Has Ashton Youboty outjumped the competition? (Photo Source)
As the pre-season begins to wind down, some of the Buffalo Bills' fringe players have one game left to show their stuff. So the question becomes: what spots on the roster are most up for grabs and who's fighting for these final spots? Besides the positions that have been discussed previously (Backup TE, Backup LT, Starting CB, Returners, Starting DT), there are some strong battles being waged between players of different positions fighting to make the final roster.
How many spots are available?
To start off, I'd like to point out the positions I feel we are comfortable enough to say who and how many players will make it. I left a few positions up for grabs as one of those guys is likely to grab the final spot.
QB: 2 (Edwards, Losman)
RB: 3 (Lynch, Jackson, Omon(or Wright I suppose))
FB: 1 (Barnes)
TE: 3 (Royal, Fine, Schouman)
WR: 5 (Evans, Reed, Parrish, Hardy, Jenkins)
OL: 9 (Peters, Dockery, Fowler, Butler, Walker, Chambers, Whittle, Preston, Bell)
DE: 4 (Schobel, Kelsay, Denney, Ellis)
DT: 4 (Stroud, Williams, McCargo, Johnson)
LB: 6 (Posluzny, Mitchell, Crowell, DiGiorgio, Ellison, Spragan for now)
CB: 5 (McGee, Greer, McKelvin, Corner, Youboty/James)
S: 5 (Whitner, Scott, Simpson, Wilson, Wendling)
ST: 3 (Moorman, Lindell, Neill)
That gives us a rough total of 50 roster spots that should be pretty set at this point, at least numbers wise. Again, the battle for the 5th WR, backup C and 5th CB are all debatable by many, but we will definitely be keeping someone for those spots. That leaves us with roughly 3 open spots to be filled by any number of individuals from various positions: 3rd QB, 4th RB, 4th TE, 6th WR, 10th OL, 9th DL, 7th LB or 6th CB. There should be some heated competition for these final roster spots and it should come down to a number of deciding factors, which we'll discuss after the jump.
What spots may be most important to keep?
In order to best quantify who could and maybe should win the final spots, it may be necessary to rank the importance of keeping an extra player at these positions. I'd break it down in order of importance at this point, as such: 4th TE, 7th LB, 3rd QB, 6th WR, 6th CB, 9th DL , 10th OL, 4th RB. I've debated where to rank these positions, and have switched it around a few times, but currently I'd rank them as of right now that way.
A 10th OL is only being considered due to Jason Peters' absence and the injury to Langston Walker. I don't believe we would keep a 10th man here unless Peters is definitely going to remain a holdout and Walker's injury keeps him out of week 1. As of now, I would not keep 10 OL.
The 4th TE spot is probably the one position where I would almost guarantee someone makes it. I'd have to believe that Robert Royal and Derek Fine are rather safe based on all reports. Derek Schouman is likely safe, even though he is injured and hasn't shown a whole lot this preseason. The 4th TE position is likely to be kept because of his injury. We have heard very little about the extent of it, so I will assume he's going to be missing some actual games. With that the battle is between Tim Massaquoi and Courtney Anderson. I really like Courtney Anderson's size, red zone ability and potential in short yardage situations, but Massaquoi is also a big bodied TE. I may have to give the edge here to Massaquoi because of his ST abilities and because he is considered a better blocker than Anderson. Either way, this is a tossup at this point anyhow. Maybe the bigger question is whether the winner sticks after Schouman returns. With the triumphant return of the FB position to our offense, it will be important to have a player capable of filling that role in case of an injury to Barnes (Schouman and Fine in this case). Because of that, we will likely need to keep that 4th TE around for a while.
After the 4th TE, it's really a crapshoot for the final spots. A 7th LB would probably fill a ST role only, though we all saw the need for depth at this position based on last year's rash of injuries. A Blake Costanzo or Jon Corto has a great shot at making the final roster if they have been convincing enough to Bobby April and company. Corto may be playing his way into an actual backup LB role, maybe even in favor of the much bigger Donnie Spragan. The Bills have frequently kept only 2 QB's in the recent past. That's not to say they'll do it again. With Edwards seemingly an injury risk each week and coming off the bruised quad and Losman being right there with him, we may have no other choice than keeping Gibran Hamdan on the opening day roster. Now the question is, can we feel comfortable enough with a guy like Matt Baker on the practice squad being called up in an emergency or keeping Hamdan as the #3 on the active roster, as he is ineligible for the PS? I think this will be one of the biggest questions the coaching staff will need to consider when paring down the final spots. To me, Hamdan is not worth taking up a roster spot when I would have to believe he would remain on the open market after we cut him.
Two of the deepest and most talented (depthwise) positions on the roster appear to be WR and CB. With Justin Jenkins proving to be a great ST gunner (and improving WR) and Steve Johnson looking great thus far these past few months, the staff may decide keeping 6 WR's is more than worth keeping a player at another position that may seem more important. Personally, I love both players, Johnson for his size, skills and potential, Jenkins for his tough-nosed attitude and ST capabilities. I also really like our CB depth. After last season's injury debacle at the position, I am hardly averse to keeping the 6 players at this position, especially with the talent at the back end of the depth chart. The question remains, is Will James the guy on the way out if we only keep 5? Youboty has stepped up to the plate for the most part, including on Special Teams, Corner has looked pretty good all-around and McKelvin is obviously still adjusting to the NFL, but has had moments. Right now, James should be considered fifth in line, at least to us, even though he is still getting first team nickel time. This will be another hard choice, keeping a 6th CB or another position on the team.
Finally, I'm not sure how much of a chance a 9th DL or a 4th RB truly has. With Spencer Johnson's ability to play inside or out and a quality 4 man rotation in place at DT and Ryan Neill capable of playing a few plays here and there at DE, I'm not sure where another player would help this team. I also don't see another player along the DL who is actually worth keeping around. This is a position where the Practice Squad will come in handy. I really like Xavier Omon's potential and he seems to have taken control of the #3 RB position. With Dwayne Wright's fumblitis a constant issue for him, he has likely played his way out of a job here. He does have some ST ability and seems to be the blocking FB on kick returns, so we may need to try Omon there in the Detroit game to see what we have. Right now, Wright is wrong and is not worth keeping over a more talented 6th WR or CB. I'd have to believe Bruce Hall has a decent chance at making our practice squad as well.
The Final Verdict
Right now, I would have to go with the team keeping a 4th TE, a 6th CB and a 6th WR, with the assumption that Walker will be fine for Seattle and maybe even Peters shows up. With the special teams abilities of players like Justin Jenkins, Derek Fine, John DiGiorgio, Jason Whittle, George Wilson, John Wendling, Keith Ellison and now Xavier Omon, Darien Barnes, Derek Schouman, Reggie Corner and Ashton Youboty, I think we will be able to hold off on keeping the 7th LB for ST only purposes. Again, maybe the biggest questions comes down to whether we keep the 3rd QB or not. I am of the opinion that Gibran Hamdan is somebody that can be replaced by a PS QB if need be, and also would unlikely to be picked up by another team if he were to be released, so he's out in my book.
OK Rumblers, rip it up and provide your final roster spot breakdowns....
(Note: I had originally written this at the end of July and have updated it accordingly.)