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Buffalo Bills 53-man roster: Final predictions ahead of NFL cuts deadline

Spoiler alert: Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are locks

Buffalo Bills v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have already begun the necessary work to reduce their roster from 90 to 53 players. Leading up to this point, several names have been placed on season-ending Injured Reserve list, while others have returned from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. What does that mean for the rest of the roster? I have some predictions...

As a note, over the weekend, the Bills revealed a list of seven players released by the team.

  • WR Isaiah Coulter
  • WR Dezmon Patmon
  • TE Jace Sternberger
  • T Garrett McGhin
  • DT Cortez Broughton
  • S Jared Mayden
  • LB DaShaun White
  • DE Shane Ray (released with an injury settlement from Injured Reserve)

I’ll include them within the cuts lists within their position groups below.

OFFENSE (25 total players)

Quarterback (2)

Josh Allen, Kyle Allen

Cut: Matt Barkley

The vast majority of fans and many analysts believe the Bills need to and will turn to alternate options at backup quarterback. General manager Brandon Beane reportedly made a trade offer to the San Francisco 49ers to bring quarterback Trey Lance on board. Lance ended up with the Dallas Cowboys. With scant time to get any outside QB up to speed on the team’s offense, it would surprise me to see a different name pop up on the depth chart.

Barkley has proven to be a safe option as a well-tenured NFL vet. His landing on the practice squad feels fairly certain at this point. His not making the final 53 isn’t so much about what he failed to do consistently in the preseason, and more to do with the investment made in Kyle Allen — among the team’s biggest priority free-agent signings.

Running Back (4)

James Cook, Damien Harris, Latavius Murray, Reggie Gilliam

  • Reserve/Non-Football Injury: Nyheim Hines
  • Cut: Jordan Mims, Ty Johnson, Darrynton Evans

No surprises here. Unless, of course, you believe Ty Johnson deserves a spot on the active roster. Adding Evans and Johnson to the practice squad would be sound moves. But will another team find their contributions too enticing to pass up?

Wide Receiver (7)

Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, Trent Sherfield, Deonte Harty, Khalil Shakir, Andy Isabella, Justin Shorter

Cut: Marcell Ateman, Tyrell Shavers, KeeSean Johnson, Bryan Thompson, Dezmon Patton (officially announced by Bills), Isaiah Coulter (officially announced by Bills)

A hot debate of late: Which players further down the depth chart make the final 53? I’m going with the belief that the Bills will pass the ball often, understand the importance of special teams, and realize they lack elite speed and size. That means Isabella and Shorter both make this year’s squad. Shorter may be a surprising choice here, given his drops (and McDermott’s head-shaking that has followed — captured for all watching Saturday’s finale). But Shorter, a fifth-round rookie selection of Buffalo’s this past April, has played well in the gunner role on special teams. He also brings great size and potential as a physical target. Khalil Shakir has been part of the team’s injury report, and remains there at this date. They won’t place him on IR before final cuts — that would mean losing him for the entire season. They could place him on IR after final cuts, and bring him back a month later.

Tight End (3)

Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid, Quintin Morris

  • Season-ending IR: Zach Davidson
  • Cut: Joel Wilson, Jace Sternberger (officially announced by Bills)

This group has felt pretty solidified since the start of training camp. Knox, Kincaid, and Morris present physical challenges as plus-playmakers at nearly each level of offense. Joel Wilson is a player who could find himself on the practice squad, given his untapped potential as a rookie.

Offensive Line (9)

Offensive Tackle (3): Dion Dawkins, Spencer Brown, Ryan Van Demark
Center (2): Mitch Morse, Ryan Bates (swing)
Offensive Guard (5): O’Cyrus Torrence, Connor McGovern, David Edwards, Richard Gouraige

  • Season-ending IR: Tommy Doyle (OT)
  • Reserve/Retired: Brandon Shell (OG)
  • Cut: David Quessenberry, Ike Boettger, Alec Anderson, Greg Mancz, Nick Broeker, Kevin Jarvis, Garrett McGhin (OT) (officially announced by Bills)

A much-maligned group this summer, Buffalo’s offensive line has much to prove to a good percentage of on-lookers. There was a great deal of investment made to overhaul the room this offseason, but the focus was along the interior. The biggest questions remain at tackle, specifically right tackle. Hope abounds with newcomers Torrence and Gouraige (who makes a surprise landing on the roster after a solid preseason). The big question right now is the status of Connor McGovern, who sustained a knee injury during the preseason. Is he a candidate for a trip to post-cut IR? Given the team’s investment in him during free agency, McGovern won’t find himself headed there prior to final cuts. Quessenberry hasn’t instilled a ton of faith this offseason. It feels like moving on and offering him a spot on the practice squad for now is best.

DEFENSE (26 total defensive players)

Defensive End/EDGE (6)

Greg Rousseau, Leonard Floyd, Shaq Lawson, Boogie Basham, A.J. Epenesa, Kingsley Jonathan

  • PUP (1): Von Miller (EDGE)
  • Cut: Kameron Cline, Shane Ray (officially announced by Bills as IR settlement release)

A tough group to make any headway in if you’re not an established veteran. Lots of bodies in the DE room, but McDermott is going to have fun with this group. The elephant in the room centers around happens when Von Miller returns in Week 5 from the PUP list. Kingsley Jonathan will not make it to the practice squad if he’s released. He’s an ascending, young player. This is his opportunity. Cline has shown well this summer, and he’s a priority add for the practice squad.

Defensive Tackle (5)

Ed Oliver, DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, Poona Ford
Cut: Eli Ankou, DJ Dale, Kendal Vickers, Cortez Broughton (officially announced by Bills)

What immense depth you have, Buffalo. The Bills love rotating their defensive tackles, with the goal of keeping them fresher throughout the game. DJ Dale finds his way to practice squad, as another developmental rookie prospect. Ankou joins him there as a known commodity with veteran upside.

Linebacker (4)

Weakside Linebacker (SAM) (2): Matt Milano, Dorian Williams
Middle/Strongside Linebacker (MIKE) (2): Tyrel Dodson, Terrell Bernard

  • Injured reserve (1): Baylon Spector (MIKE)
  • Cut: Tyler Matakevich, A.J. Klein, Travin Howard, DaShaun White (officially announced by Bills)

The concern here will be a lack of overall numbers at the position. Otherwise, No real surprises here as the team likely fails to make a trade or signing ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. This final grouping may only be consider as such until and unless the team makes a move to add outside talent once more players become available. Having used draft assets on Spector, they’ll send him to Injured Reserve in hopes that he recovers and begins to make a more solid impact on the MIKE position. Cutting Matakevich is tough for his special teams value, but he makes it to the practice squad in this exercise. Klein has been a player I’ve been bullish all offseason, but he’s not ascending, and his veteran status allows the team to place him on the practice squad without exposing him to waivers. That’s not the case for the rest of those fighting it out at MIKE. Matt Milano becomes the elder statesman in the linebacker room.

Cornerback (7)

Boundary CB: Tre’Davious White, Dane Jackson, Christian Benford, Kaiir Elam, Cam Lewis
Nickel: Taron Johnson, Siran Neal

Cut: Alex Austin, Ja’Marcus Ingram, Kyron Brown

It’s Trey White, then everyone else... at this point. That doesn’t mean Buffalo lacks for quality at the position. It’s quite the opposite. For much of the offseason, Jackson has risen to the top while battling with Elam and Benford. Now, it’s fair to wonder if Benford has the upper hand to land the CB2 job ahead of both Jackson and Elam. Many find it frustrating to see Elam so far down the depth chart, but there’s still time for him to develop into the player the team envisioned in making him a first-round draft pick. Cam Lewis is well-regarded by the organization and is valuable as a reserve at cornerback and safety. Alex Austin needs more time to develop his pro game, so look for him to land on the practice squad along with former UB Bulls defender, Ja’Marcus Ingram.

Safety (4)

Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Damar Hamlin, Taylor Rapp

Cut: Dean Marlowe, Zayne Anderson, Jared Mayden (officially announced by Bills)

An incredible amount of discussion this offseason has involved Hamlin not making this year’s team. Following his triumphant return to the field, and looking solid or better throughout the course of three preseason games, his spot feels as secure as any player on this roster. Of course, that’s due to my belief that One Bills Drive isn’t going to A: give up on a player they drafted; B: give up on a player who’s survived what Hamlin has; C: give up on a player who has made such a profound impact on the team, the fan base, the NFL, and non-football fans around the world. The Bills let Marlowe go, but likely hope to add him back to their initial practice squad roster. He has experience in the system and is a solid, if unspectacular veteran.

Specialists (2)

  • Kicker: Tyler Bass
  • Punter: Sam Martin
  • Cut: Reid Ferguson (long snapper)

This isn’t goodbye to Ferguson. It’s simply roster shenanigans following a handshake deal for Ferguson to be added back following cuts. More on this below.

Practice Squad (16)

  • QB Matt Barkley
  • DE Kameron Cline
  • RB Darrynton Evans
  • RB Ty Johnson
  • WR Tyrell Shavers
  • TE Joel Wilson
  • LB Tyler Matakevich
  • LB A.J. Klein
  • DT DJ Dale
  • DT Eli Ankou
  • CB Alex Austin
  • CB Ja’Marcus Ingram
  • OL David Quessenberry
  • OL Ike Boettger
  • OL Nick Broeker
  • OL Alec Anderson

Final thoughts

It’s entirely possible that McDermott is just disenchanted enough with his options at MIKE linebacker that he moves on from one or more, making for a surprising roster cut. But to do that would imply Terrell Bernard is healthy enough and ready to start the season (after showing well early on in camp), and/or the team has made plans to bring in talent from outside the facility. Though, at this point it may simply be a matter of shifting deck chairs on the Titanic, attempting to name entirely new face (Christian Kirksey?) as the team’s 2023 starting MIKE ‘backer. As we well know, the grass isn’t always greener — no matter how many times that pair of overused phrases are tasked with watering such seeds.

Depending how everything plays out, the Buffalo Bills may have some even more difficult decisions to make in a month’s time. At that point, theoretically, the team could bring back Von Miller and Baylon Spector (and Connor McGovern is he lands there, too). Teams have a five-week window after that initial four-week IR period to allow returning players to practice. Once a player returns to practicing, there’s an additional 21-day window where teams can decide whether or not to active the returning player as part of the 53-man roster.

Should the Bills face this scenario, that could mean making difficult decisions about as many as three players. Of course, should other players find their way off the active roster, either by way of a team exit or landing on IR, then dynamics change. So, too, will the formula if the Bills sign players currently not on the team, either via free agency or by making an in-season trade ahead of the NFL trade deadline. The 2023 trade deadline is Tuesday, October 31, at 4 p.m. EDT, following the conclusion of Week 8.

To the uninitiated, my choice to cut long snapper Reid Ferguson might seem unwise. Have no fear, Bills Mafia. Ferguson isn’t going anywhere — and he probably won’t even make it out of the building before general manager Brandon Beane calls him back to his office. this is a case of roster gymnastics, and the team has utilized such methods in the past with Ferguson. Given the structure of Ferguson’s contract (zero dead-cap charge if he’s released), the Bills can simply release him and re-sign him almost at once. That’s because there’s zero dead-cap involved for Buffalo to release him, and as an NFL vet of (more than) five seasons, he isn’t subject to the waiver wire. These are the sort of handshake deals teams make to leverage the roster to their advantage. Should the team want to retain Shakir, McGovern, Spector, (or someone else who may be a candidate for in-season IR), exercising this move with Ferguson allows them to sign said player and immediately place them on IR for four weeks. Ferguson is then re-added to the team’s active roster.

Speaking of IR and potential returns: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team offer a new contract to Shane Ray once he’s healed up and able to return later this season. That, of course, would require more adjustments to the roster.

Sound off in the comments — where we encourage you to also share you final predictions on the Bills’ roster for the 2023 NFL season!

Be sure to check out B.J. Monacelli’s (analysis expert with Buffalo Rumblings) take on a final 53-man roster projection.