Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for the Buffalo Bills
The NFL draft has come to a close, and the Buffalo Bills now have a good idea as to what their roster will look like heading into the 2014 season. There are still some moves to be made, and there will be cuts to get down to the 53-man roster, but for the most part Doug Marrone and the Bills' coaching staff know what they have to work with.
This offseason has been extremely active for the Bills, and they could have up to seven new starters this coming season. On the offensive side of the ball, EJ Manuel will have two new receivers to throw the ball to (Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams), and defensively, Brandon Spikes will be manning the middle of the field to help shore up the run defense.
This depth chart is sure to change before the season starts with OTAs and training-camp battles, but this is how I imagine the Bills' depth chart looks after the draft.
Starter: EJ Manuel
Backups: Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel
It is clear now that the majority of the offseason moves are over that the Bills' front office was focused on in getting Manuel some weapons in the passing game. It is also clear by the fact that they did not draft or sign a free-agent quarterback that they believe in Manuel as a starting NFL quarterback.
The biggest concern with Manuel, though, is can he stay healthy for a full 16-game NFL schedule. Last year he suffered three knee injuries, but hopefully with a full offseason to rest and rehab, the injuries won't be as big of an issue.
The Bills do have a backup plan in the form of Lewis, who played adequately when he filled in for Manuel last year. Tuel will be the third quarterback on the roster as a developmental quarterback.
Starter: C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson
Backups: Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon
It is hard to imagine, but this could be the last season C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are Buffalo Bills. Spiller has a player option after this season that could make him a free agent, while Jackson is in the final year of his contract.
Last year, these two running backs combined to help Buffalo gain the second-most rushing yards in the NFL. Both are still playing at a high level and are expected to be a huge part of this team's offense.
Due to the uncertainty of Spiller and Jackson past 2014, the Bills decided to trade for Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown during the draft on Saturday. He could step into the starting role in 2015 if necessary. At 22 years of age, Brown is a young running back who showed flashes while with the Eagles but did have some ball-security issues as a rookie.
Starters: Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams
Backups: Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, T.J. Graham
The Bills did not waste any time in making a splash in the NFL draft when they traded with the Cleveland Browns to select Sammy Watkins fourth overall. The team now believes it has a true No. 1 wide receiver who is expected to have a big impact on this offense almost immediately.
The Bills were not done with the position, though, as they decided to trade Steve Johnson to San Francisco on Friday. Watkins will be joining Mike Williams, who was acquired in April, and second-year receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin.
T.J. Graham, who was a third-round pick in 2012, has not lived up to expectations since joining the Bills. He potentially could be on the roster bubble leading up to this season.
Starter: Scott Chandler
Backups: Tony Moeaki, Lee Smith, Chris Gragg
Chandler led the Bills in receptions and receiving yards last year, but that doesn't mean his starting job is secure. After the season, Chandler tested the free-agency market but eventually was able to strike a two-year deal with Buffalo.
The team added talent last year behind Chandler that should push him for the starting tight end position. The favorite would have to be Moeaki, who is the most well-rounded tight end on the roster. He is a better run-blocker than Chandler and has shown at times in his career to be capable of contributing in the passing game.
Moeaki has struggled with injuries, but as long as he can stay healthy, he could be the Bills' starting tight end Week 1.
Left Tackle: Cordy Glenn
Left Guard: Chris Williams
Center: Eric Wood
Right Guard: Kraig Urbik
Right Tackle: Cyrus Kouandjio
Key Backups: Chris Hairston, Erik Pears, Cyril Richardson
Last year left guard and right tackle were clearly the two weak lines along the offensive line, and the team addressed both positions this offseason. The Bills signed free agent Chris Williams to take over the left guard position and selected Cyril Richardson in the draft, a player who could play either left or right guard.
The right tackle position will be the most competitive position battle in training camp, with Erik Pears trying to hold onto his starting job. He will be battling Chris Hairston, who missed the entire 2013 season due to injury, as well as second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio.
When it is all said and done, I believe Kouandjio will win the starting job because he is the best run-blocking tackle of the three.
Starting Defensive Ends: Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes
Starting Defensive Tackles: Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams
Key Reserves: Manny Lawson, Alan Branch, Stefan Charles
Jim Schwartz was brought in this offseason to replace last year's defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, which means the base defense for this coming season will most likely be a 4-3 defensive alignment.
The team is planning on filling this additional down lineman position with Manny Lawson and Jerry Hughes, according to director of player personnel Jim Monos, per the team's official website. He stated that Hughes would get the "first crack" at the position, and Lawson would also be transitioning to the defensive end position.
The only concern along the defensive line is with Dareus, who was recently arrested on alleged drug charges. It remains to be seen if Dareus will be suspended and for how long, but the Bills have great depth at the position in that Alan Branch or Stefan Charles could step up in the short term if he is suspended.
Strong-side Linebacker: Keith Rivers
Middle Linebacker: Brandon Spikes
Weak-side Linebacker: Kiko Alonso
Key Reserves: Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, Ty Powell
The Buffalo Bills have revamped their linebacker group with the additions of Rivers and Spikes. The addition of Spikes allowed the team to move Kiko Alonso from middle linebacker to weak-side linebacker. This should allow Alonso more room to operate and space to make plays.
The Bills signed Spikes because of his ability to stuff the run, an area that he excels in. There are still questions about whether he can be a three-down back and be able to play in pass coverage. The questions remain, though, because he did not play much in passing situations while with the New England Patriots.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Spikes was only thrown at 27 times and gave up 18 receptions. The 66.7 percent completion percentage against was the 10th-lowest among inside linebackers. I expect the Bills to, at least to start the season, give him that opportunity to prove he can be a three-down linebacker.
Starters: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin
Nickel: Corey Graham
Dime: Nickell Robey
Reserves: Ross Cockrell, Ron Brooks
Last year the Bills finished fourth in passing defense in terms of yardage, but they understood that as the league continues to become a passing league, a team can never have too many cornerbacks. That is why they went out and signed Graham and drafted Cockrell in the fourth round of the draft.
There are still some questions about whether Graham will be the Bills' nickel cornerback, or will he be switched to safety. I think Graham will be prepared to step in if the need arises, but I expect Graham will primarily be the team's nickel.
Free Safety: Da'Norris Searcy
Strong Safety: Aaron Williams
Reserves: Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks
Jairus Byrd's departure has opened a starting safety position, and, along with right tackle, this should be a key training-camp battle to watch. Searcy filled in for Byrd at the start of last season when he was dealing with plantar fasciitis injuries and played well. That is why, right now, I believe he is the favorite to win that starting job.
It is not a lock, though, and the team will also give Duke Williams, a fourth-round pick last year, an opportunity at free safety this training camp. If neither player is able to give the coaching staff confidence at the position, then a position switch for Corey Graham would make sense.
Aaron Williams on the other hand is solidly entrenched at strong safety after switching to the position prior to last season. He played so well that the Bills' front office felt confident enough to give him a four-year extension this offseason.
Kicker: Dan Carpenter
Punter: Brian Moorman
Kick Returner: Marquise Goodwin
Punt Returner: Leodis McKelvin
The team returns many of the key contributors to the special teams and should have the same starters as last year at the positions listed above. Carpenter was signed shortly before the start of last season and went on to tie Steve Christie for the team record in field goals.
That was really the only positive from this unit last year, a unit that struggled mightily. This was one of the reasons the Bills focused so heavily on this group in the offseason. They signed Graham, who was a Pro Bowler in 2011 for his play on special teams, and Anthony Dixon, who was a key contributor on San Francisco's special teams.
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