The Buffalo Bills begin training camp Sunday, July 24 at St John Fisher College and expectations are sky-high after the team’s infamous “13 seconds” loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs. Long gone are the “Playoff Caliber” days of the Sean McDermott era, and failing to reach the Super Bowl this season will be a failure in the eyes of most fans and pundits.
While the core of the roster is headlined by stars such as Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Tre White, there are several players looking to either make a name for themselves, prove doubters wrong, or cement themselves among the top-tier at their position during the 2022 NFL Season.
Here are three Buffalo Bills with the most on the line entering training camp.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
There isn’t a more polarizing player on Buffalo’s roster than fifth-year linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The 24-year old former first-round draft pick and team captain is a two-time Pro Bowler that’s tallied over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons. He’s an athletic freak, standing 6-foot-5, 255-pounds and possesses incredible range in pass coverage to go with superb intelligence and physicality in run defense.
While he’s been a steady and mostly reliable player in the middle of the Bills’ defense – particularly over the last season and a half – fans have been waiting for the former Virginia Tech star to take the next step and emerge as a true game-changer. While consistent, Edmunds has failed to make the splash plays that separate the good linebackers from the great ones. Over the last two seasons, he’s recorded just one interception, seven pass breakups, two sacks and zero forced fumbles.
However, while his numbers don’t jump off of the stat sheet, his sheer presence allows Buffalo to operate a certain way on defense. His length and athleticism at the middle linebacker position are unmatched across the league. In coverage, Edmunds not only has the ranginess and speed to get to deep depth in Cover 2 drops, stick to running backs in man coverage or get out to the flats, but he also has the instincts to click and close on ball carriers without hesitation when the ball is thrown.
While Edmunds’ development from a raw 19-year-old rookie into a 24-year-old veteran hasn’t always been linear, it’s been positive. And despite his accolades, the 2022 NFL season is huge for the Danville, VA native.
Edmunds is playing on his fifth-year option, which will pay him $12.716 million – the sixth-highest among linebackers in 2022. It’s obvious that the team is high on him and will give him every chance to earn a long-term deal. However, Edmunds’ performance in 2022 will go a long way in determining whether the team finds a way to pay him $12-15 million per year, or go back to the drawing board at the middle linebacker spot.
WR Gabe Davis
The 2022 NFL offseason has been a glorious one for wide receivers, and Buffalo’s third-year player Gabe Davis hopes to carry that trend into the regular season. Davis, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, has made the most of each opportunity he’s received throughout his first two seasons, catching 70 passes for 1,148 yards and 13 scores as the third or fourth option in Buffalo’s passing attack.
Now entering year three, Davis has a stronghold on the No. 2 receiver job opposite Stefon Diggs and all eyes are on the Central Florida product. Davis’ parting gift from the 2021 season was a 200-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Chiefs, leaving fans and analysts around the league heaping huge expectations onto the 23-year-old.
Davis, who’s 6-foot-2 and now reportedly 227-pounds, is big, fast, and has shown a knack for making tough catches in big situations. He’s been a reliable playmaker in a somewhat limited role, and will now be tasked with seeing a significantly larger target share with a more diverse route tree.
Cover 1’s Greg Vorse broke down just why Davis should have a monster year in 2022 – which is a rather likely scenario, given his play over the last two years. But there’s always a question of whether a player will be able to elevate his game to the next level when shouldering an increased load – which is why Davis has a lot to prove this summer at St. John Fisher.
DE A.J. Epenesa
A year ago, A.J. Epenesa was the training camp darling and fan-favorite breakout candidate. One season removed from being a second-round draft pick that drastically changed his body type, expectations were sky-high when it came to the former Iowa star. Epenesa had a strong preseason and a dominant Week 2 performance against the Miami Dolphins but fizzled out as the season progressed.
Now, Epenesa is out to prove that he belongs. The Bills once again revamped their defensive line, adding Von Miller, Shaq Lawson, DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle to join an already deep group consisting of Greg Rousseau – who had a terrific rookie season, and Boogie Basham, who also showed promise in his inaugural campaign.
Epenesa certainly isn’t competing for a starting job, but it’s well-known that Buffalo rotates their defensive lineman more than just about any team in the NFL, so meaningful snaps will be available to those that earn them. But through two seasons, Epenesa simply hasn’t been impactful enough to earn significant reps.
Without his eight-pressure game against Miami, Epenesa notched just 12 hurries during the 2021 regular season. While it may be premature to suggest that Epenesa is on the roster bubble, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Brandon Beane move on from a high draft pick if he fails to separate himself from the likes of Lawson or Basham at Buffalo Bills training camp.