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Opinion: Comparing the 2020 and 2021 Buffalo Bills position rooms

Where have the upgrades come this offseason?

Every single year, I do a podcast where I put the NFL’s quarterbacks into tiers. Once I start from the foundational principle that wins aren’t a quarterback statistic, I 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 in plurality due to...,” with the top tier of quarterbacks being “can win Super Bowl in plurality 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 2020 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
  • Push
  • Slight downgrade
  • Notable downgrade
  • Significant downgrade

Note that for the purposes of this discussion, we are not counting any potential improvement from 2020 players in 2021 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.


Quarterback

2020

Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Jake Fromm, Davis Webb

2021

Josh Allen, Mitch Trubisky, Jake Fromm, Davis Webb

Verdict: Notable upgrade from 2020. The Trubisky-for-Barkley swap was the only move made and the only move needed to ensure a more competent backup would be in place were Josh Allen to miss time in 2021.

Running back

2020

Taiwan Jones, Reggie Gilliam, Antonio Williams, Patrick DiMarco, Christian Wade, Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, T.J. Yeldon

2021

Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones, Antonio Williams, Christian Wade

Verdict: Slight upgrade from 2020. Even though Gilliam is now listed as a tight end, Matt Breida has had more NFL success than T.J. Yeldon, which creates the tie breaker by itself with the return of special teamer Taiwan Jones.

Wide Receiver

2020

Stefon Diggs, John Brown, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Duke Williams, Isaiah McKenzie, Ray-Ray McCloud III, Nicholas Easley, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah Hodgins

2021

Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah McKenzie, Jake Kumerow, Duke Williams, Tanner Gentry, Isaiah Hodgins, Brandon Powell, Marquez Stevenson, Lance Lenoir

Verdict: Push. There was an opportunity here for a downgrade if John Brown walked and the Bills were relying on second-year man Gabriel Davis to be the No. 2 receiver in a pass-heavy offense. I do think Emmanuel Sanders is an upgrade over Brown, but the loss of Andre Roberts will be felt in the return game unless Powell, McKenzie, and Stevenson show significant ability.

Tight End

2020

Dawson Knox, Tyler Kroft, Lee Smith, Thomas Sweeney, Nate Becker, Jason Croom

2021

Dawson Knox, Jacob Hollister, Reggie Gilliam, Nate Becker, Tommy Sweeney, Quinton Morris

Verdict: Push. Lee Smith remained a high-level blocking tight end but Hollister may be able to offer dual TE/H-back function, which may allow the Bills to keep one less tight end in 2021.

Offensive Line

2020

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

2021

Mitch Morse, Dion Dawkins, Daryl Williams, Jon Feliciano, Cody Ford, Ryan Bates, Jordan Devey, Ike Boettger, Bobby Hart, Jamil Douglas, Forrest Lamp, Spencer Brown, Tommy Doyle, Jack Anderson, Syrus Tuitele, Steven Gonzalez

Verdict: Slight upgrade from 2020. Nsheke could no longer be counted on to play significant snaps, and the addition of mid-round tackles Brown and Doyle inject some youth into the position. Lamp and Douglas have veteran experience and both have chances of making the team.

Defensive Line

2020

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

2021

Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, AJ Epenesa, Darryl Johnson, Efe Obada, Mike Love, Greg Rousseau, Carlos Basham Jr., Ed Oliver, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Vernon Butler, Justin Zimmer, Brandin Bryant, Treyvon Hester, Eli Ankou, Nazair Jones

Verdict: Notable upgrade from 2020. Losing Quinton Jefferson may feel like a missed opportunity given how little he was used in his best fashion during his one-year stint with Buffalo, but the sneaky signing of Efe Obada and the addition of two high picks in Rousseau and Basham gives this team a youthful future at the position while having talent now.

Linebacker

2020

Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, A.J. Klein, Corey Thompson, Vosean Joseph, Tyler Matakevich, Tyrel Dodson, Del’Shawn Phillips, Mike Bell

2021

Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, A.J. Klein, Tyrel Dodson, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith, Tyrell Adams, Marquel Lee, Mike Bell, Joe Giles-Harris

Verdict: Slight upgrade from 2020. Tyrell Adams has a lot of experience in this league and provides a hedge against A.J. Klein in three-linebacker sets. At this time last year, special teamer Andre Smith, who signed an extension with the Bills this offseason, wasn’t on the team.

Defensive Backs

2020

Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, Levi Wallace, Josh Norman, E.J. Gaines, Cameron Lewis, Dane Jackson, Ike Brown, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Jaquan Johnson, Siran Neal, Dean Marlowe, Garrett Taylor, Josh Thomas

2021

Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, Siran Neal, Levi Wallace, Dane Jackson, Cam Lewis, Rachad Wildgoose, Olaijah Griffin, Nick McCloud, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Jaquan Johnson, Josh Thomas, Damar Hamlin, Tariq Thompson

Verdict: Slight downgrade from 2020. Damar Hamlin may end up being a Dean Marlowe player or better, but losing the experience of someone who knows head coach Sean McDermott’s defense that well is unfortunate. The draft and UDFA additions may make the team, but E.J. Gaines was a good player in this defense when healthy and that gives the paper edge to 2020.

Specialists

2020

Stephen Hauschka, Tyler Bass, Corey Bojorquez, Kaare Vedvik, Reid Ferguson

2021

Tyler Bass, Matt Haack, Reid Ferguson

Verdict: Slight downgrade from 2020. Bojorquez was a better punter than Haack in 2020 and now-entrenched kicker Tyler Bass was on the roster at this time last year, giving the nod to the 2020 room.

Total roster verdict: Slight upgrade from 2020

A lot of conversation has happened about the Bills “running it back” in 2021, but a glimpse at their overall position rooms reveals turnover at depth spots. Although the overwhelming majority of opening week 2020 starters will resume those roles in 2021, upgrades at linebacker, defensive line and offensive line could contribute to the Bills being better closer to the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. When your team reaches the AFC Championship Game, there’s a good chance their roster is good and any upgrades, no matter how small they may appear, are welcome.


...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!