How the Bills stack up at each position entering camp, what the final roster may look like
One of the most anticipated seasons in recent Buffalo Bills history gets underway Tuesday morning when the team reports for training camp at its home base in Orchard Park.
For the second year in a row because of the pandemic, the Bills are not coming to St. John Fisher College, and that means the only chance fans will get to see the team up close and personal will be the three scheduled open practices inside Highmark Stadium and the lone home preseason game on Aug. 28 against Green Bay.
Of course, there really won’t be much to see, at least if you enjoyed coming to Fisher in the past to see positional battles unfold.
Coming off their first AFC East division title since 1995 and their first appearance in the AFC Championship Game since after the 1993 season, coach Sean McDermott’s team is almost completely formed.
The Bills return every starter from 2020 with the exception of wide receiver John Brown, and the bulk of their key depth players are also back as they take aim at crossing one more bridge – winning the AFC title and getting back to their first Super Bowl since that 1993 season.
Here’s my positional breakdown of the team as it heads into camp:
Starter: Josh Allen.
Reserves: Mitchell Trubisky, Davis Webb, Jake Fromm.
Sal’s take: Allen is coming off the greatest season a Bills QB has ever produced, and now the trick will be to somehow keep ascending, though that may not be possible. As long as he doesn’t take a big step back, he’s going to be fine, and so will the offense. The signing of Trubisky was a great under-the-radar move because as we all know in Buffalo, you can certainly do way worse at backup QB than a former No. 2 overall draft pick still in his mid-20s with a 29-21 career record as a starter. If Allen were to get hurt, Trubisky probably would be able to keep the train moving, better, say, than Matt Barkley. The biggest decision will be whether the Bills keep three QBs, but I don’t think they will. They’ll try to get Webb or Fromm on their practice squad.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Allen, Trubisky.
Starter: Zack Moss
Reserves: Devin Singletary, Matt Breida, Taiwan Jones, Christian Wade, Antonio Williams.
Sal’s take: The Bills didn’t run the ball poorly last year, but they could have been better. That’s not necessarily a commentary on Singletary and Moss because they each averaged more than 4 yards per carry. It’s more about the offensive line not doing a good enough job creating space for the backs. My hunch is that Moss is going to become the No. 1 back, but his snap count will remain pretty close with Singletary. Breida has great speed and the Bills need to find ways to utilize it. Jones makes the team only because of special teams, but if Williams has a great camp, I think it would be Jones, not Breida, who gets cut.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Singletary, Moss, Breida, Jones.
Starters: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders.
Reserves: Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, Isaiah Hodgins, Brandon Powell, Jake Kumerow, Tanner Gentry, Duke Williams, Lance Lenoir, Marquez Stevenson.
Sal’s take: Buffalo’s top three of Diggs, Beasley and Sanders is as good as any trio in the league. When you add Davis and McKenzie to the mix, that top five is as good as any in the league, too. I think McKenzie makes the team because of his versatility on offense and the fact that he may be the primary return man. The big battle is for the sixth spot and special teams will have a lot to do with it, but I think Hodgins (a 2020 sixth-round pick who missed the entire season) has a chance to be a contributor on offense with his height and excellent hands. If he can play special teams reasonably well, he’ll beat out the rest of the contenders like Powell, Stevenson and Kumerow.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Diggs, Beasley, Sanders, Davis, McKenzie, Hodgins.
Starter: Dawson Knox
Reserves: Jacob Hollister, Tommy Sweeney, Reggie Gilliam, Nate Becker, Quintin Morris.
Sal’s take: This is obviously a big year for Knox as he needs to prove that he has the goods as a former third-round pick. His inconsistency during his first two seasons has been somewhat frustrating, but he could be ready to fully blossom. Hollister should be an upgrade over departed Tyler Kroft, particularly as a pass catcher. Sweeney, who showed some promise in 2019 as a rookie, is trying to return from myocarditis which was caused by COVID-19. For now, I don’t think the Bills will keep a fourth, but they’ll try to get Gilliam on the practice squad.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Knox, Hollister, Sweeney.
Starters: Dion Dawkins (LT), Cody Ford (LG), Mitch Morse (C), Jon Feliciano (RG), Daryl Williams (RT).
Reserves: Ike Boettger (G), Ryan Bates (G-C), Spencer Brown (T), Tommy Doyle (T), Bobby Hart (T), Jamil Douglas (T), Jordan Devey (T), Jack Anderson (G), Steven Gonzalez (G), Forrest Lamp (G), Syrus Tuitele (G).
Sal’s take: This is the starting five the Bills planned on for 2020, but it never played a snap together as a fivesome due to injuries. The hope for the Bills is that with this group together, there will be more success in the run game, and it’s a perfectly reasonable ask. Given that Brown (third) and Doyle (fifth) are draft picks, you have to assume both make it, and that means some of the veteran free agents that were signed – Lamp, Douglas and Hart – probably aren’t making it. Of course, injuries will likely factor into this. As for the eighth and ninth spots, Boettger is a favorite of the coaching staff, and Bates can play anywhere on the line and that versatility is his trump card. If there’s one potential change in my lineup, perhaps Lamp or rookie seventh-rounder Anderson unseats Boettger as the top backup at guard.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Dawkins, Ford, Morse, Feliciano, Williams, Brown, Doyle, Bates, Boettger.
Starters: Star Lotulelei (DT), Ed Oliver (DT), Jerry Hughes (DE), Mario Addison (DE).
Reserves: A.J. Epenesa (DE), Greg Rousseau (DE), Boogie Basham (DE), DT Vernon Butler (DT), Harrison Phillips (DT), Justin Zimmer (DT), Daryl Johnson (DE), Efe Obada (DE), Mike Love (DE), Brandin Bryant (DT), Eli Ankou (DT), Treyvon Hester (DT), Mazair Jones (DT).
Sal’s take:Lotulelei’s return from his 2020 opt-out should help the run defense, though with a year off, it’ll be interesting to see where he is. Given his onerous contract, though, he’s pretty much a lock. So is Addison because cutting him saves very little money and takes away a veteran who can help mentor Rousseau and Basham. I have six edge rushers making it, so if the final total is 10, the toughest cut will come on the inside between Phillips and Zimmer.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Lotulelei, Oliver, Hughes, Addison, Rousseau, Basham, H. Phillips, Butler, Epenesa, Obada.
Starters: Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds.
Reserves: A.J. Klein, Tyrell Adams, Tyrel Dodson, Tyler Matakevich, Mike Bell, Marquel Lee, Joe Giles-Harris, Andre Smith.
Sal’s take: If healthy, Edmunds and Milano will play at least 90% of the snaps while Klein will be around 50% because the Bills play so much nickel defense. Behind them, Adams had a great season in 2020 for the Texans and he’ll provide solid depth behind Edmunds. After those four, playing time will be scarce and the picks will be made specifically for special teams. Matakevich is a lock, and I think Smith, who the Bills re-signed in the offseason, will make it, too.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Milano, Edmunds, Klein, Matakevich, Adams, Smith.
Starters: Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, T. Johnson (NCB).
Reserves: Dane Jackson, Siran Neal (NCB), Cam Lewis (NCB), Nick McCloud, Olijah Griffin, Rachad Wildgoose.
Sal’s take: Nothing is set in stone beyond White. Wallace is going to have a big battle on his hands with Jackson to retain his starting spot on the outside, and Taron Johnson may get some competition from Lewis as he did early last season, or from the rookie, Wildgoose, who has the ability to play inside or out. Neal can play the slot and even safety in a pinch, but his real value is as a core special teamer.
Sal’s picks for the 53: White, Wallace, T. Johnson, Jackson, Neal, Wildgoose.
Starters: Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer.
Reserves: Jaquan Johnson, Damar Hamlin, Josh Thomas, Tariq Thompson.
Sal’s take: This will be the least dramatic of any position group in camp. Hyde and Poyer begin their fifth year together and they remain one of the best duos in the league. Their communication is outstanding, and they never seem to be out of position or dropping assignments. Johnson has been a solid backup and special teamer for two years, and Hamlin, a sixth-round rookie, is already being touted as a special teams maven.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Hyde, Poyer, Johnson, Hamlin.
Starters: Tyler Bass (K), Matt Haack (P), Reid Ferguson (LS).
Sal’s take: OK, so this is where there will be the least amount of drama, especially since, for now, Bass, Haack and Ferguson are running unopposed in camp. I can’t ever remember a year when there wasn’t a backup punter and/or kicker in camp, even if it was just for the extra leg in practice and the preseason games.
Sal’s picks for the 53: Bass, Haack, Ferguson.