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Young Bills who may surprise in the preseason

These players turned in some impressive performances in the spring. Will it translate to the regular season?

Mandatory minicamp is in the books, and now begins the waiting period before training camp kicks off in July. If you weren’t able to follow along with the media’s daily practice updates, you might have missed the news that a few young members of the team were turning in impressive performances. Not to worry, we collected those names for your perusal.

TE Blake Annen

You may not have heard of this tight end from Cincinnati, and that’s fine, since he didn’t attend the Combine and went undrafted. Annen didn’t have a productive college career, (as the backup to the much more laudable Travis Kelce,) and he’s now on his fifth NFL team, but it’s possible that he’s found a suitor in the Bills.

Annen, who is entering his third NFL season, gives Chris Gragg a serious challenge for the title of “most athletic tight end” on the roster. Here is a comparison between their measurables (Annen at his pro day, Gragg at the Combine):

Annen Gragg
Height 6'4" 6'3"
Weight 247 244
Arm length 33" 33.625"
Hand size 9.875" 9"
40-yard dash 4.41 4.5
20-yard split 2.52 2.61
10-yard split 1.61 1.56
Bench press 25 18
Vertical leap 34" 37.5"
Broad jump 120" 125"
Short shuttle 4.30 4.51
3 cone drill 7.19 7.08

Bills tight end coach Tony Sparano Jr. had surprisingly effusive praise for Annen in this feature article by Chris Brown:

“He’s a very gifted athlete,” said Bills tight ends coach Tony Sparano Jr. “His speed, his athleticism are there for all to see. But the fact that he’s able to pair that with his work ethic and with being as coachable as he is and being a student of the game that he is, is why I’m a big believer in his ability and his potential.”

During day two of the mandatory minicamp, the tight ends went into their own session. The drill was to start at the ‘line of scrimmage’ on the sideline and run about four yards up field, shimmy left then cut right. When Annen went up, he did the motions, but not to the liking of Sparano. The coach wanted more of a head fake.

It clicked. From there, it was nothing but, ‘There we go, Blake.’ “Oh he’s very, very sharp,” Sparano said. “You tell Blake something one time, he generally picks it up very quickly and then he’s able to implement it as part of his game. He does a terrific job of taking coaching points from the classroom and from individual drills and then putting them to life out there on the field in the team drills.”

Keep that in the back of your mind as we head into training camp. Annen may end up earning a roster spot in place of Nick O’Leary, Jim Dray, or Gragg, assuming he continues impressing the coaches and turning in productive practice sessions.

WR Dez Lewis

With Sammy Watkins resting his broken foot and a wide-open battle for the #3 receiver spot, whoever played well in practice would be able to take advantage of starter reps opposite Robert Woods. At this stage, the near-universal leader in that race is Lewis, a late-round pick in last year’s draft.

Standing six-foot-four, Lewis could be the “size” receiver the Bills are looking for along the perimeter, if he can integrate his skills and execute on the football field. During the offseason, he put in plenty of effort in the weight room to improve his strength and speed. He also seems to finally have a grasp on Greg Roman’s complicated offense, something that Rex Ryan said used to be “Chinese to him.” Lewis made several big plays during minicamp, showing off his body control and deep speed.

Edge IK Enemkpali

The story of Enemkpali was one of the strangest ones in a very bizarre year for the Bills. A former Ryan draft pick, Enemkpali was claimed on waivers after breaking Geno Smith’s jaw with a punch, and he stuck around on the roster while accomplishing very little on the field (nine solo tackles, four assisted tackles).

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

To some extent, Enemkpali is taking on a greater role out of necessity, with Shaq Lawson recovering from shoulder surgery. Still, he did manage to put together a string of effective plays during minicamp, which could be a sign that he’s developing as a pass rusher. Running with the starters on defense, he managed to get past Cyrus Kouandjio and break things up in the backfield on several occasions. Whether that says more about Enemkpali or Kouandjio is up for discussion, but those results make him worth watching when the pads come on.

CB Kevon Seymour

Unlike the other names on this list, Seymour is a rookie. That just makes it even more noteworthy how highly Buffalo’s coaches have thought of him. Despite having veterans who know the scheme like Mario Butler, and free agent additions like Sterling Moore and Corey White, Seymour was the player of choice to take first team reps across from Ronald Darby during OTAs and the mandatory minicamp. He didn’t have an especially productive college career, but he’s a great athlete, and identifying his need for corrected vision may have given him an unexpected boost on the field. The Bills may have found itself another sleeper in the secondary.