It is finally the first game week of the 2022 NFL season, a campaign that fans of the Buffalo Bills hope – and expect – will not conclude until February. But before that happens, the Bills have some things to sort out. After three weeks of training camp, Buffalo will get to evaluate itself in live game action on Saturday as it kicks off its preseason against the Indianapolis Colts. Which Bills have the most to prove in the first of three preseason games?
As I have touched on in an earlier piece, Isaiah McKenzie put some distance between he and Jamison Crowder for the number one slot option on the depth chart while the latter was out of training camp battling injury. That said, Crowder is still the more experienced of the two and has had a far more productive career. With McKenzie out during Monday’s practice, Crowder ran with the ones most of the day, perhaps closing the gap. A strong preseason performance would go a long way in securing a spot at the top of the depth chart.
At this point, there isn’t a ton we are going to learn about Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, or Duke Johnson that we don’t already know. With a still uncertain running rotation, James Cook has the opportunity to flash the traits that got him drafted. Look for the Bills to put him in opportunities to display his pass catching ability and speed, which make him unique among the other three backs. As a second round pick, the Bills undoubtedly want Cook to play a big part in the offense in 2022, but unseating Singletary has proven to be a tall task.
Like the running back room, we all know what Matt Haack is and what he brings. It is up to Matt Araiza to unseat him. As I have outlined before, Araiza did not average as much hang time as his peers in college. To be the Week 1 punter, ‘Punt God’ must show more than a booming leg, but also the ability to allow his coverage to get downfield. He has already had punts throughout camp in the mid-to-high 4.0 second-range in regards to hang time – a far cry from his college average of 3.92 seconds. Secondly, we will be watching him on field goals. For all his shortcomings, Haack was a near-perfect holder in 2021. Araiza has shown little worry about being a first-time holder, but he still must prove he can hold in a live game.
Okay, I am cheating a little bit here. I am lumping all three edge defenders into one group because they are all competing for the same thing; who gets the snaps behind Greg Rousseau and Von Miller? Each of the three have made their impact felt at some point during the first two weeks of training camp. AJ Epenasa has had the strongest camp of the three and likely comes into it with a slight lead on Lawson and Basham.
The Bills hope first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam plays a significant role in the team’s Super Bowl push this season, and that is a lot to put on the shoulders of a rookie. Elam’s starting spot is not likely in jeopardy like the previous players mentioned, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something to prove in the preseason. Elam must prove he can play his physical brand of coverage that has become a staple of his training camp battles with Stefon Diggs without being a constant target of flags by the officials.