It’s a slow time of the year for football fans, so there’s no better time to come up with thought exercises as an excuse to do some surface-level analysis. With the Buffalo Bills making sweeping roster changes let’s have some fun and rank the various position groups against each other to see where the strength of the team lies. At least in my opinion. The comments section is a good place to tell me how far I missed the mark. And, oh yeah—here’s how we guessed it last year.
Tyler Kroft’s injury set this unit pretty far back, unfortunately. That puts the strength of the position with Lee Smith and Jason Croom. Smith is good at what he does, but isn’t generally considered a complete tight end. Croom has also missed time so far due to injury. Keith Towbridge will be making a return and battling it out with rookies Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. There’s a lot of potential, but as of this second it’s a grim look on paper.
This group is mainly dinged thanks to injuries the likes of which we can’t know for sure to have been resolved yet. While other factors likely played a part, Stephen Hauschka’s injury last season could still be an issue. The punter battle between Cory Carter and Corey Bojorquez adds two more injuries to the list that could factor into this year as well. Reid Ferguson is healthy, which is a plus.
On paper this looks to be a much improved line from last year so feel free to yell at me for rating them so low. If you’re inclined to hear me out though, you might recall that I ranked the individual players from the 2018 team better than a lot of fans and analysts. Where the team went wrong was mixing and matching guys that didn’t fit well together, making the whole lesser than the sum of its parts. Mitch Morse, Cody Ford, and Ty Nsekhe to me look like individual upgrades but until we see the unit come together I’m remaining skeptical.
I don’t see any reason to knock the running backs and I’m happier with LeSean McCoy’s 2018 performance than most. Frank Gore played well last year and T.J. Yeldon and Devin Singletary are fun additions. This group finds itself tied to the offensive line for better or for worse. While I still think McCoy and Gore have a lot to offer, I’m not sold on them taking over games by themselves like they used to in seasons past.
There’s a lot of evidence to think that Josh Allen can take a big leap forward this year—and I’m already allowing myself to be convinced it’ll happen. It’s still a question mark though, and even at the high end of my projections Allen wouldn’t necessarily hit “elite” (yet). So I can’t put the position much higher in good faith. And if we’re talking the entire group, Matt Barkley is exactly what you want in a QB2 with Tyree Jackson possibly ascending to that role in time. But really, this group is all about the starter and I’m going with cautious optimism.
This is a group with a lot of talent, having what should be four good starters to rotate into two spots. The group is prevented from moving up higher thanks to questions surrounding the development of younger players and the specialty usage of the veterans. Harrison Phillips isn’t guaranteed to flourish and Ed Oliver disappointing wouldn’t be the first bust in NFL history. Star Lotulelei does his job well and Jordan Phillips has a strong case for being elite when it comes to passes defended. Neither is in on every snap due to limitations in other areas however. Complicating matters is the usage of players from other groups to up the speed level on passing downs. With Lorenzo Alexander and Shaq Lawson pitching in, it does devalue the pure tackle group to some degree.
On the surface this probably looks to be too high of a ranking. However, the receiver group benefits a good deal from having a high floor. The Buffalo Bills re-imagined their philosophy midseason and completely revamped the room as a result. Zay Jones and Robert Foster can be argued to be the floor, whereas last year they were the ceiling. More practice could unlock even more of the Allen to Foster connection and Jones seems committed to the game and team. Cole Beasley and John Brown provide a steady presence and begin to raise the ceiling. Intriguing prospects like Duke Williams and David Sills V are a reason to be excited.
The combination of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano really started to shine prior to Milano’s injury. Questions surrounding the injury are valid, but Milano seemed comfortable jogging at Micah Hyde’s charity softball event, which is a good sign. Losing Milano also seemed to have a significant impact on the run defense with his sideline-to-sideline game being missed. Lorenzo Alexander adds a lot of wrinkles to the front seven and adds a lot of value to the team. Being listed primarily as a linebacker, we’ll give the credit to this grouping.
Similar to the wide receivers, the defensive ends benefit from a high floor. Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy are NFL starters at the position, and that means a rotation between the two on game day yields a relatively consistent presence on one side of the line. If you’re not aware by now, I’m a huge fan of Jerry Hughes and have no qualms about referring to him as an elite playmaker. Eddie Yarbrough is a solid rotational player, rounding out the major players nicely.
In addition to teaching up-and-coming goalies, Tre’Davious White is a hell of a corner who locks down one side of the field. Taron Johnson shocked even optimistic fans with his play in the nickel corner spot. Rounding out the group is the trio of Kevin Johnson, E.J. Gaines, and Levi Wallace. All three have been legitimate starters. Despite injury and other concerns, there should be a quality player opposite White.
The depth here isn’t too shabby with Rafael Bush and Dean Marlowe able to fill in when needed. Bush also performed pretty well as a nickel defensive back when called upon. Ultimately, this position takes the top spot as it’s the only one where the starting lineup is made up entirely of elite talent. The pairing of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer commands respect week in and week out.