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Buffalo Bills rookie report: Depth chart observations heading into Week 1

Rookies featured across the team’s first depth chart to start 2022 NFL season

The Buffalo Bills have released their Week 1 depth chart ahead of their West Coast matchup Thursday night with the Los Angeles Rams to kick off the 2022 NFL regular season. One of the only questions remaining ahead of this game is where the rookies would slot. The roster was set—but now it’s time to discover what roles the young Bills will fill as the season gets underway.

The rookies are scattered all over the opening week depth chart for a team that is a favorite to win the Super Bowl. None of them crack the initial starting lineup on offense while 2022 first-round pick, cornerback Kaiir Elam, is listed as the starting cornerback opposite of Dane Jackson. Despite that listing, however, head coach Sean McDermott said on Tuesday that he was not ready to name a starter between Elam and fellow rookie sixth-round pick Christian Benford.

The Bills are primarily a nickel-based (4-2-5) team, but it’s notable that rookie linebacker Terrel Bernard is listed as the starting SAM linebacker. Bernard’s ability as a blitzer and a gap shooter could allow him to fill A.J. Klein’s vacated role during the 2022 season.

Fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir is listed as the starting punt returner. There’s not another player listed on the depth chart, so it appears the reliable rookie will get the nod on Thursday against the Rams. Shakir is also listed as a backup receiver—as the primary reserve to Stefon Diggs. Notably, he is not listed with the same receiver grouping with slot-only receivers Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder.

Running back James Cook is listed as the third running back. Often in 2021, the Bills only activated three running backs with veteran special teamer Taiwan Jones consistently getting the nod as a gunner. It will be something to keep an eye on whether the Bills elect to go with four running backs or if Cook is a potential healthy scratch candidate in Week 1. Either way, the 2022 second-round pick offers up a lot in the passing game—where starter Devin Singletary and primary backup Zack Moss do not.

Baylon Spector is listed as the primary backup at the WILL linebacker position behind Matt Milano. Spector had a flashy preseason to vault himself onto the 53-man roster. He could be a player who is a healthy scratch more times than not in 2022.