The Buffalo Bills earned their ninth consecutive preseason win Saturday, thanks to a last-minute field goal to beat the Indianapolis Colts 27-24. The Bills – who rested nearly all of their starters – were sloppy, turning the ball over five times while being penalized 11 times for 90 yards. But despite these lapses, the game provided a lot of insight into how the team views many of the second and third-stringers who are fighting for either roster spots or roles on the team.
Here’s what we learned from Buffalo’s victory.
WR Khalil Shakir is legit
Buffalo drafted wide receiver Khalil Shakir in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL draft and the rookie out of Boise State made his presence known early and often. The Boise State product reeled in all five of his targets for 92 receiving yards. Shakir consistently got open against Indianapolis’ first-string defense and showcased his nifty route-running ability that made him such an attractive prospect leading up to the draft.
While Shakir’s production in the passing game was impressive, it was his usage on offense that was truly eye-opening. Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey put a lot on the Day 3 draft pick’s plate. Shakir lined up all over the field – both outside and inside, as well as in an H-Back role in the backfield.
LOVE THIS— Anthony Cover 1 (@Pro__Ant) August 14, 2022
Khalil Shakir lined up as the Z, comes in short motion to attach to the formation, fires between the TE & RT, & fits up the box safety w/ tenacity. His versatility allows access to more of the menu from 11 personnel#Bills #BillsMafia #GoBills pic.twitter.com/8gFu9nJg66
Most teams are notoriously vanilla when it comes to schemes and different looks (or lack thereof) during the preseason, so it was interesting to see Shakir used in so many different ways. While Buffalo is set at the top of their receiver depth chart with Stefon Diggs, Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie locked into starting jobs, don’t be surprised to see Shakir make an impact this season, even in a minimal role.
Rookie CBs handle business
Brandon Beane traded up to select Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft, and against the Colts, we got a glimpse into future of the Bills’ cornerback position. Elam, who has been working on playing off coverage throughout training camp, got the opportunity to flash his skills in man coverage, recording a crucial pass breakup early in the first quarter against Indianapolis receiver Alec Pierce.
Kaiir Elam wasn't perfect in his debut for the #Bills yesterday, but the first round CB out of Florida had some quality reps, especially early in the game. Defends the slant vs 2nd rounder Alec Pierce perfectly and gets the PBU. This was on 3rd down. pic.twitter.com/QaGUGRPvjG— Mike Giardi (@MikeGiardi) August 14, 2022
But Elam wasn’t the only Bills rookie cornerback to make an impact. The buzz surrounding sixth-rounder Christian Benford has been growing by the day and the Villanova product made sure that he ended his day with a big play as well. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder had a huge pass breakup on fourth down against Michael Pittman, one of the league’s top young wideouts. With Tre’Davious White sidelined, Benford has worked his way up to the first-team defense over Dane Jackson, and fans got to see why with his outing on Saturday.
Elam was drafted with the expectation of starting, but if White is to miss any time, it looks like Leslie Frazier and Buffalo’s coaching staff are confident that Benford can fill the void.
Is O.J. Howard on the bubble?
When the Bills signed tight end O.J. Howard in free agency, fans were brimming with excitement at the possibilities he could bring to the offense. The 6-foot-6, 251-pounder is a physical freak but hasn’t been the player many believed that the former five-star recruit could be.
Howard’s physical gifts are undeniable and it’s obvious why coaches want to get their hands on him. But Howard has reportedly been underwhelming throughout training camp and failed to make an impact on Saturday, seeing one red zone target that fell incomplete. Howard was playing late into the fourth quarter – a time typically reserved for the true bottom of the roster players that find themselves cut sooner, rather than later.
It’s too early to declare Howard as a true bubble player, considering the lack of depth in the tight end room behind Dawson Knox and the team’s hopes of utilizing more 12 personnel. But ultimately, Howard needs to prove that he can make a difference on offense – even if it’s just in a blocking role – to justify a role on this team. And so far, it doesn’t seem like he’s done that. How, and when Howard is used going forward will be interesting to watch as Buffalo begins to trim the roster down to 53.
DT Tim Settle flashes
The Bills made some big-time signings on defense during the offseason, adding defensive end Von Miller and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. But Tim Settle was billed as one of the most underrated signings among the entire league. Settle, who spent his first four seasons buried behind Jonathan Allen and Da’Ron Payne on the Washington Commanders’ depth chart, should have the opportunity for more playing time in Buffalo, even if he’s still a reserve. The 25-year-old made his presence known on the first snap of the game, flashing incredible power and athleticism while mauling All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson.
No big deal, just Tim Settle walloping the piss out of All-World Guard Quentin Nelson… if you like that sort of thing pic.twitter.com/jIv8F0Q0gq— Greg Cover 1 🏈 (@GregTompsett) August 14, 2022
Jones and Ed Oliver are the sure-fire starters on the Bills’ interior, but Settle will see significant snaps. If his two-tackle performance Saturday is any indication of what to expect going forward, the Bills’ defensive line will be a problem for opposing offenses this season.