did make the team he has the athleticism to become a "big play" type of player.
As for Buffalo, you have to be impressed with the players they brought in. While there was nothing quite like the 5 or so starters they picked up in 2010, they got a ton of solid depth players: Lee Smith, Kyle Moore, Derek Hagan, Sam Young. If any of those players had to start, I would not be running for the hills (well, except it means that Scott Chandler, Mario Williams, Stevie Johnson, or Erik Pears/Chris Hairston got injured).
All in all, it looked like another successful season of waiver wire pickups by the CHIX regime. I can't wait to see who we manage to uncover in the 2012 season!