We are officially in training camp month.
In a few short weeks, the Buffalo Bills return to the suburbs of Rochester with hopes and expectations as high as ever. As the betting Super Bowl favorite hits the field, a handful of players have more to prove than others. Who needs to make a jump? Who is fighting for a roster spot? Who has one last chance to impress both coaches and fans?
You could argue that no single player last year was as disappointing as AJ Epenasa. After flashing in the preseason and putting up three pressures against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, Epenesa went on to put up only ten more pressures throughout the rest of the season and was a healthy scratch in Weeks 6 and 15. Even with the addition of Von Miller and the emergence of Greg Rousseau, the Bills will need a second line of pass rushers. Epenesa has a chance to earn a spot as the first guy to rotate into games, but he will be fighting for time with Carlos “Boogie” Basham and Shaq Lawson.
Carlos “Boogie” Basham
Like Epenesa in his first year, Basham struggled to find not only playing time, but a gameday roster spot in 2021. Similarly, he underwent a body transformation like Epenesa went through upon coming to Buffalo. In eight games played in 2021, Basham notched 2.5 sacks and six pressures, mostly coming off the bench in blowouts. The Bills have spent two second-round picks on edge rushers over 2020 and 2021. Yet, behind Greg Rousseau and Von Miller, there are plenty of snaps to be earned. Basham will need to have a good camp to secure his share of those snaps.
The theme here so far is second-round picks. Cody Ford’s first three years in Buffalo have been both fraught with injuries and underwhelming. Ford lost his starting job after just three games in 2021, where he gave up 17 pressures over the first three weeks and bottomed out with a PFF pass-blocking grade of 3.1 against Washington in Week 3. With Ryan Bates and Rodger Saffold, a starting job is probably off the table for him. Ford is fighting for a roster spot with recent additions like Greg Van Roten and Greg Mancz. Ford could be staring at a bleak professional football future without a solid camp. Hopefully, for Ford, the return of well-respected offensive line coach Aaron Kromer and spark some improvement.
Another theme is players who saw their roles reduced throughout last season. Zack Moss, once thought by fans and fantasy managers alike as a future running back one in Buffalo, had lost the vast majority of his snap share to Devin Singletary by the end of the 2021 season. Moss had promising flashes as a rookie, but coming off his injury in 2021, Moss barely resembled the player he was in college. Additionally, the Bills went out and added veteran Duke Johnson and drafted a speedy James Cook in the second round. It is a crowded Bills backfield, and an underwhelming camp could see Moss on the low end of the Bills running back rotation.
Why is a sixth-rounder from last year’s draft on this list? After a promising preseason in 2021, Stevenson mainly was an afterthought during the season. He started the year on the injured reserve list but was elevated to the active roster as the seventh wide receiver. He took Isaiah McKenzie’s return job until losing it following a horrific Falcons game. So why is he on this list? There is no clear returner on this team. Isaiah McKenzie has gained and lost the returning job twice in his Bills career, Tavon Austin hasn’t done much of note in his NFL career, and though Khalil Shakir had returned in college, the Bills haven’t indicated that is where they see him in the future. The return job is up for grabs, and in a crowded pass-catching room, this is likely Stevenson’s only path to a roster spot.