Unlike this time last year, the Buffalo Bills don't have many high-priced veterans that could be on the cut line to make the 2016 roster. This year might be even more intriguing, though, because it's a critical time for a few younger players that the Bills drafted recently.
With Organized Team Activities, mandatory minicamp, and training camp all coming into view over the next three months, the auditions and impressions on the coaching staff will be starting up before you know it.
Just as we did last year, a list of five players currently on the Bills roster that will likely need either a big summer in training camp and preseason, or a change in circumstances to crack the 53-man team:
1) S Duke Williams
- For the scope of his career, 2015 was humongous for the former fourth-round pick Duke Williams. It was as close to a fork in the road as you'll find, with the season setting up to be one in which Williams was favored to crack the starting lineup. Instead, Williams fell way behind on the depth chart in training camp. Former cornerback-turned-safety Corey Graham took over at the start of training camp and never surrendered it. Then, when injuries came on, Williams once again lost his role -- this time to Bacarri Rambo. While he did start to make strides on special teams, the Bills brought in additional special teams help this offseason, which could make him expendable in the summer. Williams will need to really stand out in that phase, or, to show that he has a firm grasp of Rex Ryan's defense to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster.
2) K Dan Carpenter
- In 2013 and 2014, Dan Carpenter was a dependable, clutch kicker that could cut through the Ralph Wilson Stadium swirling wind when the weather started to become an issue. In 2015, Carpenter regressed and clearly had his confidence shaken starting early on in preseason. He missed the second-most extra point attempts in the league, and also saw his field goal percentage go down by four points. In the offseason, the Bills completed a minor restructure of Carpenter's contract that removed some automatically guaranteed money for the upcoming season, and put a condition on it that he has to make the 53-man roster in order to receive it. The Bills still have Jordan Gay on the roster, and even more competition in the form of undrafted rookie Marshall Morgan. Carpenter will need to earn his spot this summer, and if he doesn't, the Bills will save just a little over $1.5 million on this year's cap.
3) OT Cyrus Kouandjio
- It could be make or break time for former second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio. The recent Bills interest in free agent Matt Slauson not as a guard, but as a tackle, means the Bills are looking to upgrade the position. Now, the interesting part about Kouandjio is that he could start in 2016 just as easily as he could be released. The Bills will have a true competition to find a starting right tackle this summer between him, Jordan Mills, and Seantrel Henderson. At this point, if all three are healthy, Kouandjio is third on the depth chart (with Mills likely being the favorite). If the Bills add a veteran offensive tackle between now and the end of training camp, it could spell the end of what has been a very disappointing start to a second-round selections career. The wildcard in the situation is the health of Henderson. If he's unable to play, Kouandjio is likely safe. The bigger picture points to this conclusion, though: Nothing is guaranteed this summer for the 2014 second-round selection.
4) WR Marquise Goodwin
- In last year's version of the list, Marquise Goodwin was also a member -- but to his credit, he had a great set of spring workouts that extended into training camp, and the Bills kept him on the roster in 2015. Then, a similar refrain reared its ugly head for Goodwin, as the wideout suffered broken ribs during the preseason finale, fought his way back, only to suffer a setback with that injury that forced the Bills to place him on Injured Reserve in October. Fortunately for him, once you get past Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, the last four-to-five spots are all up for grabs with the wide receivers. To make the roster, Goodwin will have to stay healthy and take advantage of the clear opportunity that exists without a definitive return specialist on the roster. As speedy receivers go, he'll face some competition with sixth-round speedster Kolby Listenbee. It's a prove-it year for Goodwin, who is entering the final year of his contract.
5) LB Manny Lawson
- This was a toss-up between Manny Lawson and safety Corey Graham. Let me start by saying that Lawson doesn't appear to be in any real danger of not making the roster. Rex Ryan loves Lawson's intelligence, and he offers a good bit of versatility if the Bills find themselves with some injury troubles. However, with the outside linebackers that the Bills have added to the roster in the offseason (Shaq Lawson, Lorenzo Alexander) and still with some intriguing, young players (Max Valles, Randell Johnson), a strong case could be made for the Bills to move on from Manny Lawson. He's in the final year of his contract, they would save $2.4 million on this year's cap if they released him, he's no longer a starter, Alexander is a more valuable asset on special teams, and there is some intriguing depth behind him. Ultimately, his starting experience will likely win out and hold him on the 2016 roster, but he's one that's at least worth monitoring based on the team's offseason.