The Buffalo Bills have just about filled their entire 90-man roster as we head into the summer months. With voluntary OTAs set to begin on May 22, most of those players will begin competing for a roster spot with their peers. There are plenty of locks to win those battles, but it’s the open spots that provide the most intrigue.
With open spots come dark-horse candidates to claim them. Who are they and what do they bring to the Bills? Let’s discuss.
QUARTERBACK: Matt Barkley
Kyle Allen is the expected QB2 for the 2023 Bills but he’s far from a lock. In Kyle Allen’s last 100 NFL pass attempts he’s gone 61/100 for 570 yards, a 3:4 TD:INT, and a Passer Rating of 70.0. Compare those to his competition for the role, Matt Barkley, and a surprising story is set to unfold. In Barkley’s last 100 NFL pass attempts he’s gone 55/100 for 806 yards, a 3:4 TD:INT, and a Passer Rating of 74.8. Neither will bring recently impressive numbers with them to camp, but a competition that many think is already over is closer than we’ve been led to believe.
RUNNING BACK: Isaiah Bowser
Since the departure of Mike Gillislee, the Bills have been in search of a power back. Damien Harris and Latavius Murray were added to the Bills this offseason, bringing with them a proven track record of power running and a veteran presence that is set to provide intangible benefits to the Bills. It’s a UDFA that earned his way onto the roster through an impressive rookie minicamp that may crash the party, though. Isaiah Bowser, the 5’11” 217lb running back out of UCF comes to Buffalo as a bruiser with a skillset that could endear him to the Bills. In college, Bowser ran for a first down or touchdown on an impressive 28.1% of his attempts. To put that into perspective, the 12th overall pick from the 2023 NFL Draft, Jahmyr Gibbs, ran for a first down or touchdown on 26.6% of his attempts.
Isaiah Bowser 👀 #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/Egm6kEumXV
— Air Raid | Buffalo (@TheBillsGuys) May 14, 2023
WIDE RECEIVER: Tyrell Shavers
When it comes to roster locks Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and Deonte Harty are as close to locks as players can be in mid-May. That leaves two or three more open spots at wide receiver that will go to Khalil Shakir, Trent Sherfield, Justin Shorter, and anyone else willing to compete this summer. One such player that could have a say here is rookie wide receiver, Tyrell Shavers. Shavers consistently grew as a pass catcher during his five-year college career that included stops at Alabama, Mississippi State, and San Diego State. With a way to go before he becomes a competent NFL receiver, it’s not his skillset on offense that could earn him a roster spot, but more so what he brings on special teams. With 393 snaps in phase three, including work on both kick/punt return as a blocker and punt coverage as a gunner, Shavers has a legitimate path to make the Bills roster.
TIGHT END: Reggie Gilliam
The addition of Dalton Kincaid means a massive uptick in 12-personnel usage by the Bills. With that comes an extra emphasis on the reserve tight end role, making Quintin Morris an important part of the Bills’ offseason plan. The 48-man roster crunch likely relegates Morris to a healthy gameday scratch though, as the Bills try to assure consistent contributors are active. This sets up a scenario where the versatile Reggie Gilliam has a more meaningful role in 2023. A key cog on special teams and the Bills’ only fullback, Gilliam’s ability to play multiple positions will be integral to the Bills’ offense in 2023. A pseudo-13-personnel with Kincaid out wide is on the table and provides some matchup nightmares for opponents, something the Bills will try to generate early and often this season.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Richard Gouraige
Dion Dawkins (LT), Connor McGovern (LG), Mitch Morse (C), O’Cyrus Torrence or Ryan Bates (RG), and Spencer Brown (RT) have the Bills’ offensive line all but set for the upcoming season. There is a UDFA that could shake it up a bit though, priority UDFA Richard Gouraige. Gouraige spent five years blocking in the SEC including 1197 snaps at guard and 1714 snaps at left tackle. Through just under 3000 snaps, he allowed only five sacks as a premier pass-blocking offensive lineman. Though he does project more as a guard in the NFL, his upside would be pushing Spencer Brown for playing time at right tackle. His downside? Legitimate competition for David Quessenberry as the non-center versatile player the Bills highly covet. It’s an uphill battle for any UDFA to make this roster but if one has a shot, it’s Gouraige.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Shane Ray
The biggest remaining question for the Bills is when Von Miller will be ready for action. Optimists suggest he could be ready for Week 1 while a more realistic timetable seems to be one like that of Tre’Davious White in 2022 (return around Thanksgiving). The result is a Bills team that will be in desperate need of traditional pass rushers off the edge setting up a battle for DE4. Boogie Basham has a tenuous grasp on that spot with a high-potential player like Kingsley Jonathan nipping at his heels. A recent veteran addition, many believe to just be a fun story may have a real shot here though, Shane Ray. Ray saw his NFL career derailed by injuries and inconsistent play but after a rookie minicamp invite, impressed enough to earn a 90-man roster spot. Back in 2016, alongside Von Miller in Denver, Ray flashed borderline elite abilities amassing eight sacks for the Broncos. Eight sacks would be a boon for the Bills in 2023 and would be tied for the third most by a Bills player in a single season since 2015.
LINEBACKER: Baylon Spector
Heading into camp, there is an open competition for starting middle linebacker following the departure of Tremaine Edmunds. 2022 third-round pick, Terrel Bernard, and 2023 third-round pick, Dorian Williams, seem to have the inside track for the role while veteran linebackers A.J. Klein and Tyrel Dodson are also in play. For the second straight year though, a seventh-round pick may have a shot at being a Week 1 starter at an integral spot on the Bills defense. In 2022, that was Dane Jackson at CB1, and in 2023 that could be Baylon Spector at MLB. Spector possesses elite instincts and the athleticism to be a three-down sideline-to-sideline linebacker. A lack of size and some inconsistent play at Clemson led to him being the fourth-to-final linebacker taken in the 2022 NFL Draft but sets up the chance he could be one of the biggest draft steals in recent years. He’s by no means the favorite to win this role but if any of the dark horses in this writeup have a shot at consistent playing time, it’s Spector.
DEFENSIVE BACK: Alex Austin
The Bills very well may have the deepest secondary in the entire NFL. Their backups could start on multiple other NFL teams and their starters are mostly All-Pro caliber players. That means cracking the Bills’ roster as a defensive back will be incredibly difficult, but one player has a legitimate shot at doing just that. The eighth-to-last pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Alex Austin may force the Bills to keep him away from waivers as a talented player who had an odd fall in the draft. The developmental back was a projected early day three pick but fell to a point where the Bills had no choice but to pick him. Expect the Bills to give Austin work at outside corner, slot corner, and safety in camp as they prepare him for the future, a future that could see him leverage his eerily similar measurables to be the heir apparent to another Oregon State alumni…Jordan Poyer.
#Bills Alex Austin
◾️Oregon State ('19-'22)
◾️10 Split: 1.51
◾️7th Round Pick
◾️49th DB Selected#Bills Jordan Poyer
◾️Oregon State ('09-'12)
◾️10 Split: 1.51
◾️7th Round Pick
◾️46th DB Selected
— Hänsel (@UberHansen) May 3, 2023