The Buffalo Bills will head to St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester, N.Y., for training camp, beginning July 26 and running through August 15. Coming off a 9-7 season and the team’s first playoff appearance since the 1999 season, training camp should be extremely competitive, with players jockeying for position on the depth chart at nearly every position.
Some positions —including quarterback, wide receiver, center, left guard, and right guard — will feature open competitions for the starting roles. Others, like cornerback, linebacker, and defensive end, will see players hoping to distinguish themselves with strong performances in training camp and in the preseason.
Of the 89 players currently on the roster, 13 are undrafted free agents: DE Mat Boesen (TCU), OT Ike Boettger (Iowa), CB Ryan Carter (Clemson), K Tyler Davis (Penn State), G Gerhard de Beer (Arizona), RB Keith Ford (Texas A&M), WR Robert Foster (Alabama), DE Mike Love (South Florida), FB Zach Olstad (Winona State), WR Cam Phillips (Virginia Tech), OT Mo Porter (Baylor), LB Corey Thompson (LSU), and CB Levi Wallace (Alabama).
Based on positional need and the impressions they’ve made so far in minicamp, Phillips, Wallace, and Foster certainly seem like they have a good chance at cracking the 53-man roster.
Outside of Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, and Jeremy Kerley, who seem to have secured their spots at the top of the depth chart, wide receiver should be an open competition and one of the positions where a UDFA could step up and earn a roster spot.
Why couldn’t someone like Phillips, who established himself as a reliable pass catcher at Virginia Tech (17 career touchdowns, including seven in 2017) break on through and make the 53-man roster?
Phillips’ decorated career with the Hokies saw him appear in 52 games (44 starts) with 236 receptions (tops in school history) for 3,027 yards (also No. 1 in school history). He sat out the NFL Combine while recovering from sports hernia surgery, which could have contributed to his undrafted status, although this year’s wide receiver crop was extremely deep and talented.
If Phillips can distinguish himself from the pack of wide receivers during training camp and the preseason, he could become the third rookie from Virginia Tech (along with Tremaine Edmunds and Wyatt Teller) to earn a roster spot.
Wallace, whose remarkable journey at Alabama started as a walk-on and ended with him starting at cornerback for a national champion, is someone Bills fans should root for to make the roster. He could provide valuable depth in the secondary following a stellar senior season that saw him appear in all 14 games.
Wallace, who has excellent coverage skills, made 48 tackles (4.5 for a loss) with three interceptions, including one he returned for a 35-yard touchdown in a win over Ole Miss.
Pro Football Focus pegged Wallace as one of 10 undrafted free agents who should make an impact this season, with this note: “Wallace had exceptional coverage numbers across 782 defensive snaps in 2017. He ranked eighth among draft-eligible cornerbacks in passer rating allowed when targeted (44.3), allowing zero touchdowns and logging three interceptions in the process. He earned an 81.7 coverage grade for his efforts.”
Foster, a speedster with good size (6-foot-2), already possesses familiarity with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system after seeing action in 27 games over three years at Alabama. While his numbers aren’t as stellar as Phillips’, he did catch 14 passes for 174 yards with one TD last year as the Tide claimed the national championship. He has impressed so far this offseason.
Among the other undrafted free agents, Boesen, a First-Team All-American according to Sports Illustrated, could earn a spot as an edge pass-rusher, but he faces an uphill battle to make the roster. The same goes for Love, who posted 5.5 sacks during the final season of an injury-plagued career at USF.
If it were based on name alone, de Beer would instantly be a fan-favorite to make the roster, and his story is certainly one of the better ones to watch at Fisher. De Beer, a native of South Africa, transitioned from rugby to football and was an anchor on an Arizona offensive line that allowed only 19 sacks all year, third-fewest in the Pac-12. He has impressed head coach Sean McDermott with his athleticism and work ethic, but with nine tackles currently on the roster, de Beer has his work cut out for him.
Who are your dark-horses to make the final roster, Bills fans?