The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their OTAs last week and begin minicamp on Tuesday. While the pads aren’t on during OTAs, there were a handful of players that caught the eye of the coaching staff, while we were able to get a glimpse at how the early pecking order on the depth chart looked. Buffalo underwent significant roster turnover during the offseason and as expected, all eyes were on both of their first-round draft picks, Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds.
But as the real competition begins, here are the top storylines Bills fans should follow throughout minicamp.
How quickly will Josh Allen move up the depth chart?
Buffalo traded up in the 2018 NFL Draft to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen with the No. 7 overall pick. Despite his incredible physical tools, the 22-year old spent the majority of OTAs taking snaps with the third-team offense.
By all accounts, Allen had an up-and-down stretch of practices, which was expected by the raw, but gifted. He wowed those in attendance with his incredible arm strength but also made some poor decisions that resulted in interceptions.
Coach Sean McDermott discussed Allen’s role as the No. 3 quarterback and when asked about the possibility of him seeing first-team reps, the second-year head coach made it clear that he was going to be patient.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“We’ll just see, it’s a fluid situation. It’s all part of doing what’s best for A., our football team, and B., Josh’s development overall,” McDermott said. “I’m not going to say I’m not going to do it [play Allen with the first team]. It’s just, what’s the right thing to do at the right time, based on our plans. But overall, A.J. and Nate will run with the ones.”[/perfectpullquote]
A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman split the first-team reps but it’s hard to imagine Allen not getting a shot with the starters. Physically, he’s one of the more gifted passers in the NFL, but for now, McDermott seems content with making Allen earn that right.
Can Shaq Lawson finally put it together?
Since the Bills drafted defensive end Shaq Lawson with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the former Clemson star has been a disappointment. He’s dealt with injuries and a position switch, but the former ACC Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t come close to flashing the skills that allowed him to notch 123 tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks during his collegiate career.
Lawson is just 23-years old so it’s a bit early to write him off just yet. After a disappointing rookie season, he played 11 games in 2017, making 10 starts and recording 17 tackles with four sacks.
However, that wasn’t enough to instill much confidence in McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane, as Buffalo signed edge rusher Trent Murphy in free agency. Lawson will be competing with Murphy, along with Eddie Yarbrough – who beat him out for the starting job last season – and Owa Odighizuwa, a former second-round draft pick with enormous potential.
McDermott challenged Lawson, stating that the third-year pass rusher needs to ‘step up’ while speaking to the media during OTAs.
[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Like most of our guys, in this case, Shaq, this is a time for us to grow, to learn, and in this case, for Shaq, it’s time that he steps up,” McDermott said. “He’s adopting the habits of what it takes to be successful in this league on and off the field, and he’s consistent both in his approach off the field as he is on the field.[/perfectpullquote]
Lawson didn’t deflect when discussing McDermott’s comments in an appearance on WROC.
“I’m a former first-round pick. It’s time for me to show why I got drafted in the first round,” Lawson said. “It’s time to do my job and not let these Bills fans down and the coaches down.”
Bills’ Tremaine Edmunds managing enormous expectations
After moving up for Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills made another huge deal, trading up to grab linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The 6-foot-5, 252-pounder out of Virginia Tech was just 19-years old on draft day and is set to become the youngest player to start Week 1 in NFL history.
Edmunds terrorized opposing offenses in his two years as the Hokies’ starting linebacker, racking up 213 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, one interception, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles. The young Buffalo Bills’ rookie has already turned heads after three weeks of padless practices.
Veteran linebacker Lorenzo Alexander sang his praises, stating that he’d be ‘shocked’ if Edmunds wasn’t an All-Pro within two-to-three seasons. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier raved about his maturity level, noting how surprised he was at Edmunds’ ability to command respect from his teammates in such a short timespan. Tre’Davious White called him an ‘alpha male’ before calmly expressing his belief that Edmunds was already one of the best linebackers in the NFL.
Edmunds brushed off the praise, explaining that the veterans on defense were helping him immensely. But as the season inches closer, the already high expectations for the rookie will only grow. Edmunds will undoubtedly have his share of mistakes, as all rookies do, but if he continues to do what he’s done for the last several years, Buffalo could very well have a superstar on their hands.
Who will step up at wide receiver?
One of the biggest debates regarding the Buffalo Bills’ roster as training camp approaches is how the wide receivers will fare. Bleacher Report recently ranked the Bills’ wide receiver corps as the NFL’s worst and it’s hard to find a strong argument against that claim.
The team traded for Kelvin Benjamin at the deadline last season and the massive 6-foot-5 wideout caught just 16 passes for 217 receiving yards and one touchdown in six games while dealing with a meniscus injury.
Zay Jones, who was Buffalo’s second-round draft pick last year, struggled mightily during his rookie campaign. After setting the all-time NCAA record for receptions (399) at ECU, Jones caught just 27 passes on 74 targets for 316 receiving yards and two scores in 15 games (10 starts).
Buffalo signed veteran slot receiver Jeremy Kerley in free agency, but the 29-year old has hardly been a difference maker in his seven-year career. The 5-foot-9, 188-pounder has caught 268 passes for 3,109 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s a reliable chain mover but shouldn’t be expected to be a huge playmaker by any means.
Perhaps the most intriguing options to keep an eye on are the young, “no-name” receivers on the team. The Bills used their final two draft picks on Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud and North Carolina’s Austin Prohel.
McCloud caught 127 passes for 1,226 yards and four touchdowns in three years with the Tigers. He’ll provide special teams value also, as he averaged 9.7 yards-per-punt return and 29.4 yards-per-kick return in his career.
Prohel is the son of Ricky Prohel, a 17-year NFL veteran, and the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder played four years for the Tarheels with the Tarheels where he caught 91 passes for 1,265 yards and five scores. He’s small in stature but has adequate speed and wins with his precise route running. He should be able to contribute both outside and in the slot.