Buffalo Bills’ fans have been starving for any news coming out of training camp as they anticipate a potentially once-in-a-lifetime type season. Topics ranging from real football news to turkey burgers are getting gobbled up by a fanbase that can’t get enough coverage of their favorite team. We have all enjoyed watching Isaiah McKenzie taking advantage of this opportunity, every eye has turned toward rookie CB Kaiir Elam as he prepares to fill an important role for a Super Bowl contender, and most everybody drooled over the the red helmet Josh Allen wore.
But there are some players that have fallen out of the spotlight a little bit. Maybe they have not had a training camp full of fireworks, maybe they simply didn’t shine as bright as the breakout players next to them, or maybe they aren’t part of a heated, drag out battle for punter. Whatever the reason, these names haven’t had the spotlight during training camp.
Preseason games whet our football appetite, but the performances can be underwhelming, especially when the games get into the second half and many players who won’t see regular season rosters are getting the majority of snaps. But it only takes one play to remember the spark these athletes can generate, particularly when the tinder is as ready to catch as Bills Mafia is right now.
With necessary caveat that playing time in preseason games is unpredictable, here are three players we’re going to suddenly remember and begin talking about on Sunday after even as little as one play on Saturday against the Colts.
DaQuan Jones is a mammoth of a human at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, and is an upgrade over the reduced Star Lotulelei that played in the second half of last season. His acquisition was overshadowed by the massive signing of Von Miller, but his impact on the DL and second level defenders should not be underestimated.
A significant part of what Lotulelei was supposed to bring to the table was run stopping. Even in a slightly down year for his career, Jones’ run-stopping ability was several magnitudes better than what Lotulelei was able to offer in 2021. In the chart below, “AVDT” stands for Average Depth of Tackle, meaning on average, how far beyond the line of scrimmage did he make his run-stopping tackles. Jones’ 2.3 was good for 31st among DTs who played at least 50% of run snaps, tied with players like Chris Jones and former Bill Harrison Phillips and ahead of Dexter Lawrence and Jonathan Allen. (All stats from PFF).
It will take one time of Jones pushing the center 3 yards backwards while also maintaining two gaps for us to be talking about him on Sunday.
Trying to watch Jeffery Simmons and getting distracted by DaQuan Jones (NT). What a rep. pic.twitter.com/aEOhYJfTsM— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) July 1, 2021
I included Zack Moss in the Bold Predictions article because too many of us have written him off as a afterthought given his struggles last year. Brandon Beane said that disappointing season may be explained away by his lingering ankle injury, and we should hold out hope that Moss might still be the player he was at the end of 2020. Most fans have a recency bias in their opinions about players, and, honestly, Moss had very little good film in 2021’s second half, but if his ankle injury truly was hindering his ability to cut, push off, and change direction, then his performance would be dramatically negated.
Moss may feel he has something to prove to fans, doubters, and possibly even himself. On Sunday, we’ll be talking about the Bills’ dynamic backfield and how it might return to more of a 60/40 split between Devin Singletary and Moss, with James Cook getting the majority of RB targets.
Austin gave us a few highlights early on in camp, but the furor over him has died down considerably. As Isaiah McKenzie’s stock has shot up, the idea of Austin potentially making the final roster has diminished. Austin still has speed after nearly a decade in the league (he was part of the EJ Manuel draft!), and his comparables on Mockdraftable include Desean Jackson and John Brown. There is still danger in those legs even if it’s not what it was once.
Austin only had three punt returns in 2020 and followed that up with merely two in 2021. He hasn’t returned punts regularly since 2016, but the Bills’ punt returner job is up for grabs, and things are even more uncertain if McKenzie becomes a starter, which would probably reduce his role as a returner since McDermott has a history of not utilizing returners in key roles on offense or defense. Listed as the No. 1 punt returner on Buffalo’s first depth chart, Austin should get at least a few return chances versus the Colts. It would take one good return where Austin displays his speed and movement skills to titillate, tantalize, and get you fantasizing about punt return house calls against the Chiefs.
One last thing to hope none of us are talking about after Saturday’s game is injuries. There have already been too many actual injuries and injury scares. Just get out of the preseason healthy, boys.
The Bills’ roster is loaded with good players, and many have deservedly earned extra attention so far this preseason, but all it takes is one play to get everybody talking.