With the Bills a few weeks away, the team gladly seems to have all their starters and even their immediate backups in place. Most of the remaining position battles will be to make the roster which is why I decided to combine this aspect with my 53 man roster predictions.
§I. Draft Analysis – My grades and thoughts on the Bills 2012 draft
§II. Free Agency – Who we re-signed, gained and loss and the impact on the Bills
§III. Position Battles – Where there is competition among players for starting or backup jobs
§IV. 53 Man Roster Predictions – who will be on the roster when the year starts and starters
§V. Offensive Analysis – current state of personnel, starters and backups
§VI. Defensive Analysis – current state of personnel, starters and backups
§VII. Special Teams Analysis – current state of personnel and whether the Bills will keep two kickers
§VIII. 2012 Season Schedule –a look at who the Bills will face, try to gauge difficulty
§IX. 2012 Power Rankings –a look at where the Bills stand up to the rest of the league
§X. 53 Man Roster Predictions – who will be on the roster when the year starts and starters
§XI. Salary Cap Breakdown – Where the Bills stand in correlation to the salary cap (2012 and 2013)
§XII. 2013 Free Agents – who may not be with the Bills next year and our top targets to re-sign or sign
§XIII. 2013 Draft Needs – what areas need attention to most and who the Bills could target
§III. Position Battles:
i. Starter Jobs Decided
Early on in camp, there were a few starting positions up for grab ranging from left tackle, the #2 wide receiver, strong-side linebacker and the #2 cornerback. At left tackle, Chris Hairston’s bid as a starter (even if for the interim) never manifested when Hairston had to take over at right tackle for the injured Erik Pears. As such, second round rookie Cordy Glenn, who has been fairly decent, is the definitive starter at LT in week one. At cornerback, the Bills have first round rookie Stephon Gilmore as their undisputed starter. With veteran starter Terrence McGee slowly coming off an injury (and still looking a bit off), Aaron Williams will be the #2 starting CB in week one.
For the #2 wide receiver spot, Donald Jones returned as the starter after last season was plagued with injuries. To date Jones has held off all of the competition (Derek Hagan particularly) and managed to make a few big grabs in the preseason. The most interesting starting job battle occurred at strong-side OLB. Heading into training camp, veteran LB Kirk Morrison had the starting job. However, throughout camp and pre-season, fan favorite Arthur Moats (who has played several positions with the Bills) had impressed the coaches enough to beat out Morrison for the starting job. Moats has been very good in preseason action and seems set to start in week 1.
ii. Back-Up Spots for Grabs
QB: Vince Young seemed to have the backup quarterback locked until this past week when he was constantly owned by the Steelers secondary. With Tyler Thigpen also struggling, the Bills traded a late round pick for Tavaris Jackson and cut Young. Jackson, a former second rounder has had an up/down experience in the NFL, being a very mobile and athletic quarterback, but like Young, struggles with accuracy. Thigpen is more familiar with Gailey’s system, but Jackson has more upside and I highly doubt the Bills will keep four QBs on the roster.
ADVANTAGE: Tavaris Jackson
RB: Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are set as the one and two backs respectively. However, behind them last year’s fifth round pick Johnny White may be usurped by midseason acquisition Tashard Choice. While White offers more athleticism, Choice as of late has outperformed him, particularly in the last pre-season game against Pittsburgh.
ADVANTAGE: Tashard Choice
RT: Erik Pears was solid all of last season and provided the Bills with stability as the right side anchor. While Chris Hairston is undeniably the immediate backup at both right and left tackles, most teams like to keep a fourth tackle just in case (look at the Bills last year when they had to rely on Levitre as the third left tackle). Both players in consideration have experience at both left and right tackle. Sam Young, a young tackle acquired last year has looked good in camp. However competing with him is fifth round rookie Zebrie Sanders. Sanders has more upside, but Young has played better…
ADVANTAGE: Zebrie Sanders
TE: The Bills are only set at tight end with their starter Scott Chandler. Behind him are a few players that are fighting to be the backup(s). Second year TE Lee Smith has been seeing a lot of playing time in 2-TE formations with Chandler primarily as a blocker due to his size. The FB/TE Dickerson in turn lacks a typical tight end build, but has extraordinary athleticism and speed, and can also block. Behind him is Kevin Brock, who like Smith is a blocker primarily and has had a good camp. Obviously a major factor will be whether the Bills will keep 2 tight ends (like they started last year) or the typical 3 and remember TE Mike Caussin (on the PUP) could come back by the bye week.
ADVANTAGE: Lee Smith
WR: The Bills have four receivers that will definitely make the roster. Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones are the starters while David Nelson and rookie T.J. Graham will man the slots. Behind them, the Bills will definitely keep one other receiver and maybe another given how pass happy Gailey’s offense is. The frontrunner is Derek Hagan who has had a very strong training camp (but has been quiet in preseason though). My favorite is Naaman Roosevelt who in my opinion has outperformed Hagan in the preseason and despite lacking height or speed, proves to be very reliable and has done well on special teams too. Ruvell Martin has struggled offensively but has height and special teams experience. Lastly, Marcus Easley the fast fourth round WR has struggled despite great physical talents and seems likely to be cut.
ADVANTAGE: Derek Hagan
DL: With Shawne Merriman gone, the Bills will keep a younger fourth DE and potentially another defensive lineman. In my opinion Kyle Moore has earned the fourth spot which leaves the fifth DL spot open. DE Jarron Gilbert has done fairly well this off-season and he also has experience and size to play at defensive tackle. Behind him is Robert Eddins, who made the roster last year initially, but has not played as well as a 4-3 DE. Moving inward is DT Alex Carrington, a third round pick from 2009 who while has shown some ability to get in the backfield, has not lived up to expectations. Also worth considering is DT Kellen Heard whose 350 lb frame could be useful in tying up blockers in short field situations. One thing to note though is that both backup DTs Dwan Edwards and Spencer Johnson (who is a free agent after this year) are both over 30 and making over $4 million each. The Bills could look long term and keep a young DT instead…
ADVANTAGE: Jarron Gilbert
MLB: Earlier, some people were noting that the Bills could keep eight linebackers given how good they were doing. Still especially with the Bills keen to keep a kickoff specialist, seven LBs is more prudent. Barnett, Sheppard, Moats and Scott are guaranteed playing time while rookies Barnett and Carder look good and will likely be kept too. Leading off the remaining LBs is veteran Kirk Morrison who while being beaten out by Moats on the Sam LB position, also has experience at middle LB. LB Scott McKillop has shown some talent earning first and second team reps in camp. Lastly sixth round rookie Chris White from last year shows some promise, but his special teams role is in jeopardy.
ADVANTAGE: Kirk Morrison
DB: The Bills look set to keep 6 corners on the roster (typically 5 are kept), but have just 3 safeties locked into positions. Undrafted rookie Delano Howell has been fairly consistent in preseason action as a second teamer, while walk-on undrafted rookie Nick Saenz has shown some promise too. Again with the Bills devoting a roster spot to a kickoff specialist, cuts need to be made, and having six corners, the Bills could go with just three safeties.
ADVANTAGE: Delano Howell
§IV. 53 Man Roster Predictions
Right now I have 46 players that are locks (starters are in bold)
QB – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tavaris Jackson, Brad Smith
HB – Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Corey McIntyre
TE – Scott Chandler
WR – Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, T.J. Graham
OT – Cordy Glenn, Erik Pears, Chris Hairston
OG – Andy Levitre, Kraig Urbik, Chad Rinehart
C – Eric Wood, Colin Brown
DT – Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Spencer Johnson, Dwan Edwards
DE – Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, Kyle Moore
SLB – Arthur Moats, Nigel Bradham
MLB – Kelvin Sheppard
WLB – Nick Barnett, Bryan Scott, Tank Carder
CB – Stephon Gilmore, Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin
CB – Aaron Williams, Justin Rogers, Ron Brooks
S – George Wilson, Jairus Byrd, DaNorris Searcy
That in turn leaves just seven spots on the roster. These spots include one more halfback, at least one more tight end, a receiver or two, another tackle, a ninth defensive lineman, a seventh linebacker and potentially one more safety. I highly doubt, unless he has a great game this week, that Tyler Thigpen will stay on as a fourth QB.
There are 20 players that I have on the bubble that stand a shot of making the roster, but for those of you doing the math, that’s 13 slots over the NFL limit of 53 players. These include RBs Tashard Choice and Johnny White, TEs Lee Smith, Dorin Dickerson and Kevin Brock, WRs Derek Hagan, Naaman Roosevelt, Ruvell Martin and Marcus Easley, OTs Zebrie Sanders and Sam Young, DLs Jarron Gilbert, Alex Carrington, Kellen Heard and Robert Eddins, LBs Kirk Morrison, Scott McKillop and Chris White and FSs Delano Howell and Nick Saenz. I feel that OL Mark Asper is a fine candidate for the practice squad at this point in time as Colin Brown has been better at center.
Of these players, there are six that will have an easier time of making the roster through the three preseason games and training camp. These are RB Tashard Choice, WR Derek Hagan, TE Lee Smith, OT Zebrie Sanders, DL Jarron Gilbert and LB Kirk Morrison. That leaves just one more spot up for grabs.
My short list for this last spot includes TE Dorin Dickerson, WR Naaman Roosevelt, DT Alex Carrington, LB Scott McKillop and Delano Howell. Dickerson is an incredibly versatile player that could perform at wide receiver, tight end or full back given his speed, catching and blocking ability. Roosevelt meanwhile has shown a great job of catching the ball (consistently targeted on the field) and has shown a talent at special teams.
Carrington again has been inconsistent, but given the salary costs in upcoming years to keep both Johnson and Edwards at DT, he could be a good long term backup. McKillop has been decent in preseason play, but keeping eight linebackers on a 4-3 defense is a bit much. Howell meanwhile has been the fourth best safety on the roster in training camp. Ultimately I feel that Roosevelt has shown the most worth in preseason to land the final spot although I cannot rule out Howell or Dickerson (both of whom would be fine practice squad additions) at this point. Therefore my final roster would look like this.