The Buffalo Bills released their first depth chart of the 2015 season on Monday afternoon. Curiously, however, they went out of their way to tell us that it's an "unofficial" depth chart, which makes it fair to wonder why we'd care all that much about it in the first place.
Here it is, by the way.
Here's the Buffalo Bills' full unofficial depth chart, sports fans pic.twitter.com/PINU3o7UHJ— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) August 10, 2015
Against my better judgment, considering it's a depth chart the team is practically bending over backwards to downplay, there are a few interesting things about the listings above to point out. Let's run through that list, even though it's very debatable how much meaning we can extrapolate from this depth chart.
- QB diplomacy: You undoubtedly noticed that Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor, and EJ Manuel were all listed as the collective starting quarterback. Obviously, short of shocking and marvelous medical advancements being made in the next four weeks to fuse those three men into one, that won't be happening. The three are listed, we presume, by the amount of time they've spent in the league, although the perceived pecking order at the moment is the same.
- Co-starters at WR, too: Staying on the diplomatic side of things, both Percy Harvin and Robert Woods are listed as starting receivers, albeit in the same slot. The team could have simply made a depth chart with 11 personnel as the default set, given how often it's used, and listed both as starters. Instead, they went with two receivers and a fullback - which, in fairness, will be more representative of their style of offense - and the co-starter designation at receiver. Kind of weird.
- TE pecking order: The backup tight end battle has been such a free-for-all that we'll take any direction, official, unofficial or otherwise, on what the team might be thinking here. MarQueis Gray slots in as the top backup, followed in order by Matthew Mulligan, rookie Nick O'Leary, and then Chris Gragg. Two or even three of these players will probably be making the team.
- A win for Henderson: While the team is going out of its way to make sure we're not jumping to any conclusions at quarterback or even the No. 2 wide receiver spot, they're listing Seantrel Henderson as the sole owner of the right tackle job, with Cyrus Kouandjio coming in as a second-teamer. Rex Ryan has admitted recently that Henderson has a lead in that competition, but as far as we're aware, the competition is still open. Why not list them as co-starters here, too?
- Why no nickel?: Despite the fact that Ryan's defensive alignments are amorphous and flexible, and ignoring the fact that most modern NFL defenses spend the majority of their time on the field in nickel and dime packages, the Bills stuff their personnel into a 4-3 on the depth chart. At some point, teams are going to take a more pragmatic approach here and just default to a nickel listing. For now, know this (you probably already do): the Bills aren't running a 4-3 defense this year.
- Edge-rusher split: Nowhere is the shoehorning of defensive personnel into a 4-3 alignment more awkward than in splitting up the team's fairly deep stable of edge rushers. Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes draw "defensive end" labels, which... fine. So does Michael Buchanan, even though he'll predominantly be a stand-up player in Ryan's scheme. Manny Lawson and Randell Johnson are considered weak-side linebackers, which makes less sense for Lawson than it does Johnson, given Lawson typically lined up over the tight end (i.e. on the strong side) for Mike Pettine. Nigel Bradham nabs the strong-side label, even though he's not an edge rusher.
- McKelvin oddity: Leodis McKelvin is listed as a starting cornerback - as he should be, since he hasn't yet lost his job to rookie Ronald Darby simply because he is injured. The weird thing here is that McKelvin is nowhere to be found on the punt returner depth chart. McKelvin is one of the best punt returners in the NFL. It's strange to dock him at one position, but not another.
- Return men: While we're on the subject of return men, Marcus Thigpen shows up in both the kick returner and the punt returner slots. That could bode well for his roster chances. Thigpen backs up Harvin in the kick returner slot, and sits atop the punt returner depth chart, where McKelvin would normally be, and ahead of Woods, who has reportedly been taking most of the first-team reps at that position during practices. Maybe, then, the listing has no bearing on Thigpen's chances of making the team?
On the whole, this is a pretty weird depth chart - one that seems mostly designed to stroke egos and prevent fans from jumping to too many conclusions. It's still sort of a confused mess. What do you make of it, Bills fans?