Predicting the Buffalo Bills' Depth Chart, Post OTAs
The Bills have reshuffled their deck at almost every spot on the roster aside from the front four of the defense, which means plenty of positional battles will begin heating up this week. Aside from contract hold-out Jairus Byrd, the Bills are expecting a full turnout for their rebooted squad—a key to success for a new coaching staff.
A depth chart this early in the NFL calendar year can provide spotty results at best, especially with training camp warriors yet to make their claim for a job. As Monday's release of Tarvaris Jackson shows, the gift of a roster spot can end without much notice, but 89 men will be fighting for their shot at the final 53 beginning on Tuesday.
Byrd's situation and the spotty participation at OTAs clouds any kind of finite depth chart, but let's take a look at the preliminary Buffalo Bills' depth chart for the 2013 season.
First-String QB: Kevin Kolb
After spending much of OTAs receiving the second most snaps behind Tarvaris Jackson, Kolb finds himself atop the depth chart following Jackson's surprisingly-timed release. Jackson being let go makes the quarterback depth chart a little less murky, but there is still plenty of time for EJ Manuel to surpass Kolb.
The former Cardinal played well at the beginning of last season—leading Arizona to a 4-0 start before being knocked out in the game against Buffalo. However, Kolb will need to find success early in offensive coordinator Nate Hackett's quick-tempo offense to stay at the top.
Second-String QB: EJ Manuel
Manuel is the player that has the most to gain over the summer. He is the highest drafted quarterback by the team since Jim Kelly and has the makeup to be a great leader behind-center. The Bills' coaching staff felt good enough to "reach" on him at pick No. 16 and with a good summer he should be the starting quarterback come September. If Manuel cannot run the offense at a good pace during preseason games, then it would not be surprising to see Kolb start a few games before handing over the reins.
Third-String QB: Jeff Tuel
Tuel was a priority free-agent grab for the team following the draft after an above-average career at Washington State. Tuel has the means to be a very good backup quarterback in the long-term and his chances of making the team were greatly increased after Jackson's release.
First-String RB: C.J. Spiller
No surprises here after Spiller racked up over 1,700 total yards in his third season as a pro. The light clicked for the former Clemson back as he displayed top-level patience and decisiveness. His improvements in these areas led to multiple jaw-dropping big plays and added a dynamic to an otherwise lifeless Bills' offense.
Second-String RB: Fred Jackson
The wily veteran of the group comes back to the Bills for his eighth season, as he hopes to remain healthy for a full slate of games for the first time since 2010. Jackson is a more pure runner in between the tackles in comparison to Spiller, but does not offer the same level of explosiveness. He dealt with some fumbling in conjunction with his injury issues in 2012, but a productive year as Spiller's backup can extend his career a few more seasons.
Third-String RB: Tashard Choice
I initially had Choice on the outside looking in, but he grabs that final roster spot as the emergency running back. He improved his stats last season in Jackson's absence, but he was a Chan Gailey pet more than anything else.
First-String WR: Stevie Johnson
Johnson remains the unquestioned top receiver for the new-look unit, but he is starting over in the chemistry department with a slew of new quarterbacks on the roster. Timing will be an issue that needs to get sorted out as the summer progresses, but Johnson adjusted to Ryan Fitzpatrick's limitations so there should be no new issues with him moving forward.
Second-String WR: Robert Woods
The rookie earned high praise leading up to the draft as being one of the most NFL-ready receivers in his draft class. Woods has showed a knack for getting open during his short time with the team and looks to be transitioning smoothly to the pro game. Either Woods or Johnson could spend much of their time in the slot working in the middle of the field, while one of the burners split outside.
Third-String WR: TJ Graham
Now in his second season, Graham has a lot to prove after a forgettable rookie season. According to BuffaloBills.com beat reporter Chris Brown, however, he was the best wide receiver during OTAs. Graham likely stays on the outside, while Marquise Goodwin rotates in with him.
Fourth-String WR: Da'Rick Rogers
This may be a little high for Rogers, but his talent alone may make it difficult to leave him off of the field. Rogers was off-and-on during OTAs, but he repeatedly hit big plays with EJ Manuel during the first week of practice. If that chemistry translates to mini-camp and then training camp, Rogers could go from undrafted to major contributor in a few months.
Fifth-String WR: Marquise Goodwin
Goodwin and Graham are interchangeable as track stars on the outside, but Goodwin might need a little more time in an NFL program before he is able to contribute. Graham was extremely raw last year in limited opportunities and Goodwin could get the same treatment despite being a third-round pick.
Sixth-String WR: Chris Hogan
Hogan was a last-minute signing at the end of last season off of the Dolphins practice squad. Hogan was the receiver who lit-up Miami's camp during HBO's Hard Knocks last summer and finds himself in a good position to stick with Buffalo in some capacity. Brad Smith and Marcus Easley are likely number casualties although their special teams' usefulness could help them make the team. Brandon Kaufman is another young player who could slide in here, but might be better served as a practice squad stash.
First-String TE: Scott Chandler
Chandler will remain atop the depth chart assuming he can come back from tearing his ACL at the end of the 2012 season. He was a favorite target of Ryan Fitzpatrick because of his size and there is no reason for that to change with the new quarterbacks.
First-String H-Back: Dorin Dickerson
Dickerson's usefulness as a pure pass-catcher is hard to deny, although his opportunities have been small for the most part. Frank Summers is behind him as more of a fullback, but Dickerson has more of the complete package. He could be used as James Casey was used in Houston last year: A receiver coming out of the backfield in two-RB sets.
Second-String TE: Lee Smith
Smith was able to record a handful of catches last season, but his true value lies as a blocker. He will be seen in plenty of two-TE sets both in pass-protection and run-blocking.
Third-String TE: Chris Gragg
Buffalo's seventh-round pick is extremely raw, but matches that with elite athleticism. Gragg could be a practice squad stash instead, but the team does not have much behind him in terms of quality pass-catchers at the position.
First-String LT: Cordy Glenn
Glenn proved me wrong in his rookie season, playing very well at left tackle instead of as the road-grading guard I anticipated him to be. After a full offseason of workouts and conditioning, even more will be expected for Glenn in year two. Look for him to make a jump into the top-20 tackles in the NFL with another season under his belt.
First-String RT: Chris Hairston
Comparing the play of Hairston and Erik Pears last season, there is no question that Hairston performed much better within the Bills' offense. Pears has more experience, but Hairston was good in run-blocking last season from his perch on the right side. Once the dust settles, Hairston should be the one to grab the starting gig.
Second-String OT: Erik Pears
Pears will be the backup for the first time in three seasons with the team, but he is a quality backup that could start on other middling teams.
First-String LG: Sam Young
With Andy Levitre out of the picture, Young gets the first opportunity of his short career to become a full-time starter. Young was drafted as a tackle out of Notre Dame, but he has looked much more comfortable sliding inside. This is a trouble spot for the Bills, which is why they added Steelers' Doug Legursky last week for veteran depth.
First-String RG: Kraig Urbik
Urbik, along with the departed Levitre, have been Buffalo's most consistent lineman over the past two seasons. Even more pressure is on him now that Levitre and Chad Rinehart are gone, but Urbik is a mauler that fits Buffalo's lunch-pail style.
Second-String LG: Chris Scott
Another Steelers' cast-off, Scott could be in line for his first major snaps should Young not play up to par.
Second-String RG: Doug Legursky
He may actually be a little lower than this on the real depth chart as he was signed a little under a week ago, but Legursky provides much needed veteran presence on the interior. Legursky was not a great player with Pittsburgh by any stretch, but it was necessary for the Bills to find a veteran who fit their offensive scheme.
First-String C: Eric Wood
Wood just finished up his fourth straight season as the Bills' starting center, but has yet to complete a full season. He is in the final year of a rookie contract and any talk of a new deal would be hard to come by if he misses time for the fifth season in a row.
Second-String C: David Snow
Snow filled in nicely for Wood during the two games Wood missed in the latter part of the season, but he is not a potential starter.
First-String DE: Mario Williams
We found out on Monday that Williams will be moved all around the defense this year according to BuffaloBills.com reporter Chris Brown, but for the sake of plotting a depth chart, he is being listed as a 3-4 end. Williams has had an interesting offseason with the suicide texts and ring-battle, but he has plenty to look forward to in 2013 after a 10-sack season. A more aggressive defense should lead to even more opportunities for Williams to terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
First-String DE: Kyle Williams
Williams has never played anywhere but tackle for the Bills, but Marcell Dareus is a better fit up the middle in a 3-4. A three-man front of the two Williams' and Dareus should set up plenty of action for the four linebackers behind them. He should see about the same number of double-teams, which makes getting to the quarterback that much sweeter.
Second-String DE: Alex Carrington
Carrington was a disappointing prospect until showing signs of life last year. He blocked four kicks on special teams and made multiple plays on defense to finally bring out the talent that got him drafted in the third round. He has now fortified himself as a versatile backup at any spot on the line and could start if injuries are a factor.
Second-String DE: Jarron Gilbert
Gilbert is another player that fits in well with the hybrid scheme. It helps that he played for Pettine on the Jets before coming over to Buffalo and is finally realizing his potential after four seasons.
First-String NT: Marcell Dareus
There is plenty to like about Dareus heading into his third season as a professional. He has racked up 11 sacks in two seasons from his tackle spot, which is only rivaled by Geno Atkins over the last two years. The hybrid scheme means he'll have to eat up more blockers in 3-4 sets, but it also means 4-3 sets will allow him to match his sack total.
Second-String NT: Alan Branch
A space-eater that will be a huge solution to Buffalo's miserable run-defense. Dareus and Williams were supposed to be a part of that solution, but Buffalo's defense has not improved as much as fans had hoped. Branch offers nothing from a pass-rush standpoint, but he's a sure tackler that can penetrate the line to wrap up tailbacks.
First-String LOLB: Mark Anderson
Anderson was disappointing in his first year with the Bills, but mixing him around as an end and linebacker should improve his numbers, assuming he can stay healthy. He played a similar position in New England's defense two years ago when he put 10 sacks on the board and Anderson will have plenty of opportunities to rush the passer once again this season.
First-String ROLB: Manny Lawson
Lawson has had little success as a 3-4 OLB during his career, but a more aggressive scheme with Mike Pettine might finally make use of his pass-rushing talents. He was asked to drop into coverage more with the Cincinnati Bengals last season, but he is still adjusting. Lawson and Anderson will be blitzing a lot and that could make Lawson a good offseason grab.
Second-String LOLB: Jerry Hughes
Buffalo wanted to get faster and more athletic at outside linebacker this offseason and they certainly did that with Hughes. Like Lawson, Hughes has been fairly disappointing as a former first-round pick, but he is still young enough to turn his career around. Hughes showed signs of life with the Indianapolis Colts at the end of last year and less pressure in the Buffalo defense may be easier on his development.
Second-String ROLB: Bryan Scott
Just when you think Scott's NFL career may be done, he turns in a string of solid performances to stick around. He re-signed with the Bills in the offseason on a short contract and provides a ton of value as a reserve.
First-String LILB: Nigel Bradham
Bradham played mostly on the outside as a rookie, but he slides into the middle with the release of Nick Barnett. He showed the ability to make sound tackles and drop into coverage, but he may become more of a middle rusher with Kiko Alonso next to him.
First-String RILB: Kiko Alonso
Alonso was the second of Buffalo's two second-round picks in this year's draft and he is already becoming the commander of the defense. A lot of responsibilities come with wearing the green dot on the helmet and Alonso will need to prove he can do something that Kelvin Sheppard could not; play consistently.
Second-String LILB: Arthur Moats
Moats is in the final year of his rookie-deal and will need to prove that he is more than the guy that knocked out Brett Favre. His superb pass-rushing skills have not translated on a consistent basis, so perhaps a move to the middle will do him good.
Second-String RILB: Marcus Dowtin
Buffalo scooped up Dowtin after he was released by Philadelphia in April and could see him as a strong special teams' candidate for the foreseeable future.
First-String CB: Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore was far and away the best corner for Buffalo last season. The rookie had a slow start, but things started to click for him by the middle of season and he played very well against top receivers down the stretch. Gilmore will have plenty more responsibility in year two as he looks to establish himself as the best corner in the AFC East with Revis Island being shipped away.
First-String CB: Leodis McKelvin
McKelvin is back to a starting role after playing slot for much of last year. Aaron Williams' move to safety has opened up a chance for McKelvin to finally realize his potential on the outside. Buffalo re-signed him to a four-year, $20 million contract last year and they will expect him to live up to that investment opposite Gilmore.
Second-String CB: Ron Brooks
Brooks showed spurts of talent despite being buried on the depth chart during his rookie season. The new coaching staff must have thought highly enough of him, as the team did not add a corner in the draft. Brooks will be the nickel package corner, which means he will get a lot of looks early in Mike Pettine's nickel-heavy scheme.
Second-String CB: Justin Rogers
Rogers has had an up-and-down two years with Buffalo and was often the victim of big plays during the 2012 season. He has the caliber to be a solid depth corner, but the plays have been few and far between so far.
Third-String CB: Crezdon Butler
The speedy former Clemson corner will be an emergency corner and special teams' player as he tries to move his way up the depth chart.
Third-String CB: Nickell Robey
Undrafted, Robey has made some good plays during the first part of the offseason, but things could change once pads come out. He is undersized and will be squarely on the roster bubble come August, but I expect him to sneak onto the roster.
First-String FS: Jairus Byrd
Byrd's story is widely known, so there is no reason to expand on it much here. It is a little disconcerting to not see a long-term contract in place for the Bills' Pro Bowler, but the team has prepared for life after Byrd just in case.
First-String SS: Da'Norris Searcy
Now in his third season, Searcy steps into the role left by George Wilson. Searcy can rack up tackles in bunches and is not a huge liability in coverage at strong safety. He is technically battling with fourth-round pick Duke Williams for the starting gig, but Searcy should hold onto it for at least this season.
Second-String FS: Aaron Williams
Williams did not work out at corner and was often beat down the sidelines for big plays because of biting on fakes. Williams will not have the luxury to bit on fakes as much as a free safety and he might be sprung into action sooner than anticipated with Byrd's situation.
Second-String SS: Duke Williams
Williams is a powerful hitter in the backfield and was fearless over the middle during his time with Nevada-Reno. Not likely to start right away, but could be placed as a gunner the kick team early in his career.
Third-String S: Jonathan Meeks
Meeks might be another player on the roster bubble when numbers are crunched, but his draft status should save him for his rookie season. Special teams' player.
First-String Kicker: Rian Lindell
As long as Lindell can still kick over 50 yards, then he will remain the starting kicker of the Buffalo Bills. However, this is the second straight season the Bills have drafted a potential replacement. After a few seasons of not being used much Lindell has to prove he can be counted on or he is gone.
First-String Punter: Shawn Powell
Powell's first few games as a Bill after replacing the legendary Brian Moorman did not go as planned. He botched a few kicks and probably felt the weight of replacing a long-time fan favorite, but Powell improved greatly as the season wore on. He has no real competition this offseason.
Second-String Kicker: Dustin Hopkins
Hopkins is the all-time leader in points in NCAA history and looks to join his former and now current teammate Powell as the leaders on special teams. Hopkins is a dynamic kicker and should make the team out of camp even if it won't be a popular decision among fans.
Long Snapper: Garrison Sanborn
The guy skipped his sister's wedding to try out for the Bills a few years ago and made the team. That takes all kinds of gall and Sanborn has had zero issues with snapping since joining the team.
- Kevin Kolb
- EJ Manuel
- Jeff Tuel
- CJ Spiller
- Fred Jackson
- Tashard Choice
- Stevie Johnson
- Robert Woods
- TJ Graham
- Da’rick Rogers
- Marquise Goodwin
- Kevin Hogan
- Scott Chandler
- Dorin Dickerson
- Lee Smith
- Chris Gragg
- Cordy Glenn
- Chris Hairston
- Erik Pears
- Sam Young
- Chris Scott
- Kraig Urbik
- Doug Legursky
- Eric Wood
- David Snow
- Mario Williams
- Kyle Williams
- Alex Carrington
- Marcell Dareus
- Alan Branch
- Mark Anderson
- Manny Lawson
- Jerry Hughes
- Bryan Scott
- Nigel Bradham
- Kiko Alonso
- Arthur Moats
- Marcus Dowtin
- Leodis McKelvin
- Ron Brooks
- Stephon Gilmore
- Justin Rogers
- Nickell Robey
- Crezdon Butler
- Jairus Byrd
- Da’Norris Searcy
- Duke Williams
- Aaron Williams
- Jonathan Meeks
- Shawn Powell
- Rian Lindell
- Dustin Hopkins
- Garrison Sanborn