(WKBW) — The NFL Draft is now over with, and while the Buffalo Bills added some pieces through the annual selection process, there were also some positions that they weren't able to add. As is always the case after the draft, taking a recalibrated look at the roster is a significant piece to the puzzle -- especially with spring workouts beginning in just a few weeks.
On offense, the Buffalo Bills have seen a tremendous amount of turnover, seeing only 23 players return from the 2018 roster, and a whopping 23 new pieces to add to the biggest weakness on the team. With so many new faces, what are the strengths and weaknesses of each position?
A detailed breakdown of how each position looks on offense:
Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Derek Anderson, Tyree Jackson
Biggest Strength: Josh Allen
- Having a young quarterback that the organization stands behind 100-percent is a bit of an odd feeling for Bills fans, considering the last time it happened was Jim Kelly. With the way that Allen finished the 2018 season, it has the organization feeling great about how much the young passer has already progressed in critical areas, and how much closer he can get to his lofty ceiling if he continues to make strides. Allen showed noticeable improvement in mental processing, standing tall in the pocket, and short-area accuracy following his return from an elbow injury that sidelined him for a month. He looked like a different quarterback in the final month of the season then what we saw in his first handful of starts. Now with a support system that includes two veteran backups that believe in Allen, the same offense tailored to his skills, and a quarterbacks coach in Ken Dorsey that has plenty of experience with the position, the Bills are hoping for a big jump in year two.
Biggest Question: Josh Allen
- As is the case with any young quarterback, the Bills are hopeful for another jump forward from Allen but know that there is likely to be some adversity for their young quarterback once defenses start to figure him out -- as is the case with any youthful player at the position. If Allen continues to show the level of play that he did at the end of the 2018 season, and with a better supporting cast around him, defenses will adjust to attempt to rattle him. It's how Allen and the Bills respond to those adjustments that will define his second season. But it will remain a big question because the play of young quarterbacks remain a great mystery until we see enough evidence to know who they really will be in the NFL.
Running Back (9)
LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, TJ Yeldon, Devin Singletary, Marcus Murphy, Sinorise Perry, Keith Ford, Christian Wade, Patrick DiMarco
Biggest Strength: Power in numbers
- After having a steep drop-off in production from 2017 to 2018, the running back roster is almost entirely different from what we witnessed last season. Primary backup Chris Ivory was released, and the Bills signed two free agents (Frank Gore, TJ Yeldon) that could factor into the carries equation. And finally, at long last, the Bills drafted a running back (Devin Singletary) for the first time since 2016. The Bills have been trying to get by with a combination of LeSean McCoy and just making it up as they go along, but the team invested in youth at the position to get with the times of the NFL. McCoy returns, and with four suitable running backs available for carries, the Bills have all the makings to become more like a New England style of the backfield -- a committee approach that features different players based solely on the game plan. It's what offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has grown accustomed to in his time in the NFL, and it could be set up that way for Buffalo in 2019.
Biggest Question: Does LeSean McCoy fit?
- Outside of his rookie season in Philadelphia, McCoy hasn't had to deal with a running back by committee approach. However, with the addition of three solid pieces to the running back room that all have the capability of making a difference on limited touches, you have to wonder how it might sit with McCoy. In all his time in Buffalo, the Bills have gotten by with below average backups, which means the carries always deferred to him. After going through the worst season of his career, and with only 2019 remaining on his contract with the Bills, McCoy might have to make some sacrifices for the betterment of the offense. The Bills have made it clear they want him to be a part of the answer on offense, but will that type of role be enough to satisfy McCoy? And if it doesn't, does he remain an entity that GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott want to keep around in a locker room where culture remains one of their most important values? It will be a fascinating spring and summer for McCoy, to see not only if his old form will return but if his potential role in the offense is something that he'll be happy with for 2019.
Wide Receiver (13)
John Brown, Zay Jones, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie, Victor Bolden Jr., Da'Mari Scott, Ray-Ray McCloud, Cam Phillips, Duke Williams, David Sills V, Nick Easley
Biggest Strength: Defined roles in the top four
- With the addition of John Brown and Cole Beasley to the offense, the Bills now have two more competent pass catchers that specialize in something that plagued the group in 2018: separation from defenders. Brown will enter the offense as the primary speed threat that will likely play a high percentage of the stops. I don't think the veteran receiver gets enough credit for his ability to run the entire route tree, because his ability to track and bring in a deep ball remains a calling card of his. He'll be a substantial contributor to the Bills' offense. With Beasley, the Bills have a defined slot receiver that can shake loose of any in-tight defender in the underneath routes. While he won't bring many yards after the catch, his presence on third down situations will be critical to the operation. Then you add in Zay Jones as the other starting receiver, with Foster as the situational WR4 with the threat to go deep, and you have a core of players that can all conceivably get open for Josh Allen.
Biggest Question: Will Zay Jones and/or Robert Foster prevent the Bills from taking a big swing at WR in 2020?
- Now that the wide receiver room is defined and without another young rookie to move some pieces around, the center of attention becomes the two young players that showed some promise late in 2018: Zay Jones and Robert Foster. The upcoming season is a prove-it campaign for both players, especially if they want to continue having a substantial role on the Bills' offense in 2020 and beyond. For Jones, separating from defenders has been his biggest hurdle, but once he started to sell his routes at the point of his breakdown completely, he's enjoyed more success. The excuses for Jones are no longer allowable. He has to prove to be a consistent performer every week, or else the Bills will have to think about making a sizable move in the 2020 offseason. The same goes for Robert Foster, who has to prove that he can not only run the entire route tree but that his work habits and consistency remain constant all year. Just as you must account for the last month of his season, the same must be done for the first half of the season when Foster was getting outworked in practice, lost trust in his hands and lost his place on the roster as a result. As a second-year player with a possible reduced role on paper, Foster must continue to prove he's an ascending player to be a significant factor for the long-term in Buffalo.
Tight End (5)
Tyler Kroft, Dawson Knox, Jason Croom, Tommy Sweeney, Jake Fisher
Biggest Strength: A complete overhaul of the position
- Just as it was the case at running back, the simple notion of adding new blood to tight end is its best attribute heading into the 2019 season. The team is taking a calculated risk on Tyler Kroft, who showed well in his one season (2017) of being the starter in Cincinnati. His combination of blocking ability and above average athleticism for the position is a welcomed addition to the lineup - and to what Daboll is trying to run. With Dawson Knox, the Bills have finally added a substantial developmental tight end -- the first of his kind since the Bills selected Shawn Nelson in the fourth round in 2009. Knox will need some time to get used to the pro game but might be able to contribute as a second-string blocker until he develops his receiving skills and route running a bit more.
Biggest Question: How quickly can Dawson Knox develop?
- As Knox begins his journey with tight ends coach Rob Boras in his acclimation to the NFL game, his progress will remain a topic of conversation as the summer and early part of the regular season goes along. With minimal production at the college level (39 receptions in two seasons), Knox is mostly a projection-based pick that has all the size, length and speed elements that have the highest chances of making for a great tight end. And if you're worried about college production, it isn't unheard of for a tight end to lack production at the college level and then explodes in the NFL. Take San Francisco tight end George Kittle caught a total of 48 passes in four seasons at Iowa. In 2018 alone, the 49ers tight end caught 88 passes for 1,377 yards. Sometimes a player needs time and an understanding of his role within the offense. Still, because it's a slow-developing position historically, I think the fair expectation is for Knox to be a backup in 2019, with a more significant focus on what he could be in 2020 and beyond.
Offensive Tackle (6)
Dion Dawkins, Cody Ford, Ty Nsekhe, LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Blake Hance
Biggest Strength: Cody Ford
- The Bills invested in second-round selection Cody Ford with the idea to begin his journey at right tackle. He still has to earn it, but the way that the coaching staff has continued to give their drafted players the benefit of the doubt in competitions, I would expect that Ford gets every opportunity to be the starting right tackle in the 2019 season. As long as he shows that he's not out of place in the summer, Ford is the odds-on favorite to start on the right side. After with Mitch Morse, Ford was the second-biggest investment of the offseason along the offensive line and will more than likely be one of the starting five for the Bills this season.
Biggest Question: Will the Bills move Dion Dawkins inside to guard?
- As Ford will likely have plenty of chances to win the starting right tackle job, that means Dion Dawkins could have his starting job at left tackle challenged by veteran player Ty Nsekhe. Remember, Nsekhe signed a level of contract that you would typically attribute to a starter, and Beane said that he believed Nsekhe could also play on the left side as well, as he did in spot duty for Washington starter Trent Williams. The more pertinent question then becomes what the Bills do with Dawkins starting with the spring workouts. Beane also didn't rule out the notion of moving Dawkins inside to guard, which makes you wonder. The Bills can't afford to burn Dawkins' third year in the league by making the switch inside to guard too late. I wouldn't be surprised that the Bills give Dawkins a chance to win the left tackle job, but when spring workouts begin in late May, also giving him some second-team reps at guard to get him acclimated to both positions. With uncertainty at both guard positions, there exists an opportunity for the former second-round pick to find his way into the starting five that way. If Dawkins shows a bit of natural ability in the spring and early summer at guard, I could see the Bills trusting their instincts and seeing if he can become a long-term starter on the inside while Nsekhe plays left tackle for the short-term. Regardless, this is a critical next few months for Dawkins.
Offensive Guard (6)
Quinton Spain, Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Wyatt Teller, Vladimir Ducasse, Ike Boettger
Biggest Strength: Added experience
- The play along the interior offensive line was well below average for the Bills in 2018, and while the guard play wasn't the biggest problem, it was a problem nonetheless. As a result, the Bills brought in three potential starting options with varying levels of experience. Quinton Spain, a fringe starter, has plenty of starting experience at left guard. Spencer Long is also an experienced veteran that can give them some time at right guard, and Jon Feliciano has been a trusted backup in Oakland and has a history with offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Adding three potential starting options to buoy the young Wyatt Teller and Ike Boettger was an essential step for the Bills in the offseason.
Biggest Question: How much of an upgrade will the new starters be in 2019?
- While the options at guard for the Bills are, in fact, different than what they had in 2018, that doesn't necessarily guarantee that the options will be an improvement. Spain graded out as an average starter according to ProFootballFocus so that could be an upgrade. Long might be the best of the bunch, but even he had a down season for the New York Jets in 2018. The big unknown is if either Teller steps up in training camp and the preseason, or if the Bills feel more comfortable with Dawkins sliding inside to guard. There is a lot to figure out over the next four months at those two positions, and it's fair to expect that most everyone on the roster will get a chance to become the starter. However, whether or not it will be a vast improvement from John Miller and the combination of Teller and Vladimir Ducasse remains unclear.
Mitch Morse, Russell Bodine, Jeremiah Sirles
Biggest Strength: Mitch Morse
- The Bills had a crying need in the offseason to find an upgrade at center -- with the strong lean on finding one with leadership qualities and plenty of starting experience. The Bills did so and set the center market in the meantime, making Mitch Morse the highest paid at his position in the NFL. They'll rely on Morse to become the steadying hand along an offensive line full of questions, and to be their best offensive lineman that helps the rest of his teammates and Josh Allen. Those are lofty expectations, but the Bills didn't make him one of the highest-paid players on the team for nothing. They're right to expect all of that from Morse.
Biggest Question: Do the Bills cut Russell Bodine?
- After all the dust has settled with the roster moves of the offseason, center Russell Bodine remains as the on-paper backup to Morse. The trouble is, the Bills shouldn't feel like they're in a position that they have to keep Bodine if he isn't one of the best eight or nine offensive linemen on the roster. To say that Bodine struggled in 2018 would be an understatement, grading out as one of the worst starters on the team in his time on the field. Despite being listed as the backup center, don't rule out the Bills releasing him after the preseason. The Bills also signed Spencer Long to a free agent deal, and with all of his experience at center in his career, he has the chance to be the second option at center even if he wins a job as a starting guard. If Bodine proves that he belongs on the roster, he'll stick, but there is no guarantee of his safety despite being listed as the backup to Morse for the time being.