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Building a Roster a Numbers Game, Too

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Parrish & Co. need running mates at wideout (BuffaloBills.com)

With the 2008 NFL Draft taking place literally two weeks from today, draft chatter is taking place at a more frequent pace than ever. In the case of the Buffalo Bills, we have already ironed out the team's biggest needs heading into the draft. But this time of the year is more than about building a winning team - it's about putting together a roster with proper numbers that will allow a team to best put together a 53-man roster come September.

How influential is the "training camp roster" (size: 80) on the draft-day process? Clearly it's not close to being the biggest factor considered when a selection is made, but where the Bills are lacking severely in numbers - and they have positions in that precise situation - could dictate how many players the Bills choose at each position. So where are the Bills lacking in numbers? There are four positions that need at least three more players just to match last year's total; two of them may surprise you.

Buffalo's Biggest Numbers Needs
The two most likely positions to be addressed in the first round of this year's draft for the Bills are wide receiver and cornerback - and, not surprisingly, these two positions are where the Bills need numbers help the most. The Bills currently only have six receivers on their roster, but went into training camp with eleven receivers last year. That disparity of five has not resulted in much of a talent drop-off for the position, but depth is a huge concern simply heading into training camp. Likewise, the Bills had nine cornerbacks on the roster last July/August, but currently only have five. That means the team is out four corners, and they need to add at least three to fill out the training camp roster.

The other two positions that are short on numbers? Linebacker and running back. The Bills currently carry six linebackers on their roster, but entered training camp with ten last year. The team has solid, experienced depth with their top five players, but beyond that, there is Blake Costanzo. The team needs to add two or three bodies there to make it out of camp healthy. Similarly, the Bills kept six running backs on the training camp roster last year (not to mention five on the opening day roster). That number has dwindled to three on the current roster. It seems likely that the Bills will explore adding two running backs prior to training camp - and one of those could come in the draft.

Buffalo's Smallest Numbers Needs
Not surprisingly, there are also positions on Buffalo's roster where depth is nearly as sufficient as it was during last year's training camp. These positions aren't necessarily "non-need" positions come draft day, but the team has players at these positions. Tight end/fullback tops the list - the Bills, employing an H-Back in last year's offense, carried just five tight ends and halfbacks on the roster last year. That number, now split between two positions (tight end and fullback), has increased to seven. Clearly, the Bills still need help (athletic help) at the position, but in terms of numbers, they're nearly set for training camp.

The offensive and defensive lines are in excellent shape numbers-wise as well. The Bills currently employ twelve offensive linemen, as opposed to fourteen last summer. The team also employs two fewer defensive linemen (13 compared to 15), but that likely has to do with the fact that the team bolstered their DE depth last summer after the injury to Ryan Denney. The team is nearly set in terms of numbers at those positions as well.

Draft-Day Impact?
What do these number crunches tell us? Probably not much, especially when it comes to the early portions of draft day, where the Bills still need depth at key positions. But numbers always play an important role in building a roster, and that's especially true on Day Two of the draft, as well as the free agent signing period immediately following the draft. And the Bills do have several positions where bodies are needed before training camp.

So when the Bills draft a running back or a linebacker or two - despite popular perception that the Bills are sufficiently deep at those positions - don't be shocked. That's the Bills playing a numbers game. Two cornerbacks, two wide receivers, a linebacker (or two) and a running back are not out of the realm of possibility for the Bills. These are important facts to keep in mind before we ask why the team didn't draft a center in two weeks.