Ranking Buffalo Bills' Top 5 Sleepers to Watch in Camp
The Buffalo Bills will open their training camp on July 20, and there will be a lot to be decided between then and the start of the 2014 season. At this point, most fans know most of the key battles and the players to watch, but there are some players who could turn heads as camp progresses.
This is a list of five players who would fall under the sleeper category or who are not getting much publicity heading into training camp. I believe these players have the potential to play big roles on the Bills in 2014 and have ranked them based on the likelihood of that happening.
5. Ty Powell
For most of the offseason, Ty Powell was somewhat of an afterthought, one of those players who would have been in discussion when the time came for those final few cuts. That has all changed now that Kiko Alonso will be out for the upcoming season with a torn ACL.
Now that there is an opening at the weak-side linebacker position, Powell's presence on the roster is much more important, and he has an outside chance at the starting spot. The Bills will most likely look at Nigel Bradham, Keith Rivers and Preston Brown to step into the role first, but Powell will get a look as well.
If Powell is not able to move up the depth chart at outside linebacker, he will make his impact on special teams. Last year, Powell was the second-best special teamer behind Marcus Easley and will be a key contributor along with new additions Corey Graham and Anthony Dixon.
4. Chris Gragg
The tight end battle behind Scott Chandler between Tony Moeaki and Chris Gragg is going to be one of the top battles to watch. Moeaki has gotten most of the coverage, but Gragg is a player who should not be forgotten.
Both players would bring different things to this roster, with Moeaki being the more experienced and well-rounded tight end and Gragg being the better athlete with the brighter future. Gragg is more explosive with more big-play potential in the passing game, but Moeaki is the better run-blocker.
The Bills invested a draft pick in Gragg, so it would be surprising to see them not give him a fair shot to claim a roster spot. If he does make the team, he would certainly add a new element to an offense already filled with numerous weapons for quarterback EJ Manuel.
3. Kenny Ladler
When the Bills lost Jairus Byrd, it created a huge hole in the team's defense but has also given a player, whoever that may be, the chance to make a name for himself. The two top contenders seem to be Da'Norris Searcy and Duke Williams to start next to Aaron Williams in the team's secondary.
The Bills have one safety on the roster who could make this a three-man battle, and that is undrafted free agent Kenny Ladler. The free safety out of Vanderbilt is not your normal UFA, as he has started 24 games the last two seasons in the SEC, arguably the toughest conference in college football.
More importantly, the Bills are not afraid to use undrafted free agents early in their career and in key roles. Last year, the Bills stuck Nickell Robey in their lineup as the nickel cornerback, and he played very well. If Ladler can prove in training camp that he can play the position, it would not be surprising to see him starting next to Aaron Williams in 2014.
2. Stefan Charles
Stefan Charles is in a unique situation because of the fact that he is not competing against any teammate for playing time; rather, his impact will be determined by the NFL league office.
The starting defensive tackle duo of Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus would have been pretty well set heading into this upcoming season. The uncertainty, though, lies in the fact that Dareus could be facing possible suspension due to off-the-field troubles this offseason.
If Dareus is suspended for an extended period of time, Charles would be the first player the coaching staff would look to fill the void. This wouldn't be much of a surprise, since Charles was the player who stepped in when Dareus was suspended for the first half of the New England Patriots game in Week 17. He played pretty well in that first half, finishing with six tackles and a sack.
If Charles plays well in camp and preseason, he should be the guy to anchor the defensive line with Kyle Williams to start the season.
1. Jacob Dombrowski
The punting situation for the Bills last year was not good. Shawn Powell started the season with the job but made it only five weeks before being cut and the Bills deciding to bring back Brian Moorman. The veteran punter did not fair much better with the third-worst punt average (41.2 yards) and net punting average (36.6 yards) of his 13-year career.
Even though the Bills did re-sign Brian Moorman this offseason, his roster spot is far from guaranteed. The Bills brought in Jacob Dombrowski, who played for Harvard from 2009 through 2012. He was awarded first-team All-Ivy League in his senior year when he averaged 44 yards per punt.
At the Kohl's kicking camp last year, Dombrowski was one of the standouts with hang time on punts between 5.2 and 5.4 seconds. If Dombrowski is able to show this type of power, he could take the starting role from Moorman and have the biggest impact of any of these players on this list.
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