DETROIT, MI (WKBW) - The only thing that separates the Buffalo Bills from entering into preparation mode for the start of the 2015 regular season is a 60-minute exhibition that doesn’t mean much to the starters.
Just because it doesn’t mean anything to the guys who will be depended on for opening day, Thursday night’s preseason finale in Detroit means everything to some players trying to make the active roster.
So who has the most to gain? Ten players that will do everything in their power to win a spot on the active roster:
1) CB Mario Butler
- Throughout the spring workouts and training camp, Mario Butler has done many things right — but he’s gotten noticed by the right person. That person would be none other than the head coach of the team, Rex Ryan. After a training camp practice, Ryan said all Butler does “is make plays” during practices. Butler has had multiple interceptions during the summer, which has surely made him a favorite among the coaching staff. That, and he helped make 2014 fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell expendable. However, his safety is not locked up just yet. He’s certainly close, especially considering Leodis McKelvin isn’t able to run at this point. One more solid performance on Thursday, though, and Butler could successfully complete the transition from roster long-shot to member of the 53-man squad to start the season.
2) TE Chris Gragg
- Much like Butler, the odds were stacked against tight end Chris Gragg to make the team in 2015. The former seventh-round pick was passed by during the spring by MarQueis Gray, while the team added three other players at his position (Charles Clay, Matthew Mulligan, and Nick O’Leary) in the offseason leading up to camp. Once the team got to St. John Fisher College, Gragg stepped up his game and made himself an available target all summer long. It’s likely that the Bills keep four tight ends, and Gragg is in prime position to claim the fourth of those spots.
3) LB A.J. Tarpley
- Of any person on this list, A.J. Tarpley has the best chance to convince the front office and coaches that he deserves a spot on the roster. Want to know why? There is quite literally no one else on the roster at linebacker that can play on Thursday. Both Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown are getting the night off, and rookie Tony Steward has a knee injury which means that Tarpley will likely get every defensive series — barring an injury, of course. He’s had a disappointing preseason, but at a weak position, can convince the Bills to take a chance on him with a good showing.
4) WR Marcus Thigpen
- The Bills already have a lot of players on their roster that can do only one thing, which put Marcus Thigpen on the outside looking in early on in the training camp process. However, as the summer has gone on and Thigpen has proved his worth in the return game, he’s made it increasingly harder for the Bills to part ways with him for the final cut down to 53 players. The Bills tried as many players as they could in both punt and kickoff return, but Thigpen has showed a spark almost every time he’s touched the ball.
5) QB Matt Simms
- A favorite of Rex Ryan, Matt Simms isn’t in great standing to make the roster as its currently constructed. Ryan said “the odds are stacked against” Simms making the 53-man roster, but, there are a few options here for the quarterback. If the Bills were to cut either Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel, that would immediately open up a spot on the roster for Simms — if they wanted to keep three quarterbacks, of course. Simms also has some practice squad eligibility remaining, which gives Ryan another option of keeping the quarterback around. Either way, he’ll need to show well against the Lions over the course of the next four quarters to secure some sort of position with the Bills. After all, he has thrown only eight passes in the preseason to this point.
6) WR Deonte Thompson
- Thompson is one of a few wide receivers that put the heat on Marquise Goodwin and Chris Hogan for the fifth and sixth spots on the active roster, but he could even force the Bills to keep seven players at the position on the roster. He’s a solid route runner and offers some speed to the position. He could certainly use another good performance on Thursday to try and shore up a position on the 53-man roster, but, he is currently injured and in question to play the game. If he doesn’t, it could be an opportunity for one of the younger players at the position to rise up.
7) LB Kevin Reddick
- Who, you might be asking? Well, the Bills claimed Reddick off of waivers following his release from the Carolina Panthers. He very well may just be a body to get through the fourth and final preseason game, but, it’s not as if the depth at linebacker is anywhere close to settled. Steward is hurt, Tarpley has struggled, and the team just released Jimmy Gaines. Reddick will likely get a lot of playing time besides Tarpley, and if he plays well, could be worthy of a roster spot. A long shot, but, he should not be counted out by any means.
8) WR Dez Lewis
- When the Bills drafted Lewis in the seventh-round, they were intrigued by his combination of size (6-foot-4) and speed. Through a few months of working with him, they found an incredibly raw receiver that showed some concentration issues. Lewis had one day that was completely spectacular, but was one of the worst receivers on the field most every other day. Still, because they drafted him, he’ll likely get an enhanced look at the practice squad to try and develop him. If he shines on Thursday, he could force the Bills’ hand and put pressure on them to keep him on the active roster, to not risk losing him by placing him on waivers.
9) TE Nick O’Leary
- The Bills have to be quite disappointed with how the spring and summer has turned out for the sixth-round pick Nick O’Leary. When they drafted him, they had visions of him fitting in as the immediate backup to Charles Clay and holding a rather large role in a tight end-friendly offensive scheme run by Greg Roman. Through four months, though, O’Leary could be confused with any of the undrafted free agents on the roster. If he wasn’t a draft pick, he would likely have been released by now — that’s how unproductive his summer has been. Still, because they drafted him, there is still a chance that he cracks the 53-man roster and a good night on Thursday would help that. At the very least, they’ll consider him for the practice squad.
10) WR Andre Davis
- One man who has risen up and made it tough on the Bills has been wide receiver Andre Davis, an undrafted free agent out of South Florida. He has outperformed seventh-round pick Dez Lewis by leaps and bounds, but is facing a stacked wide receiver room and depth chart ahead of him. He is positioning himself to make a charge for the practice squad, even if the 53-man roster is out of the question. If Thompson can’t play, Davis will once again get the start and have every opportunity to make a name for himself either in Buffalo, or elsewhere.