Early Projections for Buffalo Bills' Final 53-Man Roster
The Bills got their first look at the newest crop of rookies this past weekend at the team's rookie minicamp. It was a good opportunity for some late-round picks and undrafted players to make an impression on the coaching staff.
With over 80 players set to arrive to training camp, the coaches will have a lot of tough decisions on whom they will put on the final 53-man roster. Which rookies will stand out and earn roster spots? Will there be any surprise cuts?
Let's take an early look at how the final roster could shake out.
Starter: EJ Manuel
Reserves: Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel
After pulling the trigger on the Sammy Watkins trade, the Bills have given Manuel all of the weapons he needs. The team's success rests solely on his shoulders.
General manager Doug Whaley said the Bills are "all in" with Manuel, per Marc Sessler of NFL.com.
And after surrendering their 2015 first-round pick, the Bills are hoping their gamble pays off. Coming off an injury-riddled rookie campaign, Manuel is entering his second year fully healthy and with an offseason to work on getting better in the offense.
There are high expectations for Manuel this year. Steve Calhoun, Manuel's quarterback coach, told Fox Sports he believes Manuel could be in for a Pro Bowl-caliber season. That could be a little premature, but if Manuel stays healthy and continues to improve, he can help snap the Bills' playoff drought and thus become a legend in Buffalo.
Lewis and Tuel will return as Manuel's backups. However, fans and Bills staffers alike would prefer Lewis and Tuel don't see as much action as last year.
Starter: C.J. Spiller
Reserves: Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Frank Summers (Fullback)
The Bills made some moves in the offseason to beef up the running back position.
Joining Jackson and Spiller are Brown, who arrived via trade during the draft, and Dixon, who was a free-agent acquisition. Brown gives the Bills a solid third option at running back as he had 878 yards and six touchdowns on just 190 attempts in two years with the Eagles.
Dixon will most likely be a goal-line option as well as a special teamer.
Fullbacks are an endangered species in today's NFL, but the Bills still brought back Summers in March. The 5'9", 248-pound fullback is a tank who helped open holes in the Bills run game. He also added one rushing touchdown as well as 79 receiving yards and a touchdown in 2013.
Starters: Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams
Reserves: Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Ramses Barden, Chris Hogan
There will be a lot of new faces lining up out wide for the Bills in 2014.
Buffalo traded for Williams and drafted Watkins fourth overall in this year's draft. The arrival of Williams and Watkins meant that there was no longer room for Stevie Johnson, whom the Bills traded to San Francisco.
Woods and Goodwin will work the slot for the Bills, with the 6'6" Barden providing a threat in the red zone with his size. Hogan will round out the depth chart, and he can be a threat considering the "7-11" nickname he's earned because he's always open.
Notable by his absence here is T.J. Graham, who could be shown the door after the arrival of Watkins, Williams and Barden.
Starter: Scott Chandler
Reserves: Chris Gragg, Tony Moeaki
The Bills stood pat on one of the positions that most needed an upgrade.
With no new players on the team, Chandler is the obvious candidate to resume his starting role. Gragg, a seventh-round pick in 2013, and veteran Tony Moeaki will serve as backups.
After the Bills brought in new blood at receiver, Manuel should be able to use his tight ends as security blankets instead of as main receiving options.
Starters: Cordy Glenn, Chris Williams, Eric Wood, Cyril Richardson, Cyrus Kouandjio
Reserves: Chris Hairston, Doug Legursky, Seantrel Henderson, Kraig Urbik, Erik Pears
No position group was overhauled more this offseason than the offensive line.
Glenn and Wood could end up being the only returning starters. Williams was brought in via free agency and will compete for a starting guard spot. Richardson and Kouandjio, both rookies, also could end up starting Week 1.
Legursky, Urbik and Pears will likely be retained to add depth along the line. Urbik and Pears both started all 16 games last season, so they will be in the mix to start in 2014 if the rookies aren't ready.
Hairston and Henderson are the players who could go either way. Hairston missed all of last season with injury and, per Tim Graham via Buffalo Rumblings, still needs to pass a physical to get back this year. Henderson is a rookie seventh-round pick who has first- or second-round talent. If he behaves, he has the talent to be a solid contributor on offense.
Starters: Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes
Reserves: Stefan Charles, Alan Branch
The arrival of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz brings a scheme change to Buffalo. The Bills will move back to a traditional 4-3 base defense and work more often with four defensive linemen.
Mario and Kyle Williams have their roster spots locked up. Dareus should also be a no-brainer after the Bills picked up the fifth-year option on his contract, but we have to wait and see how he is disciplined for his recent arrest.
The other defensive end spot is up for grabs, but Jerry Hughes will probably get the nod after registering 10 sacks in 2013. Branch will serve as a veteran backup, and Charles is a potential breakout player, according to Bills columnist Chris Trapasso.
Buffalo may look to have more depth along the defensive line, especially considering Dareus' situation. If that is the case, Jarius Wynn and Corbin Bryant are the leading candidates to make the team.
Starters: Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes, Manny Lawson
Reserves: Preston Brown, Nigel Bradham, Keith Rivers
After a year in which it seemed Alonso was alone on linebacker island, the Bills brought in reinforcements in the offseason.
Spikes is one of the Bills' biggest offseason additions, and he will step in and start as the middle linebacker and help improve the Bills run defense. Rivers also came in as a free agent and could compete with Lawson for the final starting spot.
Brown was the Bills' third-round pick and will learn the position from Spikes. He'll also be expected to make his presence felt on special teams.
Starters: Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin
Reserves: Corey Graham, Ross Cockrell, Ron Brooks, Nickell Robey
The Bills looked to beef up their cornerback group this offseason. Graham arrived via free agency, and Cockrell is a rookie fourth-round draft pick.
Gilmore and McKelvin will be penciled in as the starters, with Brooks, Robey, Graham and Cockrell serving as the reserves. Gilmore should be fully healed from his wrist injury and ready to show why he was a top-10 pick in 2012.
The wild card of the group is Graham, who could see snaps at cornerback and safety depending on the team's need.
If Gilmore lives up to his potential and McKelvin continues his strong play from last year, the Bills will have a formidable group of corners to shut down opposing passing games.
Starters: Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy
Reserves: Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks
Replacing Jairus Byrd will be a difficult task, but the Bills believe they have the talent in house to do so. The ink is still drying on Aaron Williams' new contract, so he will resume his role as a starter.
Opposite Williams, Searcy is the front-runner to start in Byrd's vacated position. After that, the experience level drops off considerably. Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks are both entering their second years, and neither of them saw much playing time in 2013 outside of special teams duty.
Safety will be the key defensive position to watch this season after Byrd flew the coop. The Bills added cornerback depth in the offseason, so Aaron Williams shouldn't be needed to move back there. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have his work cut out for him figuring out how to mask the inexperience on the back end of his defense.
Starters: Dan Carpenter, Brian Moorman, Garrison Sanborn (Long Snapper)
Reserves: Dustin Hopkins
During the offseason, the Bills brought back Moorman and Carpenter to one- and four-year deals, respectively. Buffalo also brought in Jake Dombrowski to compete with Moorman, but he's got no NFL experience and therefore will likely lose out to the incumbent.
Sanborn is firmly entrenched as the long snapper, so his roster spot isn't in jeopardy. It would be unusual for the Bills to carry two kickers, but they spent a sixth-round pick on Hopkins last year. Considering he didn't have a chance to make an impact in 2013, they will want to keep him around as the kicker of the future.
If another player really blows them away in camp, the Bills may give him Hopkins' roster spot. Otherwise, it would be worth keeping Hopkins' around just in case Carpenter struggles.