The roster has a youthful feel that reflects the direction taken by a new front office and young coaching staff. According to the Bills' official roster page, the team's most experienced players are Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and Erik Pears. Whether that is scary or helpful, the Bills are promising to at least distance themselves from the failures of the last decade-plus.
Handing out grades is never an easy task. Such evaluations can seem arbitrary, but I encourage readers to express why they agree or disagree in the comments below.
Let's gear up for some roster grades in the following slides.
|No. 1||EJ Manuel|
|No. 2||Jeff Tuel|
At this time last year, Buffalo's quarterback crew consisted of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson.
What a difference a year can make.
The Bills elected to keep two rookies on the roster at arguably the most important position on the depth chart. Kevin Kolb's serious concussion compounded the problem of QB depth as Buffalo now hope the rookies can outplay the expectations bestowed upon them.
Releasing Matt Leinart after one preseason game was easy to see coming, but the team putting Thaddeus Lewison on the practice squad rather than the active roster was a surprise, if only because he brought some NFL experience to the table.
Not having a veteran signal-caller on the roster is a risky move for the team, but both rookies have shown glimpses of solid play during the preseason season. Whether they can replicate those results in the pressure situations of the regular season will be a defining factor in the Bills' final record.
|No. 1||C.J. Spiller|
|No. 2||Fred Jackson|
|No. 3||Tashard Choice|
There was little doubt about who was making the roster at the running back spot. Spiller and Jackson easily make up on the of the top three running-back duos in the league.
Choice was a Chan Gailey favorite, but he played well enough in the preseason to guarantee himself as an RB in emergency situations. Buffalo also elected to go with a true fullback in Summers rather than an H-back in Dorin Dickerson.
Spiller enters the 2013 season as a full-fledged starter for the first time in his four-year career. His health will be something to watch as his number of carries should rise significantly, but the Bills will use him any way they can knowing he has a fully capable backup waiting in the wings.
|No. 1||Stevie Johnson|
|No. 2||T.J. Graham|
|No. 3||Robert Woods|
|No. 4||Marquise Goodwin|
|No. 5||Marcus Easley|
|No. 6||Chris Hogan|
The wide receiver position is another one that was very set at the top.
Johnson and Graham entered camp as the starters on the outside and there they remain entering the season. Woods and Goodwin will work themselves into three- or four-wide receiver sets, and they will be expected to make fairly significant contributions in their rookie campaigns.
The final two slots at receiver have been a crapshoot from day one of camp. The Bills cycled through 12 receivers at one point and slowly whittled the position down to the final six.
Brandon Kaufman and Da'Rick Rogers were early favorites to land the No. 5 and No. 6 spots because of the notice they drew as priority undrafted free agents. Ineffective in practice and in games, Rogers was cut after the third preseason game. The move may eventually draw the ire of the Buffalo fanbase should he turn into something, but a project no matter how talented is hard to keep if there's little to return on investment.
Kaufman showed his knack for getting open over the middle of the field, but Easley and Hogan were more consistent in August.
|No. 1||Scott Chandler|
|No. 2||Lee Smith|
|No. 3||Chris Gragg|
Chandler has come back quickly from an ACL injury late last season, but the team was careful with him during training camp and preseason. Chandler will remain a favorite red zone-target for Bills' quarterbacks as long as his knee can hold up for an entire season.
Smith is purely a blocking tight end and will act like an extra offensive lineman in both run and pass protection.
Gragg—in conjunction with Frank Summers—made Dorin Dickerson expendable. Gragg possesses many of the same qualities as Dickerson but is bigger and has stronger hands. His touches as a rookie will likely be limited unless Chandler has issues with his knee.
|No. 1||Cordy Glenn||Erik Pears|
|No. 2||Thomas Welch||Sam Young|
Glenn enters his second season as the starting left tackle, and he will be tasked to ensure the safety of the team's two young quarterbacks. The former Georgia Bulldog was steady in his rookie season, but the team will need him to become a top-tier player for the offense to succeed.
Pears won the right tackle competition by virtue of Chris Hairston being placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and then the non-football illness list, officially ending his season. Hairston was a wild card, so it's hard to measure what his loss will mean to the offensive line.
Welch and Young round out the tackle position. Both benefited from Hairston's ordeals, but neither is a good solution as a starter if Glenn or Pears succumbs to injury.
|No. 1||Colin Brown||Kraig Urbik|
|No. 2||Doug Legursky||Sam Young|
To put things simply, the guard position is a mess for the Bills.
Urbik was a good player on the right side last year, but he will never be anything more than the solid player he is now. For the Bills' purposes they need Urbik's fine run-blocking on the right side, but it's amazing the team did not search for an upgrade at the guard spot opposite him.
Colin Brown and Doug Legursky had one of the most uninspiring camp battles in the NFL this summer. Brown won the opening-day job by the slimmest of margins, which is worrisome considering Legursky should be on his way out of the league sooner rather than later.
With Andy Levitre's departure, the Brown-Legursky duo has big shoes to fill, and it does not look as if it is up to the task.
|No. 1||Eric Wood|
The Buffalo coaching staff elected to keep only one center, Wood, on the roster. Last year's backup David Snow was one of the final roster-cut casualties over the weekend.
Wood is a valuable asset to this Buffalo squad because of his mean streak in the middle of the line. His inability to stay healthy, however, has made him a bit of an enigma. Injuries have kept Wood from becoming one of the league's better centers, but the team will need him to stay healthy to anchor the young offensive line.
|No. 1||Kyle Williams||Marcell Dareus|
|No. 2||Alan Branch||Jay Ross|
|No. 3||Corbin Bryant|
You would be hard-pressed to find a hole in this defensive line. Despite the underwhelming results from a season ago, it appears from afar that the unit is healthy and buying into Mike Pettine's defense.
Williams and Dareus make up one of the best interior lines in the league. Williams has been nothing but consistently good since his sophomore season, and Pettine's scheme will give him plenty of opportunities to disrupt plays in the backfield.
Dareus looks ready to rebound from a dismal second season; dealing with the death of his brother early in the season more than likely impacted his play. His sack stats will always be solid for an interior lineman, but consistency needs to be the name of the game in year three for the former Alabama defensive tackle.
Branch and Ross are fully capable backups on the inside. Bryant looked good in the preseason, but will likely be a healthy scratch on game days.
|No. 1||Alex Carrington||Mario Williams|
|No. 2||Jerry Hughes|
Outside of running back, this might be the most talented position on Buffalo's roster. Williams is the obvious headliner of the group, but Carrington has quietly become one of the better multi-scheme defensive linemen in the AFC over the past two years. He was the Bills representative on Pro Football Focus' annual "Secret Superstar" series for the upcoming season (subscription required).
Hughes had himself quite the preseason after coming over from the Indianapolis Indianapolis Colts in a post-draft trade for Kelvin Sheppard. While Sheppard is buried on the Colts' depth chart, Hughes has proven himself worthy to get big minutes during the regular season.
Once considered a draft bust, a change of scenery may have been exactly what Hughes needed to showcase the talent that made him a first-round pick.
|No. 1||Manny Lawson||Nigel Bradham|
|No. 2||Marcus Dowtin||Jamaal Westerman|
The Bills' new defensive scheme will be putting a lot of pressure on their starting linebackers. Lawson is with the third team of his career after being a first-round pick in the same draft that saw North Carolina State teammate Mario Williams go No. 1 overall (2006). He will be asked to be a jack-of-all-trades linebacker by dropping into coverage, while also fulfilling some pass-rushing duties.
Bradham enters his second season as the starter on the weak side and for good reason. His physical style of play helps him in the run game, and he is fast enough to stay with most offensive skill players. He flashed a nose for the ball last season, but there will be more responsibility on his shoulders now as a full-time starter.
Dowtin and Westerman were late pick-ups for the team but figure into its plans for special teams.
|No. 1||Kiko Alonso|
|No. 2||Arthur Moats|
One of the toughest positions to grade at this point.
Alonso looks to be the real deal in the middle of the defense, as he made some electric plays in limited time during the regular season. All information streaming out of Orchard Park seems to point to Alonso being able to pick up the playbook quickly as a reason that could emerge in 2013 as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Seemingly on the bubble from one season to the next, Moats again made the Bills roster and will see most of his time on the field with special teams.
|No. 1||Aaron Williams||Jairus Byrd|
|No. 2||Jim Leonhard||Da'Norris Searcy|
|No. 3||Jonathan Meeks||Duke Williams|
Williams has made a good transition from corner to safety, much like Devin McCourty did for the New England Patriots two years ago. Williams will be asked to come down into the box more, which he seems to feel more comfortable doing anyway.
No one really knows what to make of Byrd. His contract situation left him with little practice time, and now he has plantar fasciitis. When Byrd is healthy, he is a top-five safety. But an unhealthy Byrd could lead to an unhappy offseason for the four-year vet.
Jim Leonhard was a sneaky good signing after roster cuts were made over the weekend. Originally a Buffalo draft pick in 2005, Leonhard spent his first three seasons with the Bills and looks to finish off his career where it all began.
|No. 1||Leodis McKelvin||Stephon Gilmore|
|No. 2||Justin Rogers||Ron Brooks|
|No. 3||Brandon Burton||Nickell Robey|
Gilmore's wrist injury has quickly made this one of the weakest units on the squad. The talent is there, but the experience and consistency is not.
McKelvin has long drawn the ire of Buffalo fans for costly gambles both in the return game and in coverage. He will now be the top dog in the secondary if Gilmore and Byrd both miss extended periods of time. The team showed faith in his ability by giving him a four-year extension in the offseason, but results need to come on the field before fans will get off his back.
Rogers and Brooks are okay backups. Brooks will see a majority of his time working against the opposition's No. 3 receiver. Rogers is similar to McKelvin in terms of his over-aggressiveness, but his ball skills make him a valuable asset against four-wide receiver sets.
The Bills added Burton after he was released by the Minnesota Vikings, and Robey played well from the minute he got to Orchard Park as an undrafted free agent.