In just a few short weeks, The Buffalo Bills will begin their 2018 Training Camp at St. John Fisher. As it stands today, 89 players will don the (best version of) red, white and blue with the hope of making the final roster. This year brings some exciting camp battles, with a good many of the high stakes variety. Which players have the most to lose this year?
Shaq Lawson enters his third year in the league with expectations out of whack with his production. A first-round draft in 2016, he has failed to live up to his billing with two separate coaching regimes. Given a pass his first year due to injury, Lawson was given a shot in 2017 and didn’t alleviate concerns (here’s our look). So far in 2018, he’s acknowledged the do-or-die nature of his position and has drawn rave reviews about improved work ethic.
While it appears the Bills are willing to see how things play out with Lawson, they’re certainly hedging their bets at the position. The Bills added three rookies to the mix in Mat Boesen, Mike Love, and Marquavius Lewis. Perhaps worse for Lawson was the addition of three veteran options as well. Terence Fede, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and Trent Murphy were all added in free agency. Top reserve from 2017 Eddie Yarbrough returns as well to make this a crowded race. Lawson will need to fend off all of these players in competition for a single spot. Until we see otherwise, the right end position is still Jerry Hughes’.
Until injured later in the year, Lawson was the starter at left end in 2017. He’ll seek to reclaim this role with six new additions breathing down his neck, one of whom is being paid like a possible starter (Trent Murphy). It’s possible a disappointing camp could lead to Lawson being on the outside looking in or at bare minimum losing his starting spot. Either situation would be a major red flag for a former first-round pick. Lawson’s NFL career will hit a crossroad at this training camp.
The Buffalo Bills didn’t do Zay Jones any favors in the expectations department when they traded up to acquire him in the 2016 NFL Draft. Picked number 37 overall, Jones was expected to be a contributor right away. In 2017 he struggled to have a positive impact on the field. Off-field concerns and now an injury setback in 2018 likely aren’t helping the team feel more comfortable with the second year player.
At the wide receiver position, the Bills are taking a bit of a blunderbuss approach. The largest investment this offseason was the addition of Jeremy Kerley. However, six rookies join the group that already included several project and depth guys from last year. With Kelvin Benjamin nearly a lock as the number one there’s a good deal of wiggle room in the rest of the chart.
The usual logic is that receivers take a couple years to acclimate to the league and hopefully Jones will be such a case. The sheer volume of players hungry to take playing time away from him should have Jones eager to get back to practice. At a position where depth players will see time on the field somewhat regularly, Jones will have to fend off the rest of the group all year. If Jones starts to lose ground out of the gate at training camp, it could be the beginning of the end.
The prime camp battle will of course take place at the quarterback position. In the long term, everyone knows it’s Josh Allen’s job to lose and he should have the safest spot on the roster for 2018. Nathan Peterman is currently remembered for a somewhat bad outing against the Chargers last year. As a result, he finds himself in a position where the only direction to go is up. Even if he weren’t generating strong buzz so far this offseason (and he is), he couldn’t “lose” much more at training camp than he did during last year’s regular season.
That leaves us with AJ McCarron. Playing behind Andy Dalton since 2014, McCarron has seen limited time on the field and therefore opportunity to showcase his talent for a big contract. In McCarron’s case it’s quite simple. No other position in the league has such a shortage of talented players. Being able to prove that he’s even a marginal starter will lead to a big contract and further opportunity in the league for McCarron. With Allen waiting in the wings McCarron has to start this year or he may never see the chance again.
All accounts have the Bills playing out a legitimate three-way quarterback competition. Per Sean McDermott, while they have a plan for Allen it’s currently written in “pencil” and can be adjusted based on what they’re seeing. Peterman was the talk of the town during OTAs and could find his way to the top. For McCarron, it needs to be treated as “now or never.” And “now” has two significant speed bumps in the way.