In one week, the Buffalo Bills will enter the next phase of offseason workouts: The first of 10 Organized Team Activities begins in Orchard Park.
The 90 men that make up the Bills roster will all convene — on a voluntary basis — for their first set of actual practices and on-field workouts. There, it will allow the fringe roster players to make a good first impression on the coaching staff in the effort to make the roster in 2016.
So, in the spirit of roster building, how about a way-too-early 53-man roster projection? A look at how it could all shake out:
Tyrod Taylor, EJ Manuel, Cardale Jones
- The decision on the quarterback room is far less complex than what we saw at this point in time last year. Tyrod Taylor is the starter, EJ Manuel is the backup, and Cardale Jones is the project. The only thing that could change is if Jones comes into training camp and preseason and plays lights out, in which case, the Bills may visit the idea of trading away Manuel. Though, with the way things are set up for Jones, the Bills must feel quite comfortable knowing they can just focus on working with him all year to eradicate all of his bad habits.
Running Back (4)
LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, Mike Gillislee, Dri Archer
- This was a difficult decision, but Mike Gillislee, fifth-round rookie Jonathan Williams, and Dri Archer are likely competing for two spots. If Archer can win the role of the return specialist — which is there for the taking by anyone on the roster — then he provides more value to the roster than Williams, who rarely played special teams to this point in his career. Gillislee showed talent in his time on the field last season, but might need to show some value on special teams as well. That should be a compelling battle all summer long, specifically in the preseason games. LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams are both nestled safely atop the depth chart.
Cuts: Jonathan Williams, James Wilder, Jr.
- Some fans are quick to want to cut Jerome Felton from the roster, but despite his average season in 2015, he’s got a couple of things working for him. First, Rex Ryan loves him, and it would likely be hard for a rookie like Glenn Gronkowski to earn the trust of a team that depends so heavily on the run game as quickly as it would likely take to cut the experienced Felton. Second, even if the Bills were to part ways with Felton, they would still be on the hook this season for 85-percent of his cap hit in 2016. He’ll likely get another year, and then the Bills may re-assess the situation if he fails to live up to expectations.
Cuts: Glenn Gronkowski
Wide Receiver (7)
Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Greg Salas, Leonard Hankerson, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Easley, Kolby Listenbee
- This group is completely up in the air. The only names I’m confident about making the team are Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Greg Salas, and maybe Leonard Hankerson. Past that, it all depends how they perform this summer. If Marcus Easley bounces back as well as it seems like he already has from a gruesome leg injury, he should be a solid bet to make the team for his special teams abilities. From there, if those top five hold up, Marquise Goodwin, Kolby Listenbee, Jarrett Boykin, Dez Lewis, and Greg Little will be the five names all battling for one or two spots.
Cuts: Jarrett Boykin, Dez Lewis, Greg Little, Walt Powell, Davonte Allen, Gary Chambers
Tight End (3)
Charles Clay, Jim Dray, Chris Gragg
- The Bills have clear roles in mind for both Charles Clay and blocking extraordinaire Jim Dray, and Chris Gragg proved himself time and time again during the summer last season. Basically, it boils down to the numbers crunch for Nick O’Leary. The Bills could easily keep four tight ends and restrict the number of wide receivers they may keep to just six, rather than my proposed seven. It really all just depends on how well O’Leary performs at training camp this summer. Only a sixth-round pick in 2015, O’Leary failed to discern himself and it led to the Bills putting him on the practice squad last season. This is a big summer for the second-year player.
Cuts: Nick O’Leary, Blake Annen
Offensive Tackle (4)
Cordy Glenn, Jordan Mills, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio
- There are three legitimate questions with this quartet. The first, will the Bills bring in another offensive tackle to compete? Second, will Seantrel Henderson be healthy enough to play this season? And thirdly, is it necessary for the Bills to keep four offensive tackles? Cordy Glenn is an outright certainty (see: his contract), and Jordan Mills seems like a safe bet to make the team as well. The Bills will likely be scouring the transaction list and waiver wire throughout the offseason to see if any teams release a veteran tackle with experience, to come in and compete for the right tackle job. If they find one, and Henderson proves to be healthy, that could spell the end for Cyrus Kouandjio with the Bills. The offensive tackle group, past Cordy Glenn, is an extremely fluid situation.
Cuts: Keith Lumpkin, Marquis Lucas
Interior Offensive Line (4)
- Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, Fernando Velasco
- As compared to most positions on the Bills roster, this one seems pretty cut and dry. Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, and John Miller are the unquestioned starters, and Fernando Velasco has experience playing at all three positions on the interior to fulfill the swing-backup role. Ryan Groy could push for a spot, but Velasco has the clear edge.
Cuts: Ryan Groy, Cyril Richardson, Jamison Lalk, Robert Kugler
Defensive Line (5)
Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant, Adolphus Washington, Jerel Worthy
- The top four of Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Corbin Bryant, and Adolphus Washington all seem like they’re in line to make the roster. Jerel Worthy is on the bubble, but gets the nod on this roster projection because of his versatility along the line — a staple of Rex Ryan’s defense. Lavar Edwards could be a name to keep an eye on to push Worthy, but at this point the latter has experience working in his favor.
Cuts: T.J. Barnes, Lavar Edwards, Justin Zimmer, Claudell Louis
Rush Linebacker (5)
Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Manny Lawson, Lorenzo Alexander, Max Valles
- It’s going to be challenging for both IK Enemkpali and Randell Johnson to make the roster this summer. Enemkpali likely had his spot taken by Lorenzo Alexander, who is a noted special teams asset, and provides versatility as both a rush linebacker and an inside linebacker — something that Enemkpali doesn’t bring to the table. As for Johnson, he’ll need to beat Max Valles for a roster spot. Johnson was a draft pick of the previous coaching staff, and Valles was hand-picked by this coaching staff near the end of the season last year -- and is still only 21 years old. Now 25, Johnson will have to outperform Valles, even though there is no guarantee that they even keep the younger player after the summer.
Cuts: IK Enemkpali, Randell Johnson, Cedric Reed
Inside Linebacker (4)
Reggie Ragland, Preston Brown, Zach Brown, Eric Striker
- Just like it worked with the rush linebacker group and Lorenzo Alexander, Eric Striker survives this 53-man projection because of his potential versatility. They’re working him at weakside linebacker, and he can also serve as a rush linebacker, just like he did in college. That, plus Reggie Ragland’s ability to play middle linebacker, gives Striker the edge over Kevin Reddick at this point.
Cuts: Kevin Reddick, Bryson Albright
Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey, Sterling Moore, Corey White, Kevon Seymour
- The key training camp battle for this group will likely be near bottom of the roster. The rookie Kevon Seymour survives for now, but Mario Butler came out of nowhere last summer to both get in the good graces of Rex Ryan, and to claim a roster spot in 2015. Javier Arenas is an interesting name to keep an eye on as well, which means those three will battle for likely one or two spots. If you’re looking for a sneaky potential training camp battle, it’ll be fascinating to see if the Bills try either Sterling Moore or Corey White at nickel corner, which would give Nickell Robey legitimate competition for his regular role.
Cuts: Mario Butler, Javier Arenas, Sammy Seamster, Julian Whigman
Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Robert Blanton, Colt Anderson
- Aaron Williams still needs to deliver a hit on game day, but until proven otherwise, he’ll likely resume his role as a starter for the Bills. Past that, it gets interesting with Corey Graham, Robert Blanton, Colt Anderson, and even Duke Williams all competing for the other starting job. If the Bills decide to only keep four safeties, the battle for the final spot will be all dependent on special teams. The Bills signed Anderson in the offseason and listed special teams as one of the main reasons for doing so, which gives him the leg up on Duke Williams.
Cuts: Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Jonathan Dowling, Phillip Thomas
- With the changed touchback roles, and with the Bills loading up with special teams assets in the offseason through free agency, they may just go for Dan Carpenter to do it all as the kicker. His kickoffs usually land between two yards short of the goal line, or two yards deep in the end zone, which would create a potential decision for the kick returner. He has the ability to kick in clutch situations, but make no mistake, this is very much a training camp battle between him, Jordan Gay, and Marshall Morgan.
Cuts: Jordan Gay, Marshall Morgan
- Nothing to see here, except that Colton Schmidt could start to discern himself as one of the top punters in the league. He’s been that good.
Long Snapper (1)
- Garrison Sanborn didn’t have any competition last year, and the Bills are likely bringing in Reid Ferguson just for a look. Sanborn hasn’t given any reason to be released in his long career with the Bills. He’s been as solid as a rock.
Cuts: Reid Ferguson