Tyrod Taylor, EJ Manuel, Cardale Jones
Led by the recently extended Taylor and with plenty of raw talent behind him, the Bills must like what they have in the quarterback room, especially with all three signal-callers being nice fits in Greg Roman’s system.
Manuel takes the Bills offense on a frightening roller-coaster when he’s on the field, but that’s what backup quarterbacks do. Jones is the type of developmental signal-caller teams love to have on their roster.
I’m looking forward to watching Taylor in Year 2 in Roman’s offense. After a half a season operating Roman’s scheme in 2012, Colin Kaepernick’s completion percentage dropped from 62.4 to 58.4, and his YPA went from 8.3 to a still more-than-respectable 7.7. His 5.0 TD percentage was — and still is — a career high. If Taylor pieces together another season with a QB rating near 100, the Bills should like their chances to make the playoffs.
LeSean McCoy, Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush, Jonathan Williams
I won’t call this group the team’s greatest strength, but Buffalo has to be content with the wealth of talent here. McCoy looks to be super spry, especially relative to his age, and he’ll the centerpiece of the Bills ground game. Gillislee was a HR hitter in 2015 and has cleared the concussion protocol. Bush provides excitement out of the backfield as a receiver, and Williams is a well-rounded rookie.
His presence on the roster, particularly given that he made the team over Jerome Felton, could signal some evolution in Roman’s offensive philosophy. Felton underwhelmed as a lead-blocker in 2015, but the fact that he is a lead-blocking specialist is important. During his time as an offensive coordinator, both at Stanford and in the NFL, an old-school, neck roll-wearing, lead-blocking fullback was a requisite of Roman’s offense. Gronkowski is not a traditional, bull-dozing lead blocker right now. His value lies within his athleticism and versatility that gives him upside as a ball-carrier and even a pass-catcher. Maybe the “retro” lead-blocking FB is being phased out of Roman’s attack?
Charles Clay, Jim Dray, Nick O’Leary
I’m still surprised O’Leary made the final roster, then again, some of what applies to Gronkowski also applies to him. The former Florida State star is obviously more of an adept receiver than Gronkowski, but he has some H-back to him. Can Tyrod get Clay more involved in the offense this year? I think he will... and from a schematic standpoint, more Clay production will be a byproduct of safeties routinely dropping deep toward the sidelines in hopes of stopping the Sammy Watkins deep ball... thereby vacating the middle of the field.
Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Walter Powell, Greg Salas, Brandon Tate
Watkins was a top 5 receiver over the six games of 2015 - his 35 catches, 679 yards and six touchdowns were all better than Odell Beckham Jr. during that stretch. Only Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Brandon Marshall amassed more receiving yards from the 11th to the 16th game of the regular season. I want to see how much better and more productive he can get and if the Bills start to utilize him in the screen game like he was at Clemson. Important year for Woods. Staying healthy will be key. [Captain Obvious voice] Same goes for Goodwin. #TheSummerOfWaltPowell was fun but it’s time for the hashtag to be retired. If Powell goes off over the next few months, I’ll be using #WaltPowellsAutumn. Hopefully that will catch on a little better. Though technically a wideout, expect Tate to primarily contribute on special teams and act as the reserve return man.
Cordy Glenn, Jordan Mills, Cyrus Kouandjio, Seantrel Henderson
Glenn’s ankle injury should be close to fully healed by Sunday — his health is one of the key elements pertaining to the efficiency of Buffalo’s offense. I’m interested in the right tackle spot. Mills will have the backing of Aaron Kromer, but he didn’t exactly have a dominating summer, and Cyrus Kouandjio was steady in an extensive preseason audition.
Interior offensive line
Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, Ryan Groy, Patrick Lewis
Wood and Incognito are two of the offensive line anchors, that we know. John Miller had a quiet — which is typically a good sign for an offensive lineman — preseason, looking stronger at the point of attack and remaining balanced against defenders with good lateral agility. If the second-year pro takes a sizeable step this season, Buffalo’s run game can actually expand and get more efficient from where it was in 2015.
Kyle Williams, Jerel Worthy, Adolphus Washington, Corbin Bryant, Leger Douzable
How about the summer Worthy had? The talent has always been noticeable, but the Bills are his fifth team since 2012. He was a disruptive force all preseason, winning with a quick burst off the snap and powerful hand use to stop offensive linemen from getting into his body. How he plays in the regular season will have a drastic impact on Buffalo’s new-look defensive front. Also, I’m curious to see how Kyle plays. If he’s capable of producing 75% of what he’s shown even in the last few seasons, the Bills will be happy. Also, will Washington get on the field early? His pass-rushing refinement is an X-factor this year.
Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander, Lerentee McCray, Bryson Albright
Hughes didn’t reach his typical sack number in 2015, but he was still a dangerous outside-rusher and edge-setter. I’m looking forward to watching Alexander at the SAM spot. In the preseason, he flashed pass-rushing moves I was previously unaware he had and looked sturdy enough in the run game to play the linebacker spot that’s typically closest to the line of scrimmage in Rex’s defense. McCray is intriguing as well, for two reasons. He flashed at times in Denver but was buried on the depth chart behind an assortment of talented edge guys. Secondly, the Bills liked him enough to trade a (late) draft pick for him.
Preston Brown, Zach Brown, Brandon Spikes, Ramon Humber
Starting with Spikes here because I think his presence is enormously important. You can make the argument that no one makes more of an impact on fewer snaps than he did and 2014 and likely will in 2016. Even if Spikes plays only 30% of the time, his run-stopping specialty helps to get opposing offenses in 2nd and 3rd and long. After an impressive rookie year and disappointing sophomore season, how will Preston play in Year 3? Zach Brown’s athleticism makes him a fun player to watch at weakside linebacker.
Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Kevon Seymour, Corey White
Two budding (super?) stars and a variety of specialized role players. There’s a desirable mix of young upside — Seymour — and experience — Robey-Coleman and White — in Buffalo’s defensive backfield. Given what Rex asks of his defensive backs, it’s a vital year for Gilmore, Darby and Co.
Corey Graham, Aaron Williams, Duke Williams, Robert Blanton, Jonathan Meeks, Colt Anderson
Aaron Williams’ health is paramount, especially because of his ability as a roaming free safety. If he can’t go, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Meeks get some playing time in that role, although Blanton is a reliable albeit unspectacular back-end defender. Graham is under-appreciated even if he’s more valuable as a run-stopper than anything else at this point of his career. Can Duke become the enforcer for Rex? If the preseason was any indication of what he’s on tap to do -- the answer to that question is yes.
Dan Carpenter, Colton Schmidt, Garrison Sanborn
After a shaky 2015, Carpenter looked calm, cool, and collected in the preseason. Schmidt was quietly one of the best punters in the AFC a year ago. On the topic of kickers, I don’t agree with the Bills’ decision to keep Jordan Gay on the practice squad. Wanted to get that on the record. Carpenter should be more than capable of handling kickoff duties, especially with the new touchback rule. A high kick that lands at the 5-yard-line isn’t so bad anymore.