Week two of preseason action sees the Bills travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles Thursday night, with many roster spots still up for grabs and several established veterans fighting for jobs.
Here are five players to keep an eye on during the game:
Rod Streater: He’s been hailed as one of the best players at camp so far this summer, but Streater was held off the box score in the team’s first preseason game against the Vikings. He saw decent playing time in that game, but needs to get some targets against the Eagles so that Buffalo’s coaching staff can see exactly what they are getting from the veteran in game action. Wowing the coaches and fans in practice with one-handed grabs is nice, but with many questions remaining at the wide receiver position, Streater needs to start making some of those plays against opposing defenses to secure a roster spot.
Reggie Ragland: It is time for the former second round selection to step up, whether it’s for a spot on Buffalo’s roster or to impress a potential suitor via trade. It’s been no secret that Ragland hasn’t done much this summer to distinguish himself in Sean McDermott’s defense. While questions remain about his fit in the scheme, lingering injury problems, or simply if he can be a starting 4-3 linebacker in the NFL, the 23-year-old still has a chance to turn things around in the coming weeks. Ragland figures to play at least two full quarters against the Eagles, and even if he won’t be going against a first-team offense, his play will still be watched closely by McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Nate Peterman: The rookie was strong in the first preseason game and was rewarded by getting second-team reps in practice this week. With the Bills only carrying three quarterbacks this summer, each quarterback on the roster will get more playing time than in years past. Tyrod Taylor will probably only play a couple of series over the final three preseason games, so it will be a true competition between Yates and Peterman for the backup job. While Yates hasn’t been a complete disaster, the rookie has outplayed him so far and now has the added benefit of being able to play on the field with Buffalo’s primary backups. Although the Bills wanted a veteran quarterback to play behind Taylor, the performance of their fifth-round selection could cause the team to alter their plans and put skill above experience.
Peterman can hit these boundary throw with his eyes closed, these were crucial for him at Pitt. pic.twitter.com/4rOplvOBg3
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 15, 2017
Austin Rehkow: Punters are people, too. Rehkow was signed as an undrafted free agent in the offseason by the Bills in hopes to motivate Colton Schmidt after a rough 2016 season. Rehkow, also a tremendous kicking leg, led the Sun Belt in points scored last season and has missed only rarely during training camp. Rehkow was used sparingly against the Vikings, only kicking one extra point (which he made), as the Bills used Schmidt for all six punting opportunities. While Steven Hauschka’s job appears locked up, many thought that Rehkow’s versatility could serve as the extra push in the battle with Schmidt, and Thursday could be the first time he shows that in game action.
Ronald Darby: I couldn’t leave him off the list. Less than a week after being traded by the Bills, Darby will have a shot to square up against his former teammates. It’s been confirmed by reporters in Philly that Darby will at least see the field for a couple of series Thursday, as the Eagles probably just want him to get his feet wet with the limited practice time he’s had so far with the team. Darby’s matchups against Boldin and Jones will bring some much needed excitement to a week 2 preseason game. We will see just how motivated he is to prove that his sophomore slump was just a fluke last season.
Other players that could use a big game: Vlad Ducasse, Dez Lewis, Ryan Davis, Bacarri Rambo, and Shareece Wright.
Dez flashing some quickness to separate and nice awareness in the back of the end zone. Nice placement by NP. pic.twitter.com/uzBfojmuoM
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 15, 2017
The Buffalo Bills head to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday at 7:00 P.M. for a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Where an ordinary preseason game wouldn’t feature an especially compelling storyline, this match holds some special significance due to the nascent (and more aged) cross-pollination of rosters. Bills head coach Sean McDermott is a native son of Philadelphia, growing up in the area and spending thirteen seasons on the Eagles’ coaching staff. The Bills traded for superstar running back LeSean McCoy three years ago, one of the most iconic modern day Eagles. Juan Castillo, David Culley, and Leslie Frazier make up the former Eagles coaches in Buffalo, while Philadelphia’s defense is coordinated by Jim Schwartz, who spent a memorable season in Buffalo finding new heights of quarterback pressure with Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes in their primes.
That’s not to mention the most notable story of all: the trade, which occurred less than a week ago, of Bills cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles in exchange for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third round pick. The events lost some of their luster after Matthews suffered a chip fracture in his sternum during his first Bills practice, but Darby is already working with Philly’s first string and will play against his old team on Thursday.
Bills fans are well-versed with Darby’s ups and downs. Who else should they keep an eye on? These are the Eagles to know.
QB Carson Wentz
Philadelphia spent a ransom of picks to trade up to the second overall pick for Wentz, and the North Dakota State product had a mixed bag of a rookie season. While he completed 62.4 percent of passes and threw for nearly 3800 yards, it was at a measly clip of 6.2 yards per attempt, and he nearly threw as many interceptions (14) as touchdowns (16). As a quarterback, Wentz is a tantalizing combination of size, athleticism, and arm talent, but his lack of experience reading complex defenses and refining his footwork often held him back last year.
Doug Pederson‘s offense is structured to make things easy for his quarterbacks. Using motion, misdirection, play fakes, and simpler passing concepts, he structures plays that force defenses to show their intentions and create basic decision trees for the passer. Here’s a classic example of a Pederson play, run during Philadelphia’s first preseason game of the year:
The Eagles fake a run to the left side while Matthews jets across the formation in the other direction. Wentz shows the ball, turns his back, then hits his receiver in stride with space ahead.
Wentz showed encouraging signs of his processing speed during his first game of the season. With two seconds remaining on the playclock, he successfully identifies a blitzing defender here, gets the snap off in time (barely), and delivers to the receiver vacated by the blitzer.
Wentz has had an issue, dating back to his college days, of standing like a tree in the pocket. He’ll take the snap and put down roots. The lack of footwork would make it impossible for him to accurately throw beyond his first read, or to lead defenders away from his target. Heading into his second season, it was crucial that he figure out this part of his game. Wentz only played one drive in the Packers game, but each pass he threw either put him on a bootleg to get him in space, or saw him successfully stepping around the pocket. On this play, Wentz steps up against edge pressure, uses his strength to escape a tackle, and identifies an open Matthews, delivering the ball for a first down.
Wentz’s most exciting play of the day came on his touchdown pass to rookie receiver Mack Hollins. It showed off his athleticism and his ability to create plays under pressure. Dom Capers throws a confusing look at Wentz pre-snap. Linebacker Clay Matthews is lined up as a defensive tackle, there’s a linebacker sugaring the B gap near the right guard, and safety Josh Jones is at a depth of five yards, as if he were a middle linebacker.
As the weird look indicated, this play turned into a blitz. Jones stayed in coverage, but the four down lineman, the sugar linebacker, and the slot cornerback all rushed Wentz. Matthews ran a stunt, coming behind the linebacker and getting free range at Wentz.
Wentz ducks and manages to sidestep Matthews, and keeps his eyes downfield. He notices Nelson Agholor pulling Jones to the sideline, opening up room in the middle for Hollins. Wentz delivers the ball, with Hollins making a nice grab without breaking stride, and the rookie takes care of the rest.
The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to free agent deals this offseason, but lingering injuries have limited Jeffery’s time on the field so far. Third year receiver Agholor will see plenty of time on the field, both outside and in the slot. While he managed to outlast Matthews this season, he’ll need to cure his catching woes if he wants to stick with the team.
Agholor is a very athletic receiver — he ran a 4.42 forty yard dash at the Combine, combined with a 125″ broad jump and 6.83 three cone drill at his pro day. His combination of speed and size gives him the versatility to work inside and outside (with Matthews gone and Smith and Jeffery on the field, Agholor will likely spend large amounts of time in the slot), and he can also work as a moving chess piece in the offense. On this play, the Eagles use him on a jet sweep:
Agholor deserves credit for effective route running. Playing at the top of the screen here, he doesn’t get targeted (thanks to a sack), but watch the nuance he throws into his route:
This route begins with an in-breaking motion, and as the defender gets inside position against him, Agholor begins to bring his route toward the sidelines. As the defender turns his body, anticipating an out route, Agholor watches him flip those hips and breaks inside for easy separation.
Of course, as Lee Evans could tell you, all the separation in the world can only help if you can be trusted to come down with the ball when it’s thrown your way. Agholor’s hands have a tendency to bounce the ball away. Here, Agholor fails to haul in a potential two-point conversion following Wentz’s touchdown throw:
This is a basic modern NFL goal line pass play. Hollins, stacked ahead of Agholor, will set a pick against the close cornerback, while Agholor runs a slant pattern. The deeper cornerback will be out of position to make a play on the ball, giving Agholor a free shot at the catch. The throw is a bit high, but it careens harmlessly off of Agholor’s hands before a defender makes any contact. If Wentz wants a reliable third down receiver, he’ll be looking somewhere else.
One of the rookie MVPs from the first preseason game was Barnett, the defensive end drafted from Tennessee with Philadelphia’s fourteenth overall pick. Barnett holds the Volunteers’ career sack record, breaking the mark set by Eagles legend Reggie White. No pressure, eh? He didn’t seem fazed by that, tallying two sacks against the Packers.
Barnett isn’t an elite athlete for an edge rusher, but he has two exceptionally polished traits – his ability to bend around the edge without dropping his speed, and an array of handfighting techniques. Building on those, he can be a difference-maker on the defensive line.
Matching up against Packers 2016 first round pick Jason Spriggs, Barnett didn’t win initially. At 6’3″ 259 pounds, he’s not built to win with a bull rush. Spriggs withstood the first blow from Barnett, stayed balanced, and neutralized him.
That’s when Barnett started to take the momentum, by shifting his own momentum. On a subsequent pass play, Barnett started to the outside, clubbed Spriggs’ arms to the side, then ducked back inside. Spriggs was left dumbfounded as Barnett wrapped up Hundley on the sack.
Barnett flashed his ridiculous bend on the second sack, which was more of a lucky trip of the quarterback (but we take those!). He dips to the outside edge and uses a rip move to get underneath the 6’7″ Spriggs. Watch Barnett flex to a nearly 45 degree angle, and even more impressively, stay within about two yards of the initial depth when he began the dip-and-rip. That strength and flexibility is important in a pass rusher, and it’s something Eddie Yarbrough and Jerry Hughes can do effectively, too.
At the moment, the Eagles have Chris Long, Vinny Curry, and Brandon Graham at defensive end. They don’t need Barnett to start for them, but he’ll find his way onto the field before long if he keeps playing like this.
The Eagles spent a second round pick on Washington cornerback Sidney Jones, who isn’t expected to see the field this season after suffering a pre-draft Achilles injury. But third round pick Rasul Douglas, drafted out of West Virginia, is. Until Darby was added, there was an outside chance Douglas could find a starting role over veteran Patrick Robinson, who hasn’t had a great camp. Now, Douglas is more likely going to be used on special teams and as a backup defensive back.
Douglas stood out as a prospect after he notched a nation-leading eight interceptions in his senior season. The 6’2″ 203 pound cornerback has length to spare, and he knows how to use his body like a power forward’s to win at the catch point. On this play against Kansas State, Douglas timed his jump to the incoming pass and wrestled it away from the receiver to snag the interception:
Douglas is a smart player who worked in a mixture of man and zone coverages for the Mountaineers. He can read a quarterback’s eyes, and he took great pleasure in baiting throws that the quarterback would regret. On this play, Douglas sees BYU quarterback Taysom Hill under pressure, stays aware of the hot route, and jumps the pass for an easy pick six when Hill tries to check down.
The weakness to his game is a lack of overall athleticism. With his height and long arms, Douglas looks like an appealing cornerback prospect, but most of his workout numbers would put him closer to safety range – a 4.59 forty yard dash, 33.5 inch vertical leap, and 6.97 second three cone drill are all worse than more than two thirds of NFL cornerback prospects. Because of his lack of speed, Douglas sometimes gives larger-than-ideal cushions on deeper routes. He can also struggle to stop on a dime and contest hitch routes and other quick patterns. On consecutive plays against Kansas State, he gave up chunk yardage because he wasn’t able to stick with his receiver:
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Once the shock and awe wore off after two of the biggest Bills trades in recent memory, a clearer picture has begun to emerge of the events that transpired. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane helped to clarify some points during an afternoon press conference, but stayed pretty close to the company line while doing so. Just like draft picks and any trades, the full magnitude of, and return on, these trades can’t be fully judged until years down the road. However, there is no doubt that these moves have immediately changed the course of the Buffalo Bills for 2017 and beyond.
To recap, the Bills shipped away Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for a second-round pick and cornerback E.J. Gaines. In a corresponding move announced only minutes later, Buffalo sent Ronald Darby to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round selection in the 2018 draft.
While it took fans and the media some time to dissect the moves, each Bills player had his own share of baggage during their time in Buffalo, and they were by no means perfect players. For Watkins, there were no guarantees that he would be a member of the Buffalo Bills after the 2017 season regardless, so the Bills decided to get something for the former first-round pick rather than let him walk away for nothing. As for Darby, his sophomore slump last season definitely didn’t help his cause with the new front office and coaching staff. Another reason he was shown the door was that Darby is better suited (and was drafted) to play corner in a man-to-man defense like the one Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman ran the last two seasons. With McDermott’s defense relying more on zone coverage, it put Darby in an interesting spot. I think Darby has the talent to make that switch in only his third season in the NFL, but now he won’t get the chance to.
The Bills are now especially loaded in next year’s draft, having at least two picks in each of the first three rounds. That bodes well for the future, but the Bills also have ample ammunition if they desire to use some of those draft picks in trades next spring to try and move up to acquire a coveted franchise quarterback.
The loss of Watkins is still going to take time to process, especially after all of the resources the team put into him, but this deal will most likely help his career and the future of the Bills for the long haul. Matthews and Gaines fill roster spots for now, but who knows how long either will spend in a Bills uniform or the impact they will have in the Queen City. Watkins is going to go down as another first round pick who just didn’t work out in Buffalo, but he still has potential to lead the league in receiving one day.
Overall, it was a franchise-altering day in Buffalo that still leaves a ton of unanswered questions with the three weeks of preseason football left to play. After Watkins and Darby, it begs the question as to who and/or what is next. Beane and McDermott have shown they aren’t afraid to make the moves that they feel are best for the team long-term, and Friday’s blockbusters may have just been the beginning.
Nearly everyone expected running back LeSean McCoy to be on the field for at least a couple of drives with the rest of the first-team offense on Thursday, but Buffalo’s most explosive player wasn’t even on the field for a single play. Head coach Sean McDermott explained the team’s decision:
“You know, I’ve been around LeSean, as you guys have heard me say, for a long time and I like where he is at this point in training camp in terms of getting himself ready to play for the season,” he said. “I wanted to get a good look at the other backs and I was impressed with the way some of those running backs performed.”
“Gerald has done some good things. He’s shown an ability to handle more than one position on the defense and in our base packages and also our sub-packages, third down packages and whatnot, I love his toughness. He communicates well [and] he’s a veteran player,” McDermott said. “Reggie’s a young player who’s coming off of an injury and is only going to continue to get better. He’s working extremely hard. I thought he did some good things in the game tonight. Played downhill, played physical, so that will be a fun position to watch moving forward.”
“It’s never a setback. I’m out there playing. Still getting reps, still getting better. I mean it’s been a year since I got done playing but I got to do whatever the coaches need me to do. For me I got to keep getting better and I think about that.”
“I am always concerned any time a player goes down, in particular a quarterback in this case. He’s a tough young man and I love the fact that he bounced back and lead the team a little bit and showed some mental toughness.”
Actual football is back in Buffalo. Although the first preseason game looked more like a sloppy scrimmage, for a Bills team that went through a lot of turnover in the offseason it was an important step.
There were many questions coming into Thursday’s game against Minnesota, including who would step up at wide receiver, the battle for the backup quarterback position, and how the team would respond with an entirely new coaching staff.
Some of those seem to have been partially answered now that the game has finished. Here are five takeaways from Thursday night at New Era Field:
Yarbrough lives up to the hype- If you’ve paid attention to the Bills at all this summer, then you’ve undoubtedly heard from people at training camp about the strong play of defensive end Eddie Yarbrough. On Thursday he illustrated just why he had been getting so much attention at camp and probably opened some eyes around the league in the process. Despite only getting the start because of a banged-up Shaq Lawson, Yarbrough was arguably Buffalo’s best defensive player on the field against the Vikings. He was constantly in the backfield during his extended playing time in the first half and wreaked havoc against Minnesota’s starting offensive line. He recorded three tackles, two quarterback hits, and a sack to help Buffalo’s defense keep Sam Bradford and company off the scoreboard during the first quarter. The 24-year-old looked impressive shrugging off blockers and now has firmly cemented himself in the conversation for one of the team’s last spots on the 53-man roster.
J-Will stepped up- Until Jonathan Williams was pulled from the game with a hamstring injury, he looked dangerous and explosive as he ran all over Minnesota’s defense. After a largely unproductive rookie season, the Bills need their former fifth-round pick to step up and perform as LeSean McCoy‘s backup. Williams took the first step on Thursday, taking advantage of some outstanding blocking, and ran for 39 yards on just four carries. He showed a strong burst out of the backfield, along with the ability to make some guys miss and break tackles. He will be key — especially if McCoy goes down with an injury — to sustaining the league’s top rushing offense from a year ago.
Peterman wins round 1 of backup QB battle- McDermott gave all three of his quarterbacks some solid action during the game, but all eyes were on the rookie from Pittsburgh. While veteran T.J. Yates looked somewhat awkward in the pocket and seemingly afraid to throw the ball down the field, Peterman stepped up and took control of the game on several of Buffalo’s drives. His first career touchdown pass on a fade in the red zone to Dez Lewis was a work of art, and he made several other quality passes on the drive leading up to that touchdown.
Nate Peterman to Dez Lewis…
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 11, 2017
Peterman wasn’t helped by his wide receivers, as reserves such as Taiwan Jones and Rashad Ross had multiple drops. Peterman also showed an ability to escape from the pocket and scramble for first downs, finishing the game with four rushes for 26 yards. It will be interesting to monitor how much playing time Peterman and Yates each get in the coming weeks, and although Yates’s NFL experience is valuable, he has to be feeling some heat from the rookie.
Bills have to work on discipline- Maybe it wasn’t a Rex Ryan problem, after all. Buffalo pledged to work on cleaning up their play on the field in 2017, starting with taking fewer penalties, but it looked like more of the same on Thursday. The totals were 10 penalties for 106 yards. Everything from holding to roughing the passer was called against the Bills, and it wasn’t just an issue for the younger players on the roster. The fair catch interference call in the first quarter went against Taiwan Jones, a seven-year veteran who was brought to Buffalo mainly for his special teams acumen. Of course, it is the first game of the preseason and many kinks still need to be worked out, but with McDermott’s no-nonsense coaching style, this issue shouldn’t become a theme moving forward.
Watkins shines in limited time- It was impossible to miss Sammy Watkins during his quarter of play. He was targeted five times, catching four passes for 39 yards and looking 100 percent. The minor ankle injury that he suffered during practice last week didn’t seem to be hampering him at all, as Watkins worked to get wide open for Taylor several times. Watkins ran several comeback routes that tested his lower body, but he looked like the Watkins from two years ago. McDermott and the training staff are still going to have to monitor him going forward, but it was an encouraging sign for a team that needs some stability at the wide receiver position.
The Buffalo Bills kick off their 2017 season against the Minnesota Vikings at The Cap this Thursday at 7:00 P.M. Most people pay no mind to the preseason, but as an avid football junkie I actually love watching preseason games. These are the games in which you get to watch high draft picks live up to their hype. This is where the undrafted free agents make names for themselves. This is when you finally get to see the veteran players compete against an opposing jersey for the first time in too many months. With that being said, which players should you keep an eye on? We have you covered.
RB Dalvin Cook
The Vikings signed former Raider Latavius Murray in the offseason, but there is no doubt that the future of the position is on the shoulders of their second round pick. Cook should see a few series, and he will be quite the test for the Buffalo defense. Cook can run any type of run concept because he possesses so many skills that great backs exhibit.
His vision often goes unnoticed because he had really good blocking in 2016, but there were so many plays during which he could have been stopped in the backfield, or a play was just shut down, and he was still able to make things happen. On this play, #7 Harold Landry has very good leverage inside and #28 (5th round draft pick for the Bills) Matt Milano set a deep edge to contain Cook.
Cook should probably just put two hands on the ball and get up field, but instead he is able to use his quickness to bounce outside and find a very nice rushing lane.
The combination of vision and quickness really shines through on just about every carry he has.
He has some of the sharpest cuts and is able to plant and drive in ways that help set up blocks or make it easier for his blockers to maintain their leverage. Next thing you know, he’s out the shoot and gaining chunk yards.
Cook’s quickness and balance should be on full display Thursday night. There’s a reason he led the nation with 168.2 yards from scrimmage per game in 2016: he is flat-out talented.
With Cook’s abilities, don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur dials up a couple of screens or pass plays to get Cook in space versus the Bills’ linebackers. This will be a stiff test of a unit that some believe lacks top tier ability in pass coverage.
Cook produced against some of the best competition during his college career, and I expect him to play similarly tomorrow night.
WR Adam Thielen
Thielen is another possible starter who may only see a few series, but who is a very fun player to watch. He had his breakout season last year, when he caught 69 balls for 967 yards and five touchdowns. The Minnesota State graduate has sub 4.5 speed, which allowed him to not only average 14 yards per reception, but also to put up just over 300 yards in YAC in 2016.
He was Pro Football Focus’s 3rd-highest rated WR for guys who took 50% of their teams’ offensive snaps. Thielen was only targeted deep 15 times last year, but he made the best of those opportunities. He caught nine balls for 310 yards and two touchdowns, displaying savvy route running and the ability to separate at all levels of the field.
He is a crafty WR who has good hands and body control. In my opinion, he should have another solid season.
WR Stacey Coley
Coley had a very productive career at the University of Miami, registering 2,218 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns. But the seventh round draft pick had a slow start to his NFL career after battling injuries this offseason.
He has 4.45 speed, so he can get behind defenders. In 2016, he was targeted 101 times , 23 of which were deep looks. Of those, seven were caught for 223 yards and two touchdowns. He is a deceptive route runner, the kind of guy that makes it difficult for defenders to anticipate.
He possesses good hand-eye coordination and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.
If he makes the roster, then it will most likely be because of his special teams ability, which is definitely part of his repertoire.
LB Ben Gedeon
On the defensive side, linebacker Ben Gedeon is a guy who, no matter what tape you throw on, you will see him making plays. I don’t expect his first taste of NFL action on Thursday to be any different. He is currently listed as the third middle linebacker behind Eric Kendricks and Kentrell Brothers, but from all reports he has stolen some snaps at weakside linebacker. I believe putting him at weakside linebacker in the Vikings’ defense could really allow Gedeon to flourish.
There are times on film where he flashes his mental processing so quickly, it’s as if he knew the play before the snap. If put at Will linebacker, then Head Coach Mike Zimmer will be giving Gedeon the ability to just play fast, but in less space than if he was playing Mike LB in their base 4-3 defense.
He doesn’t possess the greatest speed (4.72 forty yard dash), but that’s ok, because his ability to diagnose, leverage, and take good angles to the ball more than make up for it.
Don’t believe me? Watch how he keeps his head in the play by staying with his assignment (RB Dalvin Cook). That is just the perfect display of his key and diagnose skills and use of angles to compensate a lack of speed. Gedeon’s play speed is really good.
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) August 9, 2017
The Vikings’ roster is very impressive, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Two final players to pay attention to are left defensive end Danielle Hunter and backup Brian Robison. There is a heated competition going on at right tackle between the Bills’ Jordan Mills and rookie Dion Dawkins, and these two stellar defensive ends will no doubt give whoever is playing against them trouble. It will be a great litmus test for Mills and Dawkins.
Hunter uses good hand placement, his length and a smooth push-pull move to get the sack on Prescott.
Later in game tries the bull rush again, Free anchors, Hunter responds with push-pull to work free, then bends to QB despite hold pic.twitter.com/B12yEEFPC8
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) July 5, 2017
Welcome Anthony Sambrotto, former BuffaloBills.com contributor. Follow him on Twitter @asambrotto95
While Anquan Boldin’s exact role with the Bills is still to be determined, the veteran wide out will undoubtedly boost a receiving group that has myriad question marks with the first preseason game only days away. With Boldin already cemented to crack the 53-man roster, the question now becomes what his signing will mean to his new teammates.
General manager Brandon Beane met with the media shortly after the Boldin signing was announced and said that how he will be utilized within the Bills offense is ultimately going to be a decision made by the coaches and Boldin’s play on the field.
“He is going to provide depth and he’ll compete to do everything and everybody’s going to compete to start [and] for playing time,” Beane said on Monday. “Again, my job is to bring as many players as I can to help this roster. That’s up to coach [Rick] Dennison, Sean [McDermott], and receivers coach how they work him in.”
Here’s a look at Boldin’s possible ripple effects:
The run game: The run-heavy Bills definitely considered this part of Boldin’s game when they offered him a deal. Boldin is widely considered one of the best blocking receivers in the game and fills a void left by Robert Woods’s departure in free agency. The Bills rely heavily on their wide receivers and tight ends in the blocking department, and one of the game’s top run offenses might have just got even more dangerous.
Sammy Watkins: The only person on Buffalo’s roster that smiled more widely than Tyrod Taylor when Boldin’s signing was announced had to have been Watkins. Although the former first round pick has looked like his old self on the practice field this summer, the acquisition of Boldin will certainly take a great deal of pressure off of Watkins’s shoulders. Boldin and Watkins can each present opposing defenses with different looks, and it gives offensive coordinator Rick Dennison some flexibility in how he wants to use his top playmakers. Boldin has made his money in the slot and over the middle in short yardage situations over the last couple of seasons, but he can still line up on the outside. For Watkins, he has even lined up in the slot on several occasions during camp and even dating back to last season. In 2016, according to Pro Football Focus, Watkins appeared in the slot on 20.7% of his passing snaps. The Boldin signing could allow Watkins line up in the slot more frequently, creating coverage issues in the secondary.
Zay Jones: The rookie has had big expectations follow him around since the Bills took him in the second round in April, but Boldin’s signing could be especially beneficial to Jones. He should now have the ability to ease into an NFL offense, and he now has another veteran presence in the meeting rooms to help him develop and acclimate to the NFL. Without having to give up too much of his playing time, Jones can learn from one of the game’s best receivers over the past decade.
Andre Holmes: Signed to a three-year, $6.5 million contract in the off season, the Bills were eager to make Holmes a big part of their offense . However, Holmes hasn’t been able to consistently hang on to the football so far in training camp; an issue that has plagued him throughout his career has risen to the surface again. Although he is still listed as the number two receiver on the team’s unofficial depth chart, he becomes expendable with the signing of Boldin. Holmes now has a lot to prove over the next several weeks, and while it may be a long shot to say he is in danger of getting cut, his stock within the organization certainly seems to be sliding.
Rod Streater: Called one of the “highlights” of camp by Sean McDermott, the veteran wideout has seemingly surprised just about everyone with his play so far this summer. Although Boldin’s signing has made competition for one of the final spots tighter, if Streater keeps up his solid play as one of Taylor’s favorite targets over the next couple of weeks, then it may be hard for the Bills to send him packing.
The rest of the bunch: Brandon Tate is safe as a return specialist, and he also showed flashes of being a solid depth receiver last season when the offense was ravaged by injuries. There are several names on the bubble that have experience with the Bills who are long shots to make the 53-man roster. Walt Powell, who is suspended the first four games, probably helped his cause because the Bills won’t have to decide on his fate until October. Dez Lewis, who spent the previous two seasons on Buffalo’s practice squad, also seems poised for a pink slip. Other players that were brought in this offseason such as Philly Brown and Jeremy Butler will most likely become casualties in a numbers game due to the signing of Boldin.
I think the Bills keep six wide receivers: Boldin, Watkins, Jones, Tate, Streater and Holmes, with Powell waiting on the suspended list in case of injury over the first month of the season.
Undrafted free agents Brandon Reilly and Daikiel Shorts will probably find a home on Buffalo’s practice squad for the upcoming season, leaving Dez Lewis, Jeremy Butler, Philly Brown, and Rashad Ross without jobs.
After several weeks of speculation and anticipation, the Buffalo Bills officially announced the signing of wide receiver Anquan Boldin on Monday.
Anquan Boldin is in the building! #GoBills
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) August 7, 2017
It is a one-year, $2.75 million deal that includes $1.25 million in incentives, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 36 year old has been a reliable target throughout his 14-year NFL career that has included stops with the Cardinals, Ravens, 49ers, and Lions.
TD Boldin-Stafford checks curl to Jones-DBs all in good trail tech. Checks Riddick-bracketed, escapes pocket & makes a RIDICULOUS throw. pic.twitter.com/OADIGASITU
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) April 8, 2017
Boldin spent two years with Tyrod Taylor in Baltimore and played a crucial role in Baltimore’s 2012 Super Bowl run.
While never the fastest player on the field, he was a model of consistency based on effort. His bruising physicality on each play continues to stand out. For the Bills, Boldin will immediately be thrust into a big role with a wide receiving group that needed an upgrade. Many question marks remain at the position after Sammy Watkins and Zay Jones, but the signing of Boldin will give the team depth and an experienced starter that elevates the entire unit.
Boldin is also one of the best receivers in the league at the goal line and in short yardage situations. He caught 41 passes for first downs in Detroit last season, with 20 of those coming on third downs (check out Sam Gold’s video breakdown below).
A majority of his snaps were from the slot (82.9%). His toughness and ability to read coverages will make him a major asset to Tyrod Taylor, much like he was to Matt Stafford. Boldin racked up seven touchdowns from the slot while a Lion, the 2nd most in the NFL that season.
Another area that he will help Taylor is over the middle. In 2016, Boldin caught 34 passes in this area of the field, an area that the offense needs to exploit more often.
With the Bills losing Justin Hunter in free agency and questions about Charles Clay’s health going forward, Boldin steps up as a needed red zone threat.
Despite his age, Boldin has only missed three games over the past five seasons. The Florida State product put up good numbers in Detroit last season, hauling in 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns. Those eight touchdowns were four more than any player on the Bills had last season.
Here at Cover 1 we try to bring content that the fans demand in a quality, digestable format. With that said, Cover 1 | The Podcast will undergo a format change over the next couple of weeks, as we at Cover 1 have agreed to take over the Locked On Bills Podcast.
That means we will have 3 to 4 podcasts per week, typically in the 15-40 minute range.
Although our title will change, I will continue to host with Nate Geary, Kevin Massare, Jon Vinson, and the whole Cover 1 crew. Apart from rebranding, the only major change will be an increase in the frequency of our shows.
The partnership with Locked On and their podcast network will allow us to grow and collaborate with many other bright football minds while still maintaining creative control over content.
What can you expect from us? We will continue to cover the Bills just like we have been: with quality analysis and knowledge that can be digested in audio, video, and written form. You will still be able to find our podcasts in video form on our YouTube channel. We will still be doing video breakdowns, scouting reports, and player evaluations on the site and YouTube. The Cover 1 site will not change; all of the in-depth analysis will still be found there. Locked on Bills will be found on all major platforms and locations that Cover 1 | The Podcast was.
In season, we will be doing post-game reactions on Mondays, discussing the upcoming opponent from a team perspective on Tuesdays, and breaking down film, schemes, or specific matchups on Wednesdays and/or Thursdays. Additionally, we will have guests from opposing teams’ podcasts on frequently. All of this is fluid and subject to change.
Cover 1 | The Podcast will continue, but will now shift focus to college football. As you know, I am heavily involved in scouting with NDT Scouting, so I am bringing in contributors to take over the podcast who will shift the focus to the NFL Draft, Scouting, and (of course) film analysis. The details are to be determined.
We will record our first podcast under Locked On Bills next weekend with our post-game reactions to the Bills vs. Vikings preseason matchup. In the meantime, get to iTunes and subscribe to the Locked On Bills podcast!!!
We hope that you continue to follow Cover 1 and our new podcast venture with the Locked On Podcast network. You will not be disappointed!
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