On an episode of “The Nick & Nolan Show” last summer, my co-host Nickbat and I put the NFL starting quarterbacks into tiers. Once we started from the foundational principle that wins aren’t a quarterback statistic, we evolved into ranking quarterbacks based on how much help an organization needs to give them in order to win games. The amount of help given to the quarterback was broken into categories and outcomes, ranking from “significant help needed to reach playoffs” to “notable help needed to make Super Bowl but can make playoffs primarily due to...,” with the top tier of quarterbacks being “can win Super Bowl primarily due to...”
A big part of any help given from the organization to the quarterback (alongside competent coaching and systems that fit what the quarterback does well) comes in the form of roster talent, and Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane is the man pulling the trigger on roster decisions he hopes will upgrade the team. Knowing that there may be changes between now and the final cutdown day, let’s take a look at the Bills’ position rooms as they stand today in comparison to how they stood post-draft in 2019 (knowing full well roster additions and changes are likely coming before training camp is scheduled to begin) and see whether each room has been upgraded, downgraded, or is a push. The following categories will be used as the scale:
- Significant upgrade
- Notable Upgrade
- Slight upgrade
- Slight downgrade
- Notable downgrade
- Significant downgrade
Note that for the purposes of this discussion, we are not counting any potential improvement from 2019 players in 2020 as a position room upgrade as this discussion is focused on Brandon Beane’s acquisition of talent. With that said, let’s look at the position groups.
Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Tyree Jackson
Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Jake Fromm, Davis Webb
Verdict: Slight upgrade for 2020. Tyree Jackson is not an NFL quarterback. Jake Fromm MIGHT be an NFL quarterback. That’s enough to tip it in 2020’s favor.
Marcus Murphy, LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Senorise Perry, Devin Singletary, Patrick DiMarco, Christian Wade
Taiwan Jones, Reggie Gilliam, Antonio Williams, Patrick DiMarco, Christian Wade, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, T.J. Yeldon
Verdict: Notable upgrade for 2020. The Bills didn’t give up on McCoy too soon, as his season with the Kansas City Chiefs proved they were prudent in turning to the rookie Singletary sooner rather than later. Moss is an ideal complement to Singletary without overt specialization, leading to offensive predictability.
David Sills, John Brown, Andre Roberts, Cole Beasley, Zay Jones, Victor Bolden Jr., Ray-Ray McCloud III, Da’Mari Scott, Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Nicholas Easley, Cam Phillips
Stefon Diggs, John Brown, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Duke Williams, Isaiah McKenzie, Ray-Ray McCloud III, Nicholas Easley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah Hodgins
Verdict: Significant upgrade for 2020. The main change to the wide receiver room from this time last year is the replacement of Zay Jones with Stefon Diggs. That’s an upgrade that ripples through the entire offense. The addition of two rookies in Davis and Hodgins who both add a dynamic to the offense that wasn’t present in 2019 is the icing on the cake.
Mik’Quan Deane, Jason Croom, Tyler Kroft, Nate Becker, Lee Smith, Dawson Knox, Thomas Sweeney
Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Thomas Sweeney, Nate Becker, Jason Croom
Verdict: Push. I would anticipate the top four tight ends in 2020 to be identical to 2019, barring injury.
Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Vladimir Ducasse, Garrett McGhin, Ike Boettger, Russell Bodine, Quinton Spain, Conor McDermott, Cody Ford, Jeremiah Sirles, Dion Dawkins, LaAdrian Waddle, Wyatt Teller, Jon Feliciano, Ty Nsekhe, De’Ondre Wesley
Mitch Morse, Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Jon Feliciano, Cody Ford, Spencer Long, Ike Boettger, Ty Nsehke, Ryan Bates, Daryl Williams, Victor Salako, Evan Boehm, Garrett McGhin, Trey Adams, Brandon Walton, Marquel Harrell
Verdict: Slight upgrade for 2020. Adding Daryl Williams and Evan Boehm as experienced depth pieces is a net positive compared to Jeremiah Sirles and Wyatt Teller.
Eddie Yarbrough, Jerry Hughes, Mike Love, Eli Harold, L.T. Walton, Shaq Lawson, Ed Oliver, Darryl Johnson Jr., Trent Murphy, Kyle Peko, Robert Thomas, Jordan Phillips, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips
Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, Trent Murphy, A.J. Epenesa, Darryl Johnson Jr., Mike Love, Bryan Cox Jr., Jonathan Woodard, Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Quinton Jefferson, Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, Vincent Taylor
Verdict: Notable upgrade for 2020. Losing Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips and still coming out of the major acquisition portion of the offseason with an upgrade on the defensive line is a feather in the cap of Brandon Beane, with Jefferson, Addison, Epenesa, and Butler all slated to have meaningful roles in the rotation.
Maurice Alexander, Deon Lacey, Juwan Foggie, Tremaine Edmunds, Vosean Joseph, Julian Stanford, Corey Thompson, Tyrel Dodson, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano
Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, A.J. Klein, Corey Thompson, Vosean Joseph, Tyler Matakevich, Tyrel Dodson, Del’Shawn Phillips, Mike Bell
Verdict: Slight downgrade for 2020. Obtaining a special teams ace in Matakevich will help special teams coordinator Heath Farwell’s unit, but A.J. Klein is an underwhelming addition in three-linebacker sets and the loss of Lorenzo Alexander’s versatility will be felt.
Rafael Bush, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Taron Johnson, E.J. Gaines, Tre’Davious White, Lafayette Pitts, Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal, Kevin Johnson, Denzel Rice, Ryan Lewis, Levi Wallace, Jaquon Johnson, Cameron Lewis
Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, Levi Wallace, Josh Norman, E.J. Gaines, Cameron Lewis, Dane Jackson, Ike Brown, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Jaquon Johnson, Siran Neal, Dean Marlowe, Garrett Taylor, Josh Thomas
Verdict: Slight downgrade for 2020. The major swap is Kevin Johnson for Josh Norman and your opinion on Norman’s probability of recapturing form he hasn’t shown in years will likely influence your opinion of this position room now relative to 2019. I am of the opinion that swap is a net negative for the talent level and athleticism in the defensive back room.
Stephen Hauschka, Cory Carter, Corey Bojorquez, Chase McLaughlin, Reid Ferguson
Stephen Hauschka, Tyler Bass, Corey Bojorquez, Kaare Vedvik, Reid Ferguson
Verdict: Slight upgrade for 2020. I think Bass is a better prospect than McLaughlin and that tips my opinion on this room. Vedvik will be playing the role of Corey Carter this offseason in the punter battle and if he remains healthy, could unseat Bojorquez given the latter’s uninspiring 2019 campaign.
Total roster verdict: Slight upgrade for 2020
Overall, the 2020 roster Beane has built thus far is better than it was in 2019 on paper. When you factor in potential growth from players like Dawson Knox and Cody Ford, the possibilities become exciting that this team could be notably better than they were in 2019. This team will absolutely go as Josh Allen does in 2020 as is the case with most teams and their quarterbacks in most seasons, but the complaints that Bills Mafia had in 2018 about the roster construction, particularly on offense, being historically bad have been replaced with justified optimism at what this team can be in 2020.
...and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I’m Bruce Nolan with Buffalo Rumblings. You can find me on Twitter @BruceExclusive and looks for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network every week!