It’s underdog week for SB Nation, and here at Buffalo Rumblings, we know underdogs well. If there’s one place where we can always find an underdog to cheer on, it’s the preseason. Every year we see someone shine in the preseason, usually a long-shot for the sixth receiver or the ninth defensive lineman. These cult heroes don’t usually pan out for the Buffalo Bills, but their stories are thrilling memories to share. Here are some players who come to mind. Who do you remember?
The former rugby star joined the Bills through an international outreach program, but became a mini-sensation after his preseason debut. Wade took his first ever carry 65 yards to the house. A week later, he did it again, breaking loose on a catch-and-run and careening across the field for 48 yards. He would finish the preseason with eight carries for 84 yards and a touchdown, adding four catches for 56 yards—but for a brief stint, fans had visions of greatness.
Ultimately, Wade couldn’t break onto the roster, and he spent the 2019 season as a special member of the team’s practice squad. Who knows what 2020 will bring!?
We’ll start this entry with a bittersweet note: Reilly recently retired after a career between NFL practice squads and the XFL. We’ll remember him by his rookie preseason. In 2017, Reilly caught 11 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown, and ten of his catches converted first downs. After that preseason, he landed on Buffalo’s practice squad, and they later promoted him to the 53-man roster, but he never appeared in an NFL game.
We coined #TheSummerOfWaltPowell at Buffalo Rumblings to celebrate a fantastic training camp and preseason for the journeyman receiver. Powell, who had been a back-of-the-roster player in the 2015 season, caught a team-leading 12 receptions for 189 yards, and returned ten punts for 103 yards during the preseason.
Powell made the Bills’ roster that year, and he caught 14 passes for 142 yards. They cut him the next season, after he’d been suspended for using performance enhancing substances.
Remember Tuel Time? The same year the Bills spent a first-round pick on EJ Manuel, the rookie quarterback who shone in the preseason was an undrafted player from one of the least-successful FBS schools. Of course, he debuted by going 19-for-23 for 212 yards and two touchdowns. That just makes sense.
At the same time Tuel emerged, Manuel was dealing with an uncertain knee injury. The Bills, amazingly, didn’t have any veteran backups, so Tuel was the second-string quarterback in his rookie year. Tuel appeared in two games, starting one, before the team was dissatisfied with his performance and replaced him in the lineup with veteran waiver acquisition Thad Lewis.
He wouldn’t appear in another game, but did stay in the NFL through 2015.
He was still better than Nate Peterman.
When Chan Gailey was named the new head coach of the Bills, Howard followed him to Buffalo as an undrafted free agent from Georgia Tech. The 6’4”, 315-lb lineman impressed with his athleticism and opened up training camp as a second stringer. He eventually did well enough to make the final roster.
Howard would eventually appear in ten games as a rookie, starting four of them. The offensive line, as a whole, was a disaster that season, and Howard was a part of that. The team cut him before the 2011 season, and he was out of the league after 2012.
The same year Howard joined the Bills, Buffalo had a surprise running back making waves at the back of their crowded depth chart. Behind Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and C.J. Spiller was an undrafted workhorse from Division II Wayne State. Joique Bell had 6,700 rushing yards and 96 touchdowns in college, but would that production translate to the pros?
Bell stood out in a big way, with 27 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns (plus four receptions) during his rookie preseason. The Bills couldn’t make room for him on their roster, and they signed him to their practice squad. A couple years later, Bell would find his way onto the field for the Detroit Lions. Over five seasons, Bell rushed for 2,241 yards and 22 touchdowns, and added 1,635 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown.
There are six names. Who else can you remember as heroes of preseasons past, and did they pan out in the NFL?