With rosters currently at 90 players until the conclusion of the preseason, many Buffalo Bills players will be competing for a job on the final 53-man roster. The Bills are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, leaving the franchise with quite a bit of inexperience at a multitude of positions. This combination of youth and rawness will lead to some competitive positional battles in training camp.
While there are obviously many players with a starting job set in stone, there are quite a few under the radar players that have a legitimate shot of earning a position on the final 53-man roster. We decided to take at which of these under the radar players have a legitimate shot at making the final 53-man roster.
WR Kevin Elliott
The Bills already have a go-to receiver in Stevie Johnson, and with the additions of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and even Da'Rick Rogers, the wide receiver position looks strong. However, Elliott was signed to a two-year deal after the Bills claimed the 6'3" ,215-pound wideout on waivers after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Elliott is a big, physical receiver that didn't really get a chance to see the field in Jacksonville, due to the presence of wideouts Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts ahead of him on the depth chart. He can serve as a valuable No. 5 or No. 6 receiver while contributing on special teams.
While Elliott is a big-bodied receiver, he displays excellent body control and has the ability to win one-on-one battles in jump-ball situations. In college, Elliott managed to rack up 173 receptions for 2,472 yards and 20 touchdowns, at an average of over 14 yards per reception.
LB Keith Pough
The fact that Pough went undrafted was shocking to me, to say the least. Pough is a bit undersized and doesn't have a defined role, but he's a versatile player that has succeeded at every position he's played. During his career at Howard, he accumulated 292 tackles and an FCS-record 72 tackles for a loss, while playing both outside and inside linebacker in the Bisons' 3-4 defense.
Pough brings the versatility that Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine emphasizes, and he has the production to prove his value to the team. A bit undersized, Pough makes up for his lack of size with natural instincts and sheer athleticism, consistently beating opposing blockers and making tackles for a loss.
CB Nickell Robey
The Bills signed this former USC Trojan as an undrafted free agent. Robey was an extremely productive defensive back in the Pac-12, recording 163 tackles, seven interceptions (three of which were returned for touchdowns), 24 deflected passes and forced two fumbles in his career.
The biggest knock on Robey is size, as the 21-year-old stands 5'7" and weighs just 169 pounds. That could relegate him to the slot cornerback position, despite playing left outside cornerback throughout his 37 career games with the Trojans.
Robey makes up for his lack of size with his high football IQ, playing bigger than his size would suggest, as he displays the ability to read and react quickly to break on passes. Pettine had this to say about the undrafted free agent in a video with BuffaloBills.com:
"He'll play a good amount of nickel for us. Nickell Robey as come in and done a real nice job. You can tell he (was) very well-coached in Southern California. He's made big plays in big games. I don't think it'll be too big for him. We're pleased with where we are in the back end, and not just in the nickel spot."
LB Marcus Dowtin
The Bills claimed Dowtin after he was waived by the Philadelphia Eagles in April, and the versatile lilnebacker has familiarity with Pettine's defense. Dowtin spent time with the New York Jets last season, appearing in three games before he was ultimately waived. However, Pettine had nothing but compliments in regards to the 6'2", 226-pound linebacker in an interview with BuffaloBills.com:
"He was primarily an inside linebacker in New York. We've been training him as an outside linebacker here, but he's another player that has some position flexibility. He's athletic enough, he can play inside, he can play outside. He can do some safety type jobs, he can do some defensive end type jobs. Again, that's the type of player that we'll always have a role for in our system, with that amount of versatility."
Dowtin's athleticism and ability to play a variety of positions will definitely be an asset to a defense that emphasizes versatility. He has a similar stature to Bryan Scott and could seemingly be his successor as the hybrid safety/linebacker that more teams are utilizing in "big nickel" situations. If he performs well throughout training camp and the preseason, it wouldn't be surprising to see Dowtin make the 53 man roster.
RB/FB Kendall Gaskins
The Bills have a talented duo at the running back position with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, but undrafted free agent Gaskins is another versatile halfback that could provide a spark to the offense while contributing on special teams. Gaskins has an intriguing blend of size, strength and speed that could earn him a role as a short-yardage back. During his career at Richmond, Gaskins played both running back and fullback. The fullback position has become almost non-existent in today's NFL, but Gaskins is in the mold of Oakland Raiders fullback Marcel Reece: a player that can be an effective lead blocker and catch passes out of the backfield.
During his career at Richmond, Gaskins rushed for 1,749 yards and 34 touchdowns, while adding another 393 yards and four touchdowns on 46 receptions. The Bills also have Frank Summers on the roster, who is more of an old-school fullback, but with the way the NFL is trending, Gaskins could provide some much needed versatility in the Bills' backfield.