STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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Starter Tyrod Taylor. Backups T.J. Yates, Nathan Peterman, Cardale Jones.
Taylor is playing for his future for the third year in a row. The Bills brought him back on a restructured contract that essentially is a prove-it contract because they can escape it easily prior to 2018 if Taylor does not show improvement in the passing game. Veteran Yates was signed to be the backup, mainly because he has experience in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's system. Peterman was a fifth-round flyer who may compete with Yates, while Jones appears to be the odd-man out unless he clearly outplays Yates and/or Peterman.
Starters LeSean McCoy, FB Patrick DiMarco. Backups -
- Jonathan Williams, FB Mike Tolbert, Cedric O'Neal, Jordan Johnson, Joe Banyard.
McCoy has lot of mileage on his now 29-year-old body, but the Bills are banking on him being able to be a stud once again. He'll need to be as the team lost backup Mike Gillislee to the Patriots, and has no other backup with any real NFL experience. The Bills have led the NFL in rushing two years running, due in large part to McCoy, but he has also been assisted by Taylor's running ability from the quarterback position, as well as quality backups Gillislee and the departed Karlos Williams. Jonathan Williams or O'Neal must step in and be that useful backup to spell McCoy. At fullback, DiMarco is considered one of the best blockers in the game and he might be able to add a little to the passing game, too.
Starter Charles Clay. Backups Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas, Keith Towbridge, Wes Saxton, Jason Croom.
Clay has not lived up to the $38.5 million contract he signed in 2015. He was supposed to be a down-the-seam threat who would draw coverage away from the wideouts, but it really hasn't worked out that way. Now he's battling what could be a chronic knee problem, so his durability will be a big question. This is not good for the Bills because they are weak at this position behind Clay and he's the only legitimate playmaking tight end they have.
Starters Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones. Backups Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Jeremy Butler, Walter Powell, Brandon Tate, Dezmin Lewis, Rod Streater, Brandon Reilly, Rashad Ross, Daikiel Shorts.
If Watkins is healthy and performing the way the Bills believe he can, the passing game will be able to at least function. Watkins can be a difference-maker, but his unavailability has been a constant during his first three years. If Jones proves to be a second-round talent who can replace, and perhaps surpass in production, Robert Woods, all the better for the Bills. After those two, it's a whole lot of mediocrity with the likes of veteran retreads Holmes, Brown, Butler, Streater and the rest. The only guy who stands out is Holmes, who had a pretty nice season in Oakland a couple years ago.
Starters - LT Cordy Glenn, LG Richie Incognito, C Eric Wood, RG John Miller, RT Jordan Mills. Backups - T Seantrel Henderson, G/C Ryan Groy, G/T Dion Dawkins, C Patrick Lewis, G Vladimir Ducasse, T Michael Ola, G Jordan Mudge, G Greg Pyke, G Zach Voytek, T Cameron Jefferson.
The Bills are basically set at every position except right tackle. Mills has been the weak link the past couple years, so the Bills drafted Dawkins in the second round to address that problem. However, the 330-
pound rookie from Temple must prove he's ready because the Bills did re-
sign Mills in the offseason just in case they couldn't find anyone better. The blocking style will change a bit under Dennison's new scheme, so it will be interesting to see how the Bills adapt, but this is a veteran group that shouldn't struggle with the change.
Starters - DT Marcell Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Shaq Lawson. Backups - DT Adolphus Washington, DT Jerel Worthy, DE Ryan Davis, DE Jake Metz, DE Max Valles, DE Marquavius Lewis, DE Ian Seau, DT Deandre Coleman, DT Nigel Williams, DE Eddie Yarbrough.
Returning to the 4-3 should be exactly what this group needs. It allows Dareus and Williams to return to tackle positions where they can plug the run game and push the pocket up the middle. And it frees Hughes and Lawson to line up on the ends and rush off the edge, which is their greatest strength, rather than worrying about dropping in coverage as they did last year under Rex Ryan. Washington has much to prove in his second season, while Worthy is a solid veteran. Where the Bills are really lacking is options at end behind the two starters. No one on the current roster stands out.
Starters - MLB Reggie Ragland, OLB Gerald Hodges, OLB Lorenzo Alexander. Backups - MLB Preston Brown, OLB Ramon Humber, MLB Carl Bradford, Anthony Harrell, Jacob Lindsey, Abner Logan, OLB Matt Milano, MLB Tanner Vallejo.
The Bills need Ragland to come through in a big way. The 2016 second-
round draft pick missed his rookie season due to a knee injury, so he's essentially a first-year player trying to lock up the vital middle linebacker spot. Preston Brown, who has led the Bills in defensive snaps the last three seasons, is his competition and it should be a very interesting battle. The outside spots are weak as Alexander is primarily a pass rusher, and Hodges and Humber are unproven players. Humber seems more suited to special teams, and the same goes for the two rookie draft picks, Vallejo and Milano.
Starters - CB Ronald Darby, CB Tre'Davious White, SS Micah Hyde, FS Jordan Poyer. Backups - CB Kevon Seymour, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Shareece Wright, CB Charles James, CB Greg Mabin, CB Marcus Sayles, CB Bradley Sylve, S Colt Anderson, S Shamiel Gray, S Trae Elston, S Joe Powell, S B.T. Sanders.
The Bills lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the Patriots in free agency, and he will be missed. To that end, they used their first-round draft pick on White and they believe he can step in and win the starting job opposite Darby, who is coming off a down sophomore year with Buffalo. The Bills revamped the safety position, releasing Corey Graham and Aaron Williams and replacing them with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Hyde should excel, but Poyer has a lot to prove. The nickel job is also open, and second-year pro Seymour, and veteran free agents Wright and Johnson will be in the thick of that battle. If White falters in camp, one of those players may end up starting.
K Steven Hauschka, P Colton Schmidt, LS Reid Ferguson, P Austin Rehkow, KOR/PR Brandon Tate.
Hauschka is an upper-level kicker who not only is accurate, but has a stronger leg than the departed Dan Carpenter and can also kick off, thus saving the Bills a roster spot that has previously been used on kickoff specialist Jordan Gay. Schmidt returns as the punter, but he needs to be much better than he was in 2016 when he took a sharp downturn from 2015. Ferguson replaces Garrison Sanborn who had an almost flawless eight-year tenure as Buffalo's long snapper.