One week from today, the Buffalo Bills will officially begin the next phase of their offseason workout program — which means the beginning of the 2018 season is a lot closer than you may think. Thursday, May 24 marks the beginning of Organized Team Activities for the Bills — a group of 10 practices that span over the course of three weeks — and the first time the Bills are together as a team.
The OTAs are voluntary, though, with all the pressure built into the system in place, it would have to be a strong reason as to why a potential fringe player might not be there. It’s a time where initial impressions are made, and can potentially set the tone for the pecking order at training camp.
And speaking of that pecking order, now that the 90-man roster (or in this case because of the complex Eric Wood situation, 89-man roster) has been set, how might things shake out?
A far too early 53-man roster projection before the start of OTAs:
Josh Allen, A.J. McCarron, Nathan Peterman
- Three quarterbacks enter training camp, and I believe all three will leave training camp as a member of the 53-man roster. Josh Allen will get time to learn — however much he needs — and the Bills will have A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman there to battle it out to be the opening day starter. Allen could also win the job outright, but even if he does, McCarron’s contract doesn’t make sense to lop off at the end of camp, and the Bills still believe in Peterman.
Running Back (4)
LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Travaris Cadet, Patrick DiMarco
- Without doing anything in the offseason to try and get younger at the running back position, the Bills will go into it relying heavily on lead back LeSean McCoy. There is potential that the Bills wind up keeping five total running backs if either Taiwan Jones wins the job as the lead returner this summer or the team signs a younger runner cut by his team to try and develop behind McCoy and Chris Ivory. Undrafted runner Keith Ford could also be an option for the practice squad.
Cut: Taiwan Jones, Marcus Murphy, Keith Ford, Zach Olstad
Wide Receiver (6)
Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Ray-Ray McCloud, Austin Proehl
- Of all the positions on the roster, this one is one of the more interesting ones to track. Kelvin Benjamin is locked in as a starter, and you would think Zay Jones is as well. However, past that, it’s totally up in the air. Andre Holmes likely sticks for his special teams ability, but the other three-to-four spots are up for grabs. It comes down to Ray-Ray McCloud against Kaelin Clay for the returner duties, and Jeremy Kerley against Austin Proehl to be the main slot receiver. McCloud has to be considered the favorite of this point because GM Brandon Beane wants to keep his draft picks on the roster. If Proehl or even McCloud can unseat Kerley for the main slot role, that opens the door to the Bills parting ways with Kerley, and keeping someone like Malachi Dupre or Brandon Reilly for an additional developmental outside receiver on the roster.
Cut: Kaelin Clay, Malachi Dupre, Brandon Reilly, Rod Streater, Robert Foster, Quan Bray, Cam Phillips
Tight End (4)
Charles Clay, Nick O’Leary, Logan Thomas, Khari Lee
- No differences from last year, the Bills head into the season with two players in different molds. Charles Clay and Logan Thomas are the more athletic pass-catching tight ends, while Nick O’Leary and Khari Lee are the blocking tight ends. The Bills hung on to both Keith Towbridge and Jason Croom from last summer, so those two could contend for either Thomas or Lee’s spot on the roster. Otherwise, Clay and O’Leary are set as the top two.
Cut: Keith Towbridge, Jason Croom
Offensive Tackle (4)
Dion Dawkins, Jordan Mills, Marshall Newhouse, Conor McDermott
- This could wind up being a position that keeps only three, but the Bills really liked how Conor McDermott progressed last year along with his work ethic. He’ll have the opportunity to push Jordan Mills for the starting job this spring and summer, and if he doesn’t win it, they can continue his development behind the scenes through the 2018 season as well. By the end of the year, they should know if he can step into the starting role in 2019 when Mills becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Cut: Gerhard de Beer, De’Ondre Wesley, Mo Porter
Interior Offensive Line (5)
Ryan Groy, Rusell Bodine, Vladimir Ducasse, Wyatt Teller, John Miller
- Just barely above the cut line, former third-round pick John Miller hangs on for now. The fourth-year player fell out of favor with the coaching staff last year and wound up on the inactive list the rest of the way after he was benched following Week Four. Considering the retirements of both Eric Wood and Richie Incognito, that opened up a window for Miller to stay around, and having another center in Ryan Groy (who slots in at left guard currently) already on the roster, that helps Miller’s case even more.
Cut: Josh James, Ike Boettger
Reserve/Retired: Eric Wood
Defensive End (4)
Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough
- This group, now that Shaq Lawson made it through the offseason, looks to be fairly locked in. The lingering question is about the two depth players, Owa Odighizuwa and Terrence Fede. If either of those players can show a bit of a spark in training camp, that could compel Beane to go looking for offers on Lawson during the summer. Either way, the former first-round pick will shift back into a reserve role, and I think a move back to right defensive end to back up Hughes will help Lawson’s development, too.
Cut: Owa Odighizuwa, Terrence Fede, Mat Boesen, Mike Love
Defensive Tackle (4)
Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Adolphus Washington
- The Bills added a pair of high profile players to one-technique defensive tackle this offseason in Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips, which means this group likely won’t have a lot of mystery to it. Adolphus Washington shifts back to three-technique this year, and if he doesn’t take to it well, that could be the one area the Bills could switch up with this group. If he plays well enough in training camp and the preseason, I expect Washington to be on the team once again.
Cut: Tenny Palepoi, Marquavius Lewis, Rickey Hatley
Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Lorenzo Alexander, Ramon Humber, Julian Stanford, Tanner Vallejo
- The Bills have two long-term starters in Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, and even have a dependable depth player in Ramon Humber to fill in if need be. The Bills will continue to develop Tanner Vallejo to see if there’s anything there with him, while Humber and Julian Stanford will be two core special teams players. There is a potential for a seventh player to be kept here if Deon Lacey proves himself to be indispensable on special teams as well but Stanford’s presence put his roster spot in jeopardy.
Cut: Deon Lacey, Xavier Woodson-Luster, Corey Thompson
Tre’Davious White, Vontae Davis, Breon Borders, Lafayette Pitts, Phillip Gaines, Taron Johnson
- There isn’t a lot of depth here to speak of in the first place, but it also presents the opportunity for an undrafted player like Levi Wallace to make the 53-man roster if things go well enough. The Bills will look to develop Breon Borders behind Vontae Davis to see if he could be a potential starting option in 2019 — as Borders showed quite well in his first preseason last year with Oakland. Wallace has a chance to unseat Lafayette Pitts, while the Bills will likely keep Phillip Gaines and his veteran presence around in case fourth-round pick Taron Johnson doesn’t grab hold of the nickel role.
Cut: Levi Wallace, Ryan Carter
Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Rafael Bush, Siran Neal
- Lock these four players into the 53-man roster right now unless there’s an injury. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are the starters, Rafael Bush is the main backup and special teams player, while fifth-round pick Siran Neal is the developmental safety the Bills will try to bring along this season.
Cut: Kelcie McCray, L.J. McCray, Dean Marlowe
Special Teams (3)
Stephen Hauschka, Colton Schmidt, Reid Ferguson
- The Bills kept punter Cory Carter on the practice squad through the end of last season and then brought him back this year, which means he could serve as some legitimate competition to take Colton Schmidt’s job this summer. Carter has a mega leg but showed some inconsistency throughout practice last year. If he can provide that consistency, this could be a tight race. For now, I’ll stick with Schmidt.
Cut: Tyler Davis (kicker), Cory Carter (punter)