Two games are in the books, with two more to go. Going into the preseason week three matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, the dress rehearsal game will define not just the starters for week one; it’s also the best opportunity for second-teamers to separate from the third-stringers and guarantee their places on the 53-man roster. Here’s my prediction of who would be the Bills’ choices if the cut day were today:
Quarterbacks: 3 – Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman, AJ McCarron
The starting gig is still wide open. Josh Allen has a huge opportunity to win the job in the next game, but with the news that McCarron’s injury wasn’t as serious as previously reported, I don’t see the coaching staff carrying just two QBs on the roster or bringing another veteran into the mix.
Running Backs: 4 – LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones
No surprises in the top two; McCoy is the star of the team, and Ivory’s running style compliments him perfectly. Marcus Murphy earned a roster spot with a stellar preseason and made Travaris Cadet expendable. Taiwan Jones has a prominent special teams role and should be the primary kickoff returner.
Fullback: 1 – Patrick DiMarco
The veteran returns for his second season as a Bill and should be better used in new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme.
Tight Ends: 4 – Charles Clay, Khari Lee, Logan Thomas, Jason Croom
I see the Bills carrying four TEs, Clay the unquestioned starter, Lee the blocking specialist who’s showing good athleticism and great chemistry with his rookie QB. Logan Thomas looks improved all around, and Croom has been showing potential as a mismatch in the passing game. Despite Nick O’Leary being proven and dependable, I think Lee and Thomas offer the same type of reliability with more athleticism, and Croom’s potential makes him more interesting as the fourth option.
Wide Receivers: 6 – Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Corey Coleman, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Ray-Ray McCloud
I can’t see any of the top five options failing to make the cut. Some people question Coleman’s security, but GM Brandon Beane really values his picks, and he gave one up to bring Coleman into the mix. No other receiver on the roster offers the type of speed he has, and I believe the coaching staff is excited about his potential going forward.
The sixth spot was the toughest to decide, but I kept the rookie over Rod Streater. Despite Streater being one of the coaching staff’s favorites, his skillset is redundant with Benjamin, Jones, and Holmes on the roster. McCloud offers more versatility, able to play in the slot or outside, as well as return punts. With his potential, I don’t see the Bills being comfortable trying to stash him on the practice squad.
Offensive Line: 8 – Dion Dawkins, Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy, John Miller, Jordan Mills, Marshall Newhouse, Russell Bodine, Wyatt Teller
The first five names are going to be the starters week one, with Groy clearly the better option over Bodine at the center position. Bodine makes the team as an experienced backup center, having the ability to step up into the starting lineup and slide Groy to any of the guard spots, if necessary. Newhouse offers experience at the swing tackle role, and Teller is showing signs that he can be the future at the left guard position.
Defensive Tackles: 5 – Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Adolphus Washington, Rickey Hatley
Williams’s injury doesn’t look terribly serious, so he should be carried on the 53-man roster. Lotulelei and Phillips will receive the bulk of the playing time with Washington and Hatley rotating in. Shaq Lawson should see some snaps at the position on passing downs.
Defensive Ends: 5 – Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough, Ryan Russell
I considered carrying just four guys at this position, but with Kyle Williams injured and Murphy struggling with his groin injury, the defensive line depth would be very thin. The top four are locks, and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander can play quality snaps at the position, especially on passing downs. Ryan Russell was my last choice here because of experience and reliability. Terrence Fede and Mike Love had flashes, but not enough to earn a roster spot, at least so far. Looking around at other teams’ cuts for this position is a real possibility.
Linebackers: 6 – Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Ramon Humber, Tanner Vallejo, Deon Lacey
Here’s a position where everyone has failed to impress so far. The top three will start, despite reports of Milano having his job threatened lately. Keenan Robinson is receiving every opportunity to take over the top backup spot but isn’t showing enough. With Humber knowing the defense very well and Vallejo going into his second season playing as a backup ‘Mike’ all training camp, the final linebacker spot was a toss-up between two special teams standouts, Deon Lacey and Julian Stanford. Since Lacey looks slotted as the top backup at the strongside linebacker position, I gave him the nod.
Cornerbacks: 4 – Tre’Davious White, Vontae Davis, Taron Johnson, Phillip Gaines
For the second season in a row, the Bills will be going into the season a bit thin in the secondary and hoping their top options don’t face any injury issues. White and Davis are the starters at the outside CB spots, with rookie Taron Johnson winning the nickel CB job, in my opinion. Gaines becomes the backup inside or out, and I see the Bills stashing rookie Levi Wallace on the practice squad.
Safeties: 4 – Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Rafael Bush, Dean Marlowe
Hyde and Poyer are going to continue their dominance in their second season as a tandem. Rafael Bush and Dean Marlowe are the new backups, with rookie fifth-round pick Siran Neal falling to impress and becoming my final cut. It may be risky, but the team will likely try to stash him on their practice squad.
Special Teams: 3 – Steven Hauschka, Jon Ryan, Reid Ferguson
Hauschka and Ferguson are locks. The surprise is the Bills moving on from their four-year starting punter, Colton Schmidt, opting to bring former Seahawks punter Jon Ryan in to join the team. I don’t see them making this move just to add some competition for Schmidt — not at this point. I think Ryan comes to Buffalo with a considerable chance of winning the job.