Buffalo Bills: 5 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise at OTAs
Things were not exactly perfect for the Buffalo Bills during their first three days of organized team activities.
While the news from the activities is not typically scintillating, the Bills had a busier week off the field than on it.
Between the mysterious absence of veteran defensive end Manny Lawson, the recently disclosed surgeries of several starters—including Kiko Alonso and Robert Woods—and Sammy Watkins' two-day trip to the NFLPA rookie event, initial expectations of the retooled squad had to be tempered.
OTAs are not the best indicators to predict how a team or player will perform because of their no-hit rules and attendance is not mandatory for veterans.
However, in the absence of an excused or injured starter, several players get a chance to make an initial impression before summer's grueling training camp schedule.
The following is a list of five players whose stock is up after newsworthy performances during the first three days of OTAs.
WR Chris Hogan
Playing well in a camp setting has become third-year receiver Chris Hogan's thing during his time in the NFL.
After earning the nickname "7-11" on HBO's Hard Knocks as a member of the Miami Dolphins two years ago, Hogan played himself onto the Bills' 53-man roster last summer by showing the same knack to find holes in the defense.
Injuries and ineffectiveness pushed Hogan into extended duties at times last season, but he never seemed to develop chemistry with any of the Bills' three starting quarterbacks when it counted.
Hogan finished the season with 10 catches, including a season-high three receptions for 29 yards in a Week 11 drubbing against the New York Jets at home.
Hogan's value to the Bills as a plug-and-play option last season has been diminished with a roster suddenly booming with depth. Even with the trade of former top receiver Stevie Johnson to San Francisco, Hogan finds himself as no better than the fifth or sixth option on the roster entering offseason workouts.
The additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams have made it clear who will be starting on the outside, while second-year players Woods and Marquise Goodwin will be heavily involved in the receiving game as well.
Six other players join Hogan to battle for the final one or two receiver spots, including former third-rounder T.J. Graham and special teams stalwart Marcus Easley.
Needless to say, the Bills will have to make some big decisions once August hits.
According to BuffaloBills.com beat reporter Chris Brown, Hogan had three of the Bills' best plays of the week and showed the most reliable hands of any receiver.
Hogan is the most natural fit in the slot after Woods and another good summer showing could put him on the roster over the likes of Graham.
CB Corey Graham
Signing Corey Graham during the offseason was another quietly solid move by the Bills' front office to funnel in much-needed free-agent depth on the defense.
Graham's departure from Baltimore might have come as a surprise initially—considering his value to what the Ravens do on defense—but in the end the offer from his hometown Bills was too good to pass up.
Ever since a March 25 press conference with head coach Doug Marrone, rumors of Graham switching over to safety have swirled around the internet. At the time, Marrone had this to say about the signing:
"What's interesting about him is that he can play an outside corner and play it well," Marrone said at the annual NFL owners meetings. "We have two good corners coming back. He can play nickel and start at nickel, and that would be a good competition in there.
"He's also a physical player who had about 70 tackles and four [interceptions]. ... He may be in the mix back there at the safety spot."
In a fairly dead period of the NFL offseason, the conjecture surrounding Graham's spot on the defense has given way to a wide array of opinions, such as this one from Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. Corner is his natural position and the one he lined up at during the first three days of OTAs.
Graham is an asset to the Bills this year because of his veteran savvy, but he also gives the team a depth player it hasn't had in the secondary for quite some time.
The Bills struggled to find their footing on defense in the early portion of 2013 with Leodis McKelvin, Stephon Gilmore and Jairus Byrd all missing time due to injury.
The ability to slide Graham into almost any spot in the secondary makes him one of the most important to players to watch moving forward.
S Duke Williams
Second-year safety Duke Williams did not have much responsibility a season ago, as he was buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Byrd, Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard.
Fast-forward to now and only one of those three players remains on the roster, leaving Williams with an opportunity to make good on the Bills' fourth-round investment last April.
The hard-hitting safety out of Nevada struggled to figure out former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's scheme and spent much of his rookie season on the bench.
In an interview with WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia, Williams spoke about his expected increase in workload despite having to learn a second new defensive playbook in as many years.
Williams' rising stock has less to do with his play during the first three days of OTAs and more to do with anticipation of him moving up the depth chart. Searcy took a good portion of the first-team reps in the first week, but Williams was rotated through as a starter to fill in for injured starter Aaron Williams.
According to Buscaglia, Williams considers himself to be a playmaker, but he will have to prove that notion to move above Searcy on the roster.
Searcy was a part of the previous regime, while Williams was drafted by the current one. He will have every opportunity to impress.
OT Cyrus Kouandjio
Despite periods of dominance at the college level in a three-year career at Alabama, a red-flagged knee sent Cyrus Kouandjio tumbling into the second round of May's draft.
Much like the quietly surprising fall of Cordy Glenn two drafts prior, the Bills were quick to jump on an impressive talent at the tackle position—gambling on an injury-risk player.
Taking Glenn worked out well for the Bills and fans can only hope Kouandjio follows suit for the team's youthful offensive line. He was one of the NFL-readiest tackles at the draft, and given the Bills' need for an upgrade at right tackle, the move made plenty of sense.
Incumbent Erik Pears remains on top of the depth chart for now, but Kouandjio received a sprinkling of first-team reps on the right side as well.
According to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com, the powerful Kouandjio looked strong in run-blocking, which was to be expected considering his ability to block in space in Tuscaloosa. The pass protection will come as the reps get more plentiful and tactician Marrone gets to work with him more.
Now that Kouandjio is signed to a rookie deal, it might be only a matter of time before the rookie finds himself as a starter in the NFL.
DE Jacquies Smith
The NFL waits for no man. Lawson's absence from team activities opened the door for Smith to get some looks at defensive end this week.
If you don't know who Smith is or where he came from, you won't be alone. The former Missouri Tiger end was an undrafted free-agent signing of the Miami Dolphins in 2012 and has bounced around between the CFL and the New York Jets since then.
After being released by the Jets, the Bills kept Smith on his AFC East tour as a potential depth fit behind a star-studded starting lineup.
Beat reporter Buscaglia mentioned Smith was around the ball and disruptive on more than one occasion, making use of reps while he is getting them.
Smith will have a long battle to make the final roster, but if Lawson's absence turns into a larger issue, Smith has just as good a chance as any other lineman fighting to make the final 53-man squad.