The ever elusive topic of football, the 53 refers to the more-or-less accurate number of men on a roster for any given football team in the National Football League.
Alright – so the truth may be that in actuality there’s a pool of 53 players of which any combination of 46 can be active for an actual game-day roster, but let’s not entrench ourselves too firmly in the details. I could spend all day waxing eloquently about the intricacies of roster manipulation and how to manage the IR/PUP lists to ultimate effectiveness – but we’ll save that discussion for a later day.
On a separate, but related note I will briefly outline how you get to the 53 through training camp and the preseason. Frankly, for most of the whole training session an NFL team keeps 90 players. The first roster trim date for the 2016 NFL season is August 30th, and the Bills will have to cut 15 players – or down to a 75 man roster. The last cut comes eight days before Kickoff Weekend, September 3rd. That is a 22 player hit right there, and this is when the serious casualties come out. Often times rosters will cut even more players in order to kick the tires on some good veterans.
Suffice it to say for our purposes here, the discussion above is just unnecessary. It’s good to go through everything, but most of these guys will never see a single snap on the field. I’m simply going to go through every position group and outline my best projection for the starting players given a smattering of qualitative and quantitative observations.
Let’s dive into it.
Quarterbacks: Tyrod Taylor, EJ Manuel, Cardale Jones (3)
After throwing for 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns compared to 6 interceptions, there is no dispute about who the starting QB is. Tyrod’s strengths include his overall athleticism, deep passing, and vision down the field. His weaknesses include shorter and intermediate throws and throwing with anticipation.
When I watched him throughout the 2015-16 season, I saw an increased willingness to take chances and make harder throws to win games. Especially in Houston, when he found a blown coverage and put Clay in the end-zone in the 4th quarter for the win.
Sometimes it’s that easy. The Bills haven’t had a guy who can make all the easy throws, and some spectacular ones as well, for quite a while. Week 17 was a clinic for how to abuse an all-pro CB and while he didn’t have good yardage totals, he did enough to win the game with several key playmakers out.
EJ Manuel has been a disappointment so far and while he may at some point turn into a starting quarterback, the odds are against him. His problems include decision-making, accuracy, and footwork, but if that weren’t enough he also looks utterly lost at times on the field. Watching him meltdown in London was painful and also the epitome of how frustrating EJ is. Bonehead moves and brilliant long balls all in the same game. EJ’s current ceiling on the Bills is backup QB in my humble opinion.
Cardale is an intriguing project for all of the things you can’t teach someone, size, arm-strength, touch and accuracy on deep passes, etc. He reminds me of what the Bills intended to do with Manuel all along, but never got the chance to because of Kolb’s inability to not be concussed. Hopefully, he doesn’t start until 2018 at the least.
Curious remark: Over/under on the number of games Jones is active for? 4? 5?
Running backs: LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, Mike Gilislee, Jonathan Williams (4)
As one of the premier talent groups on this team, I don’t need to tell you guys how good McCoy is or whether I think he’s in for a resurgent year because he is. Shady is too good to keep down and I think he could really find his groove in year two with the offensive line. As he continues to transition to the man-based offensive scheme and get used to having a lead blocker all the time McCoy will be just fine.
Karlos, suspended for the first four games of the season, would have easily been my choice for RB2. While I have a strong feeling that he will win the job back when he comes back into the lineup, it all depends on how the other backs do in his absence. He’s a punishing runner and has a rare speed to match his huge frame.
Going to camp 20 pounds overweight, along with the suspension, immediately puts him at the bottom of the chart. He’s going to have to fight like a savage for each rep just to avoid slipping off the depth chart.
So, with McCoy at the top and Karlos at the bottom, that leaves spots 2 and 3 undecideds. I’m going to take a wild stab of intuition and guess that Jonathan Williams from Arkansas wins that job in camp and the preseason and holds it for the first four games of the season, at least. Depending on what he does with the limited carries he will have in those games (probably 20-30 max), he could wrest the job away from Karlos and keep it.
That leaves Gillislee in the RB3 spot and I think that’s just a natural spot for him. He’s a bruiser with surprising speed if he can find the hole. A muscle-hamster-lite, if you will. I like giving him his carries at the end of the game when a defense is worn out from chasing LeSean all day and then BAM! Gillislee can hit the hole and get a long TD.
Curious Remark: Love James Wilder Jr. If the Bills keep him on the PS and an injury happens to an RB (who could imagine that), look for him to get called up and perform. Dude is a grinder.
Wide Receivers: Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Dez Lewis, Marquise Goodwin, Kolby Listenbee (5)
I think this group is probably the most difficult to predict and no matter what, my grouping (and everyone else’s) will be essentially incorrect in choosing the bottom of the depth chart because we haven’t seen them play even in preseason yet. Taking that into account I have cheerfully disregarded all notions of sense and picked my personal favorites.
Watkins is a no-brainer thus I won’t spend too much time raving about how his strides leave smaller, less masculine cornerbacks in the dust or how the way he tracks the ball reminds me of how a hungry tiger tracks a gazelle. We all know that Watkins is an unbelievable playmaker and a lock for our WR1 position.
Robert Woods is in my opinion supremely underrated by the fan base. Playing with a torn groin was probably a bad idea and he should have stayed out for treatment last year, but the dude toughed it out because he wanted to help the Bills win. With Tyrod committed to throwing across the middle more, I expect Woods to jump up to the 750 yd, 8 td level that is routine for WR2 across the league. Robert possesses excellent body control and is an extremely nuanced route runner. Even more, he’s a killer run-blocker and has personally paved the way for several big running plays. Need I remind you with Tyrod’s rushing TD against Tennessee when he smashed two Titans into each other? The kid has a bright future, I hope it’s here.
After those two, the order gets jumbled and probably all three of these guys could be in any of these spots. It’s also important to mention that as of right now, there are a million WRs on the roster. Guys like Leonard Hankerson, Greg Little, Jarrett Boykin, Greg Salas, etc. All these guys have a shot to make the roster, I just personally think our homegrown guys fit the roster better.
Lewis at 6’4 is the biggest receiver on the roster, and while I don’t trust rave reviews from rookie mini-camp or OTAs by any measure, he looked good at the end of the least preseason. He caught fire at the end of camp last year and if he continues that through pads this year he will be our number three. His ceiling this year is probably 40 receptions for 500 yards and 6 touchdowns. That would be a huge deal as a compliment to Robert and Sammy.
When he’s healthy, Goodwin always freaking impresses me. He’s fast, runs nice routes, has great hands, tracks the ball well, runs after the catch well, the list goes on.
— Tracking Football ® (@TrckFootball) July 10, 2016
He really is a good receiver! He just hasn’t been able to stay on the field for very long. But hey! This is the year he puts it together. He rocks training camp and proves why the Bills drafted him in the third round. I remember him developing a deep rapport with EJ and one nice long ball from Orton. If Taylor can take advantage of that world class speed, it will change the way offenses are able to roll their coverages with him and Sammy on the field at the same time.
Listenbee is a rookie, and even though all I’ve seen his his college tape, I think he is a strong dark-horse candidate to win Goodwin’s job given Marquise’s unfortunate tendency to be broken.
He tracks the ball well, and could also be thedeep ball compliment that Tyrod needs. It’s very likely that this spot is also filled with a Hankerson or Little retread type guy, and while I’m not opposed to that – I always pull for the low draft picks.
Curious remark: Jarrett Boykin had some serious chemistry with Tyrod in college, specifically over the middle. If he rediscovers that in a serious way I think he will push Dez for the WR3 job.