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 (@Cover1) 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.