With an exciting weekend of preseason football and a round of roster cuts behind us, we have a clearer picture of the 2022 Buffalo Bills roster. We saw rookies like Christian Benford, Khalil Shakir, and Kaiir Elam flash. We saw new additions like Tim Settle disrupt the Indianapolis Colts’ first-team offense. We even got a highlight 82-yard punt. (How often do we say punt and highlight in the same sentence?)
As we head into Buffalo’s preseason Week 2 matchup with the Denver Broncos, what questions should we ask about the Bills?
How will the bottom of the Wide Receiver Depth Chart Fill Out?
At this point, we can comfortably lock three wide receivers into roster spots: Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis, and Isaiah McKenzie. Fifth-round pick Khalil Shakir, the team’s leading receiver Saturday, can also be safely penciled in.
That leaves four players fighting for two or three spots in the wide receiver room. Jamison Crowder has had the most career production in this group, but his inability to stay healthy in camp led to McKenzie locking down the slot position. Last week’s interception off his hands doesn’t help his case either. His dead cap hit of $1.8 million dollars could be tough for the Bills to sallow, but his spot is not locked at this point.
Second, you have Jake Kumerow. Kumerow has been a valuable special teams player for Buffalo for the last season and a half but doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, as displayed by his fumble against the Colts.
Isaiah Hodgins is the hot name right now among Bills fans. He has a unique size (6-foot-3) and skill to offer the offense but, to this point, has not shown that he can be a special team contributor, only coming in to block on a couple of kickoff returns on Saturday.
The last name worth mentioning is Tavon Austin. He missed Saturday’s game but is currently listed first on the team’s depth chart at punt returner. If Austin can fend off Shakir (who is currently listed second), he could find himself on the 53-man roster.
Can These Late Round Draft Picks Find a Role?
Saturday was a big day for two players who were afterthoughts when they were drafted earlier this year, but have played well throughout camp and will now force Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier to make some challenging decisions. Christian Benford allowed nine yards on one reception and had a pass breakup on Saturday. Coaches have been praising him all camp, with Frazier noting the game never seems too big for the small school prospect. With Dane Jackson resting, Benford was the starting corner opposite Kaiir Elam, and the pair played well against a first-string offense. Benford is listed behind Dane Jackson on the Bills’ depth chart, but he is playing his way into a role during the regular season.
The other player is Baylon Spector. Spector led the Bills’ defense in tackles Saturday, tied for first in stops, and graded out as the team’s best run defender per PFF. Spector played in every facet of special teams, except field goal kicking as well. With Andre Smith suspended to start the season, can Spector find his way onto the opening day roster?
Can Araiza Display Touch?
Matt Araiza appears to be on his way to winning the punting job. The Bills got to see the leg that made him famous get unleashed on Saturday with an 82-yard punt that carried a 4.22-second hangtime, already above his college average. Araiza also was a flawless holder, including holding in a high-pressure situation to win the game.
There is one skill left to demonstrate. Like Ken Dorsey said earlier this week, having a punter that allows you to flip the field will allow the Bills to be more aggressive on offense, but at the same time, you hope not to be punting from inside the 20 regularly. It is more likely that many of the Bills’ punts will come from closer to midfield. The question remains with “Punt God”: Can he pin teams deep? An 82-yard punt netting out to 62 yards is not a problem. But a 55 or 60-yard punt that nets out to 35 or 40 yards doesn’t help the defense much. Bills coaches should be looking to get him into those situations against the Broncos this weekend.