Although the Buffalo Bills are likely to make a few more changes here and there, the team’s 2020 roster is essentially set and we’re now beginning to see where the in-depth competitions for spots will happen. More so than any other year, thanks to the COVID-19 situation, it appears that training camp will be the primary place to measures players’ performance and their value to the team. Which Bills have the most to gain during this critical time? Here are five players who could rise up and take advantage.
Which Buffalo Bills have the most to gain during this hopefully soon critical time? NickBat and Grif have their lists and explain why. Here’s a few thoughts on the matter. Don’t be shy about adding your own below.
Vosean Joseph - LB
NickBat: The Bills’ linebacker room is very top heavy. The depth behind Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano is either inexperienced or limited physically. If one of those guys were to go down for an extended period of time, it would be a huge question mark for the team to find a way to make it through without them.
Enter Vosean Joseph, the suspiciously IR-ed-for-a-hamstring rookie who was on the roster bubble last year. The Bills found a clever way to keep Joseph on the team without exposing him to the open market. With Joseph finally able to see playing time, the opportunity for him to create a role for himself on special teams or perhaps even a niche role on defense exists. There is competition for that role, but no one on the depth chart pops out as having a stranglehold as the next man up.
Grif: In some ways, it could be said that Joseph ‘lucked out’ when he was stashed on the injured list in 2019. After not really distinguishing himself in training camp or the preseason, the rookie was able to physically recover and, ostensibly, learn from the bench. The time to prove himself starts now, however, as there is a clear path to the roster for him and finding himself in a situation similar to last year isn’t guaranteed.
While the team has several young reserve linebackers, only Corey Thompson has seen the field and that was back in 2018. While playing time might be out of the question for the former fifth-rounder, he has a chance to not only make the team, but see significant special teams snaps if he can distinguish himself in that area as well.
Ed Oliver - DT
Grif: Let’s not beat around the bush, Oliver was technically not a full-time starter last year. He began the season taking 66% of the snaps against the New York Jets, then fell to a low of 34% against the Cleveland Browns, then ticked back up a bit to 53% against the New England Patriots. It’s true that the former ninth overall pick had his share of flashes and was forced to do his learning on the job, but there are no more excuses. Oliver needs to come out of the gate strong, forcing the coaching staff to know that they can fully rely on him in the coming season.
Tyrel Dodson - LB
NickBat: See above reasoning. Simply swap out that instead of cleverly putting Dodson on the IR, the Bills stuck by the undrafted Dodson through a domestic violence arrest and six-game suspension, although he was waived and dropped to the practice squad. The fact that he is still in the building seems to point to the Bills believing there is some significant upside possible for him.
Daryl Williams - OL
Grif: Although Buffalo returns all five starters along the offensive line, the starter positions are far from settled. Newcomers at guard Quinton Spain and Jon Feliciano performed decently, but they’re not exactly long-term answers. Right tackle Cody Ford struggled for most of the season. Enter Daryl Williams. With the ability to play guard and tackle, he has the chance to compete for multiple positions along the offensive line and the talent, when healthy, to win a competition even against the nominal starters. The question with him, as always, is the health of his repaired knee. Assuming time heals all wounds, he may compete to start in camp.
Tommy Sweeney - TE
NickBat: The tight end position behind Dawson Knox is a big question mark for the 2020 Bills. If general manager Brandon Beane was able to make his desires come to fruition, Tyler Kroft would easily be the reliable good-enough-at-everything TE2, but doubts abound about his ability to stay healthy and on the field. Kroft’s contract restructure makes him an unlikely departure before the deal is up, but it is not the sort of deal that necessitates playing time.
Tommy Sweeney is a similarly billed good-enough-at-everything tight end. Add the fact that youth is on his side and a fair shake at TE2 could yield surprising results. If he shows up in a meaningful way he may convince the coaching staff to give him the chance to be on the field over everyone in his position room other than Knox.
Levi Wallace - CB
Grif: Wallace has had his up and downs in his two-year career with the team. There are games when his ball skills and ability in zone coverage stand out. Then there are games—such as last year’s face-offs against the Miami Dolphins—where Wallace is specifically targeted and abused by quarterbacks and receivers.
Now the team has brought in Josh Norman to push him for a spot or theoretically replace him, if possible. If Wallace can hold him off, he’ll have cemented himself as a starter for at least another year and possibly more.
Dane Jackson - CB
NickBat: Levi Wallace could easily be the name listed here instead of Jackson, but Wallace is likely safe as a part of the squad even if he doesn’t wind up starting the season as CB2. Jackson, however, needs to show where he can carve out a role for himself among the Bills corners. Advertised as an aggressive player with both inside and outside capabilities, it’s not impossible to see Jackson challenging the likes of Taron Johnson for slot corner duties. Although more reliable in 2020 than 2019, Johnson still has injury concerns and the Bills now have a nickel specific coach who will have eyes on that role for the defense unlike previous camps. If, and it’s admittedly a big if, Jackson flashes in camp, it will be interesting to see what kind of defensive snaps he can earn himself.
Jake Fromm - QB
Grif: Fromm finds himself in an interesting position coming into his first NFL training camp and preseason. The scouts and coaches clearly thought enough of him to make him a fifth-round pick and general manager Brandon Bean himself said the quarterback was “too good to pass up.” That means he’s already walking into a positive atmosphere and isn’t seen as some sort of afterthought. Meanwhile, his competition at quarterback Matt Barkley, has had his moments but is by no means a lock to even make the team if Fromm can do his part to standout. After this year, Fromm could find himself in the position of primary backup to Josh Allen for years to come.