For the first time in 2017 and with Sean McDermott as the head coach, the Buffalo Bills will officially conduct a practice with their new roster.
Thursday marks the start of the annual three-week-long Organized Team Activities, giving ample time for players all over the roster to impress the coaching staff enough before breaking ahead of training camp.
As is a tradition with the National Football League, it's commonplace to share far-too-early projections of how the 53-man roster could play out. So, I figured, why fight it?
The pre-OTA version of my way-too-early 53-man roster projection:
Tyrod Taylor, T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman
- Although I would think long and hard about keeping a fourth quarterback, Cardale Jones has to prove it on the field in order to warrant a roster spot in 2017. Peterman likely isn't going anywhere, though there is some potential for Yates to get cut if both Jones and Peterman show enough this spring and summer. At this point, you have to look at Cardale Jones as a player that the last general manager and head coach wanted, and a lot of times in the NFL, those later round guys have a harder time making it through with the new guys in charge. It'll be an uphill climb for Jones, but we shouldn't count him out just yet.
Cuts: Cardale Jones, Josh Woodrum
Running Back (5)
LeSean McCoy, Jonathan Williams, Mike Tolbert, Cedric O'Neal, Patrick DiMarco
- A pretty cut and dry group with McCoy, Williams, Tolbert, and DiMarco making it through. I have Cedric O'Neal making the roster at the moment because I thought he had a nice bounce in his step and an understanding of the zone-running scheme that the Bills are now employing. I thought he outperformed Johnson in the practice that I was allowed to see. But, this could all change once the pads go on this summer. I'm probably going to write that a lot.
Cuts: Joe Banyard, Jordan Johnson
Wide Receiver (6)
Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones, Philly Brown, Andre Holmes, Brandon Tate, Walt Powell
- Kolby Listenbee was my last cut because he just hasn't gotten on the field yet. Not one person in the NFL knows what he can do in the NFL until he is fully cleared to play -- although he's been hinting that it isn't far off through his various social media accounts. There is an opportunity for him to make this team. I don't think Brandon Tate is as safe on the roster as maybe some might think, but his punt return ability is hard to ignore. Walt Powell showed up in a big way last summer, and that's why I had him stealing the sixth and final wide receiver spot in this go-round.
Cuts: Kolby Listenbee, Jeremy Butler, Dez Lewis, Daikiel Shorts, Brandon Reilly
Tight End (3)
Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
- This is a position that I believe the Bills will look to add to as the spring and summer go on. Charles Clay is a solid option at tight end, despite how bad of a contract he's signed to. O'Leary is a solid blocker and will serve in that role for the Bills, but they could really use another pass-catching option at the position to be the backup to Clay. I've got Logan Thomas making the team, mostly so I can use the #FreeLoganThomas hashtag on Twitter... but also because I think he has the most upside of the four below Clay and O'Leary, although you can make a semblance of an argument for the athletic Croom.
Cuts: Blake Annen, Jason Croom, Keith Towbridge
Offensive Tackle (4)
Cordy Glenn, Dion Dawkins, Cyrus Kouandjio, Jordan Mills
- This position has 'stay tuned' written all over it. The only sure thing is that Cordy Glenn will be the starting left tackle. Beyond that, they're hoping that Dion Dawkins can grab ahold of the right tackle job, so that way they don't need to trust Jordan Mills for the third straight season. The safety of Mills isn't guaranteed here, and neither is that of Cyrus Kouandjio. However, Kouandjio showed solid ability as a fill-in for Glenn last season -- but can't do the same on the right side. For now, I've got both making it, more as a "just in case." Seantrel Henderson will still be suspended to start the season, so they don't need to make an immediate decision on him as he won't count as a spot on the roster.
Suspended: Seantrel Henderson
Cuts: Cameron Jefferson, Michael Ola
Interior Offensive Line (5)
Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, Ryan Groy, Vlad Ducasse
- The Bills keep another two backups on the interior with both Ryan Groy and Vlad Ducasse -- both of which being players this regime signed to a new contract this offseason. With Ducasse potentially being able to shift outside to tackle in a pinch, I think that keeps him going here. Groy makes Patrick Lewis expendable and serves as the top reserve guard and backup center to Eric Wood. Ducasse's presence could make the Bills comfortable with cutting loose either Mills or Kouandjio.
Cuts: Patrick Lewis, Jordan Mudge, Zach Voytek, Greg Pyke
Defensive End (4)
Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes, Ryan Davis, Jake Metz
- Three spots seem to be taken here. Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes, and Ryan Davis all seem to be safe bets to make the team. As for the fourth spot? That one is very much up for grabs between Jake Metz, Ian Seau, and all the rest. Like tight end, this is a position the Bills could look to add to as the spring and summer go on. However, with the roster as it is, I went with Jake Metz because he exactly fits the prototypical defensive end that Sean McDermott normally lines up his roster with. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Metz is really long, and as long as he can hold up and contain the edge, could sneak a spot on the 53.
Cuts: Ian Seau, Max Valles, Eddie Yarbrough, Marquavius Lewis
Defensive Tackle (4)
Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington, Jerel Worthy
- This is pretty open and shut. I think the first cut will be Deandre Coleman, who is more of a 3-4 nose tackle than a fit for Sean McDermott's defense that desires penetration from the interior defensive line. I think Nigel Williams could have a chance, but the numbers in this roster cutdown eventually worked against him.
Cuts: Nigel Williams, Deandre Coleman
Reggie Ragland, Lorenzo Alexander, Preston Brown, Ramon Humber, Matt Milano, Tanner Vallejo
- I thought long and hard about keeping Carl Bradford on the team, but eventually, I kept only six linebackers on the Bills roster this time around. Ragland, Alexander, Humber, and Milano seem to be pretty solid bets to make the team. I'd guess Vallejo makes it as well. As for Preston Brown? The presence of Ragland's injury, and because he'd be a cheap and experienced player to keep, puts him on the team. The Bills will have the middle linebacker job up for competition between Ragland and Brown, but I like Ragland's chances in that one -- as long as he comes back from his knee injury without complications.
Cuts: Carl Bradford, Jacob Lindsey, Abner Logan, Anthony Harrell
Tre'Davious White, Ronald Darby, Kevon Seymour, Shareece Wright, Leonard Johnson
- I almost kept another player here, but I couldn't make a compelling case to keep Gaines or James over Jonathan Dowling. I think this position will be a figure-it-out-as-they-go type, with no starting spots being locked down at the present moment. While White is a fit for the scheme, we don't know if he'll be ready to play this year. Darby and Seymour are short-armed corners better suited for a man-to-man defense. As for Wright and Johnson? Both have experience with either McDermott or defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. I could see a combination involving any two of these five end up starting in Week One in September.
Cuts: Charles Gaines, Charles James, Bradley Sylve, Marcus Sayles
Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Colt Anderson, Jonathan Dowling, Trae Elston
- I'm not particularly hellbent on keeping Elston over Gary or Powell... really it will just come down to who performs the best in training camp. We haven't seen any of them play... and neither have the Bills. A good ole' fashioned swing in the dark. However, I will make a case for Jonathan Dowling. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Dowling could be a hybrid cornerback-safety in McDermott's scheme. He's got long arms (33 and 1/8-inch) that fit well into zone principles and is a pretty fluid athlete to help that, as well. That said, he's had some character concerns from his past, but stayed out of the limelight all last year. If McDermott thinks Dowling has grown up, I could see them looking at the potential of the young and growing player in this defense.
Cuts: Shamiel Gary, Joe Powell, B.T. Sanders
Special Teams (3)
K Stephen Hauschka, P Colton Schmidt, LS Reid Ferguson
- Schmidt hangs on to be the punter again in 2017, while I debate whether or not to have a Steven Hauschka vs. Stephen Hauschka tracked kicking competition during training camp. Reid Ferguson rounds out the group nicely.
Cuts: P Austin Rehkow