The Buffalo Bills have been working diligently to end a 14-year playoff drought this season, and one of their goals in doing so was to improve their roster depth in several key areas. Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) believes he has identified 13 such areas where quality depth is necessary; you're encouraged to read through that article, because it's an interesting discussion-starter.
Let's roll through those 13 areas Kirwan identifies and see how the Bills stack up, shall we?
A capable backup QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch qualifies as a good backup.
Thad Lewis went 2-3 filling in for EJ Manuel last season. (He was 2-2 before a Week 17 loss to New England.) Both wins came over the Miami Dolphins. Many might not consider Lewis a high-enough caliber quarterback to consistently hit .500 for long stretches, but hey, he's one for one so far.
Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?
If healthy - and right now, he is - that's exactly what Chris Hairston is. He picked up a good chunk of experience playing on both sides of the line in his first two seasons, and now he's getting looks inside at guard, as well. If Hairston somehow becomes the team's starting right guard, however (and we're not banking on it), then this question becomes more difficult to answer in the affirmative.
Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?
Doug Legursky can play both guard and center, but it's tough to envision many Bills fans labeling him as "solid" given his struggles last season. The only interior reserve with notable upside is rookie Cyril Richardson, who probably isn't ready to play, and has played far more left tackle than center.
Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?
Is there a good second tight end on the roster?
Maybe? Tony Moeaki has the most to offer as a starter this season, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy first. Scott Chandler brings advantageous traits to the lineup, but on the whole is quite replaceable. Lee Smith is a blocking specialist only. They have three options, yes, but I'm not sure I'd consider any of them above-average from a league perspective, let alone two.
Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down?
TBD, because the group is unproven in several different ways, but theoretically, yes. Robert Woods, Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams are all going to play a lot, and all three are capable of playing outside or in.
Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?
Jerry Hughes is the team's designated pass rush specialist, and he's quite good at that. Moving to a 4-3 defense as a starter, however, there are very real questions about whether or not he can hold up as an every-down player. The Bills may be forced to platoon players like Manny Lawson and Jarius Wynn for early downs, minimizing the risk of leaving Hughes in to defend the run and letting him focus on what he does best. I would answer this question in the negative, but there's ample room for debate here.
Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?
Alan Branch is the team's designated run stuffer - he just picked up a three-year contract extension, thanks to strong work on that front - and while he wouldn't offer a ton of upside as a pass rusher if forced into an every-down role, yes, Branch is capable of starting.
Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?
In fact, there are two, and they complement each other quite well: Nickell Robey is the package-specific guy coming off a whale of a rookie season as a slot corner, and free agent signee Corey Graham has a ton of experience inside while offering quality depth to the entire defensive backfield.
Is there a fourth corner for dime packages?
Yes - whichever of Robey and Graham the team isn't using as the nickel corner.
Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses?
Da'Norris Searcy may end up a starting safety, but even if that is the case, the team could slide him down into the box in big nickel and dime looks (replacing him deep with a player like Duke Williams), because that is where he excels. Searcy, still just 25, is coming off a career season, with 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception, seven defended passes and two touchdowns on his stat sheet last year.
Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?
There are two. Marquise Goodwin has the potential to be one of the league's best kick returners, and he will also see plenty of time on offense as the designated deep threat. Leodis McKelvin, in addition to being a starting cornerback, was very recently one of the best punt returners in the NFL.
Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?
If we're focusing solely on the linebacker position (Marcus Easley is the team's best specialist), then Ty Powell is the name here. He played a ton of special teams and made some plays despite only dressing for five games, and the Bills even worked him in for a few defensive snaps, as well. He looks like a strong bet to make the team, though he may have trouble seeing the field on defense with third-round pick Preston Brown in the fold. (Brown may prove himself to be an acceptable answer to this question, as well.)
Are there any depth areas of note that you believe Kirwan overlooked? And are there any assessments among those 13 that you disagree with, or see slightly differently?