The Buffalo Bills (finally) return to action this Saturday when they play a game against the Indianapolis Colts and initiate their preseason. As is customary, the team published an “unofficial” depth chart before the event. As always, the team will stress that this depth chart is by no means final or definitive, and that’s fine. But for several players, it offers us the chance to read into their role with the team. Let’s dig in:
The Bills have also released their first depth chart of the preseason, and an all-important pronunciation guide: pic.twitter.com/djnd5Ibl7s— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) August 8, 2022
Wide receiver battles in full force
Perhaps nowhere is Buffalo’s depth chart so unsettled as at wide receiver. Aside from Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis locked into their own roles, the rest of the room seems wide open.
Isaiah McKenzie is the clear leader for the slot role after his dominant training camp so far, and the team placed Jamison Crowder behind him on the second string. Two more players appear to be competing for a back-of-the-roster role as a slot receiver and returner: Tavon Austin and Khalil Shakir. The veteran’s currently leading as a returner, while the rookie’s ahead in the pecking order at receiver.
Also noteworthy is the ascendance of Isaiah Hodgins to the second string, ahead of Marquez Stevenson. The former sixth rounder had a very slow start to his career, only appearing in a single game in his first two seasons, but now might be his best opportunity to make the roster outright. Stevenson caught a bad break with his recent foot injury, and he’s likely to end up on injured reserve this year.
From this group, who makes it? Davis, Diggs, and McKenzie are locks, and Crowder seems likely too. Pick two or three more from the group of Shakir, Austin, Hodgins, and Jake Kumerow (who puts in great work on special teams). For the third year in a row, the team has a difficult decision at receiver.
Spencer Brown has to earn his starting role
Spencer Brown started ten games as a rookie last season, and there’s a lot of optimism about his potential. But an offseason back surgery prevented him from practicing for months, and he only recently began working in team drills. As a result, the team’s currently projecting David Quessenberry as their starting right tackle.
This is likely a motivation tactic for Brown, who isn’t close to the same level as an injured player who earned the benefit of a doubt (Tre’Davious White, for example). It also acknowledges that Quessenberry or Brown would be the leader in the clubhouse for the swing tackle role, though the team seems optimistic about Tommy Doyle.
Also unresolved on the offensive line is the interior pecking order. Ike Boettger (who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury) is noteworthy for being listed on the second string. Greg Mancz and Cody Ford are also “tied” as backups, and it’s worth noting that Bobby Hart, the third-string tackle, was practicing at guard recently.
With seven “locks” including Quessenberry, Brown, and Doyle, the team can add two or three linemen to round out the roster. Who would you choose?
Don’t overlook Zack Moss just yet
There’s been a lot of love for James Cook’s speed and receiving ability in camp, but for the time being, the Bills will make him earn his role on the team. The pecking order is clear so far, with Devin Singletary in the lead, and Zack Moss alone as the number-two back. Cook lands in the third string alongside special teams captain Taiwan Jones. Still, after two mediocre seasons, Moss should be aware of how fragile his standing will be this season.
Noteworthy roles for Tyrel Dodson, Terrel Bernard
Two young linebackers have significant expectations placed on them this year. The first is Tyrel Dodson. The former UDFA has ascended to a “starting” role (albeit on a depth chart with 12 defenders). He seems to have earned the job owned by A.J. Klein in recent seasons, and the healthy chunk of playtime that’ll come with it.
Terrel Bernard, the team’s third-round pick, is also worth mentioning for where he lives in the depth chart: backing up Tremaine Edmunds at middle linebacker, rather than Matt Milano (who, on paper, seems more similar to Bernard). You’ll want to watch the second-string defense this weekend to see how they’re arranged, and who (between Dodson and Bernard) is lined up and calling the plays to his teammates.
Still waiting for clarity in the secondary
When the Bills start their 2022 season, they’ll have several members of the secondary locked into the roster: their top four safeties, their starting trio of cornerbacks, Kaiir Elam, and Siran Neal.
But no one expects Tre’Davious White to be game-ready for Week 1, so someone needs to start opposite Dane Jackson. Who, though? The current depth chart suggests any of Elam, Neal, or sixth-round rookie Christian Benford might have a shot. Saturday’s game could be very enlightening in that regard.
There are a few dark horses to make the roster outright and maybe even tussle for that starting role in the next few weeks.
One is Cam Lewis. Currently listed as the third-string nickel, he might potentially vault over Siran Neal as a defender (Neal’s special teams prowess is his biggest selling point). And the Bills have been willing to play Lewis in NFL games on the outside before.
The other player to highlight is Nick McCloud. McCloud has actually changed positions, on paper, from the 2021 season that listed him at cornerback. Now he’s a safety. But he’s been a training camp standout for two years running, and that positional versatility might be enough to have him make the cut for the 53-man roster, even if he doesn’t have the case for playing time that Lewis brings.
Any other tidbits from the depth chart catch your eye? Point them out in the comments!