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Top 10 Buffalo Bills 25 and under — No. 7: OL Ryan Bates

A utility lineman who stepped up to become a reliable starter

We’re counting down the best, most important, most impressive early career Buffalo Bills. These players are the closest thing to a “farm system” for an NFL team, and ideally they’re playing major roles in the team’s success. For every Von Miller the team’s signing in free agency, they’re only able to work that tactic by supporting him with a handful of younger, cost-controlled players.

In seventh place is a player who spent a long time lingering around the back of the depth chart with the Bills. Finally given an opportunity to play, he seized the moment and earned himself a nice payday. It’s Ryan Bates!

The list so far

Number 7: OL Ryan Bates (turned 25 on February 14)

Leaping up from the obscurity of “utility offensive lineman” into seventh place on our list is the 25-year-old Bates. If you remember back to 2019, the Bills traded depth defensive end Eli Harold to the Philadelphia Eagles for the rights to Bates, who they’d signed as an undrafted free agent. Bates then “appeared” in 24 games over the next two seasons as a backup utility lineman. Over those two seasons, he totaled 160 offensive snaps and 120 special teams snaps. 2021 was his first opportunity to play in the starting lineup, and he definitely made the most of it. He just signed a four-year contract with the Bills in the offseason mostly because of the impressive blocking he did in four regular-season and two playoff games.

In Josh Allen’s first 13 games of the season, he was sacked 22 times, averaging 1.7 per game, and three of those 13 games were free of any sacks. But over the next six games, where Bates was playing in the lineup from start to finish, Allen managed to avoid being sacked on four of them. Devin Singletary also benefited from Bates’s presence; four of his five best rushing performances (and 430 of his 977 rushing yards) came during the six-game stretch while Bates was playing left guard.

In Bates, the Bills think they have a solid starting guard who could flex to pretty much any of the five positions in a pinch. That’s what has him landing on this list today.