The Buffalo Bills unceremoniously capped off their 2022 preseason Friday night, losing 21-0 to the Carolina Panthers in the finale. They played no starters, wanting to see what the backups had in them for their final chance to compete for a roster spot, and while some shined despite the score, others did not.
We’re going to look at four players whose stock is on the rise, and four players whose stock is dwindling as the Bills head into their final cutdown.
Isaiah Hodgins has a difficult path to the roster due to the fact that the Bills have a very crowded WR room and his play on special teams has been less than spectacular. However, Hodgins has been a consistent performer as a receiver all through training camp and the preseason, and it would not be surprising if a team offered a late-round pick before the Bills put him on waivers (assuming that is the route they take with him). Regardless of whether or not he makes this team, Hodgins will almost certainly be contributing to an NFL roster on game day during the 2022 NFL season.
The unofficial Jordan Poyer replacement has been very consistent in the preseason and solid on special teams. Hamlin has been what the Bills expected him to be coming in as a late-round DB, and they have coached him up very well as they often do. Hamlin is a lock for the team, and a name to keep an eye on during the regular season if injuries occur in the secondary.
Bobby Hart is not a spectacular player. His reps at left tackle leave a lot to be desired. However, the move to the guard position seems to have offered a bit more comfort to him. He is performing at a much more acceptable level, clearly taking on the coaching from new OL coach Aaron Kromer. Hart has made this team enough times before he started performing better in this preseason, and NFL teams are always hungry and desperate for OL depth, so it seems that the oft-maligned Hart is going to be making this roster.
The Bills have a very tough decision to make when it comes to the RB room. They extended FB/TE Reggie Gilliam during training camp, so he is a roster lock along with Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, and James Cook. Duke Johnson and Raheem Blackshear make this position group very difficult to project. Johnson and Blackshear have both been very impressive during the preseason, running effectively and catching well out of the backfield. Johnson was brought in initially to replace losing out on J.D. McKissic. Blackshear was a simple UDFA dart throw. It’s more than possible that they keep one over the other, but the other complication here is the Bills’ fascination with and commitment to Taiwan Jones.
This team views Taiwan Jones as a star on special teams, “an elite gunner” as Brandon Beane has described him in the past. Neither Duke nor Blackshear contribute in that way on teams, and the Bills have valued high-level special teams players during the McDermott-Beane era. But they also value versatility, and unfortunately, Jones is simply never going to be a big contributor to this team on offense. Regardless of who they keep, the Bills are very fortunate to be in a spot where they have to make these sorts of tough decisions, rather than wondering and hoping that someone stands out, they’re having to decide which standout is going to have to leave.
It’s been a long road for Tommy Sweeney, but it also appears that he has reached the end of his road with the Bills. Sweeney has been inconsistent during preseason games, particularly as a blocker which is where he needs to be consistent to make this roster and provide value. He’s also faced quite a bit of competition between OJ Howard and Quintin Morris. Howard is no roster lock either, but Morris has been getting more buzz as the preseason went along. In any case, the Bills do not seem to be overly enamored with Sweeney, and it looks like Friday night was his last time in a Bills uniform.
Tanner Gentry, much like Isaiah Hodgins, was always going to have an uphill battle to make this roster. While he has been a better contributor on special teams than Hodgins, he also simply hasn’t produced nearly well enough as a WR to justify keeping a roster spot for the former college teammate of Josh Allen. While he may find another team willing to take him on, it seems the Bills likely won’t be saving a roster spot for him, though it’s more than possible that they’re willing to keep the door open for him on the practice squad.
Terrel Bernard is not ready for 60 minutes of regular season football. And that’s okay, he doesn’t have to be ready in 2022. Bernard has shown plenty of flashes in the preseason, displaying his explosiveness and athleticism on blitzes and shooting through run lanes when they’re open to make tackles in the backfield. His instincts and ability to process quickly are still the biggest questions for him, and those are things that teams take heavy advantage of when it comes to linebackers. This is not to denigrate or attack the third-round pick but there is a reason why Tyrel Dodson is listed comfortably as the third linebacker for this team at the moment, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be changing anytime soon.
It’s felt like a very long time since Bills fans have heard any positive news about the former 2020 second-round pick. After struggling to make an impact in his first two years, it appears that Epenesa is in the same boat again, but with much more competition. Von Miller and Greg Rousseau are certainly safe as the starters, and it seems that Boogie Basham has taken some steps forward, but needs some more work on consistency. Shaq Lawson, on the other hand, has been a pillar of consistency and energy all throughout the preseason, and the Bills are stuck in a bit of a quandary at the EDGE position. They might be able to sell off Epenesa for a pick, but it seems unlikely that he’ll fetch a high enough price for the Bills to justify moving on from him as they did with Cody Ford earlier this week.