There are a few positions on the Buffalo Bills depth chart that are up for grabs, such as the starting right tackle and third receiver spots. However, the most wide-open race is likely one that can be overlooked at times: return specialist.
As a team, the Bills returned a total of 72 kicks last season (31 punts and 41 kickoffs). Of those returns, 11 came from players who are on the roster right now, and only one of those was a punt return. Moreover, of the four players still on the roster who did return a kick for the Bills last season, the safest bet to make the roster is Jerome Felton, who returned one squib kick for five yards at the end of the first half against Philadelphia.
Needless to say, the team is lacking high-level experience when it comes to the return game. As it stands right now, the most experienced return man on the roster (by a wide margin) is cornerback Javier Arenas, who has returned 106 punts and 74 kickoffs in the NFL. However, Arenas is by no means a lock to make the roster. After three years as the primary return man for the Kansas City Chiefs, he spent one season returning kicks for the Arizona Cardinals. He found his way out of the NFL prior to the 2014 season, and aside from a six-game stretch at the end of that year with the Atlanta Falcons, Arenas hasn't appeared in a regular season game. As a result, the team's most experienced returner hasn't handled a return in the last two seasons.
Aside from Felton, the three players who returned kicks for the Bills in 2015 who have a chance to do so this season are Walt Powell, Marquise Goodwin, and the recently-re-signed Boom Herron. Powell handled most of the return duties to close out last season and performed well enough to earn consideration as a full-time returner in 2016. Goodwin is an experienced returner but has battled injuries and there's a perception that he's more interested in running track than playing football.
On Friday, Chris Brown trotted out an interesting candidate to return kickoffs: sixth-round pick Kolby Listenbee. Listenbee has game-changing speed, but little experience; he only returned eight kicks in four seasons at TCU, averaging just over 22 yards a return. Still, his talent alone makes him someone to keep in mind (especially if he isn't able to earn significant playing time in the offense right away).
Another name that is bandied about from time to time wide receiver Robert Woods. Woods did return work at USC, and was one of the top kick returners in the nation as a freshman before an increased role in the Trojan offense scaled back his workload. Since making the jump to the NFL, however, Woods has only returned one kick and one punt. Also, given his role as the clear-cut second receiver in the offense this season, the increased workload and higher risk for injury make it a questionable proposition to give him the added duty of a full-time return man.
Unless Listenbee earns a return role as a rookie, there's a good chance the primary return man for the Bills in 2016 will be someone who wouldn't have earned a roster spot outside of special teams. The top competitors seem to be Powell and Arenas, both of whom could earn a roster spot if the team parts ways with kickoff specialist Jordan Gay. My money is on Powell, given his incumbency and Arenas' inability to earn a job over the last few seasons.
What do you think, Rumblers?