When the Buffalo Bills pulled the trigger on an offseason trade that sent away a young linebacker for an underperforming former first-round pick, it would be hard to imagine they thought they'd be getting as good of a return as they did. Desperately in need of a quality pass rushing option opposite Mario Williams, the Bills rolled the dice on a player that many felt was a bust.
Now with a year under his belt, the player that comes in at number 11 has the required raw skill level, on the field results and potential impact that ingrains him on to this list. He proved last year that he's another force off the edge and quieted the doubters of his last stop.
DE Jerry Hughes
Age: 25 (8/13/88) Height: 6'2" Weight: 254
Why he's here:
- The Bills traded Kelvin Sheppard for Hughes and the overwhelming return was almost immediate. Hughes had one of the best off seasons and training camps of any member of the team, and it had most wondering why he didn't have any success in Indianapolis. Displaying a sound knowledge and array of pass rushing moves, Hughes has shown that he can get to the quarterback in the NFL. A career high in sacks (10) last season is just proof that Hughes may finally be getting it, and he's turned that season into another offseason in which he's borderline unblockable. If he has another high quality season to go along with his skill level, he could be quite higher on this list this time next year.
- Hughes is likely in line for an enhanced role with the Bills in 2014. They didn't really know what to expect from him last year, and got a more than competent pass rusher that could chip in on the run on occasion. It might not be fair to expect Hughes to be an every down player, which likely paves the way for Manny Lawson to get some snaps on run downs. However, with another big season against the pass Hughes can not only put to rest his "bust" status from Indianapolis, but he can go into free agency next March as a hot commodity.
For the next position on the training camp primer tour, the Buffalo Bills literally did nothing to the group besides adding a couple of undrafted free agents. Along their defense last year, the defensive tackles weren't anywhere near the problem as to why they couldn't perform consistently.
It starts with the two guys atop the depth chart, which also happen to be two of the best players on the Bills roster. Could we be in for any sudden surprises at training camp? The only real question might pertain to how many they end up keeping.
The Starters (2) Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus
- You won't find many defensive tackle duos around the league with as much skill level as Williams and Dareus. One is a grizzled veteran absolutely fed up with losing, the other a younger and supremely talented player that couldn't keep himself out of the headlines this past offseason. When they're on the field and working in unison though, it's a fun thing to watch. Williams has the quickness off the snap and violent hands to work his way into the backfield. Dareus has a big body to lull offensive lineman in and then rip them down to the side with his strength. The biggest question will not be if they can be successful, but it's simply about Dareus' status at the beginning of the year and whether or not he'll be available to the team.
The Depth (1) Alan Branch
- After a successful first year with the Bills, the team elected to re-sign Branch to a multi-year contract extension. They view him as the perfect complementary option to the two starters on the team and can get valuable snaps in a rotational setting when everyone is both healthy and available to play. He's one of those players that regardless of the scheme change, he fits everything. The former second-round pick has done quite well for himself after an inauspicious start to his career in Arizona.
The Bubble (2) Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles
- While Bryant hung around through camp last year, Charles was a mid-season addition that helped provide the Bills not only with depth, but with a player that has a fair bit of upside as well. There really isn't much clarification as to whether or not Dareus will get suspended for his off-the-field transgressions and that could directly impact the job status of one of Bryant or Charles. Even if he isn't suspended, there is still a completely plausible scenario of all five making the roster outright. However, if the Bills decide they only have room for four, it will be a battle between these two.
The Longshots (2) Damien Jacobs, Colby Way
- The Bills rounded out their defensive tackles with two undrafted free agents that are each undersized. Jacobs (6-foot-3, 284-pounds) comes from the University of Florida and Way (6-foot-4, 293-pounds) has local ties to the University at Buffalo. With so many established players ahead of them on the depth chart, the better of the two will need a Dareus suspension and an injury to one of the other four defensive tackles at least for hopes of making the roster outright.
Along the offensive side of the ball, there haven't been many other identifiable pieces to the puzzle than the man the comes in at number 12 on the top talents on the Buffalo Bills roster. While the team continued to try and replace him, the player just kept on with it and continued to carve his hard-nosed niche.
The countdown uses the trio of overall skill level, on the field results and projection to the future for the basis of where the players rank, the third of which is why player number 12 is a bit lower than expected. However, he has shown that he can still play at a high level and has been a fan favorite for several years.
HB Fred Jackson
Age: 33 (2/20/81) Height: 6'1" Weight: 216
Why he's here:
- Over the past six seasons, no man has been more overlooked than Jackson. The team drafted two running backs in the first round only for Jackson to prove his worth each time and continue to be one of the most dependable players on the roster. His ability to not only absorb contact, but to keep his balance as well, has earned him the reputation of being able to gain tough yards every single time he's on the field. In all his years, Jackson has had only one season that eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark, which could come as a surprise to some fans that don't check his stats regularly. Because of his age and the wear-and-tear that occurs to running backs over the course of time, the biggest negative for Jackson on this list is how he projects toward the future.
- Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller in the backfield, but now the Bills added two other pieces at running back (Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon) that could cut into the 33-year old's snaps as well. He's entering the final year of his contract with the team, but is a very important person to the locker room. Many of his younger teammates look up to him, and with quite a young core group of starters, the veteran presence Jackson provides is essential. Regardless, the question that will be asked once the season is over is how much Jackson has left in the tank as regular contributor. If he plays like he did in 2013, though, it will go far to prove that he has a bit more left.
To be a captain of a team you usually have to have the overwhelming skills to go along with it. One of the Buffalo Bills' most vocal players has the ability and the respect to back up his, at times, strong opinions of what needs to happen.
This next person on the countdown exhibits those characteristics that led to him ultimately being extended by the Bills last year. With the list formulated by a combination of an overall raw skill level, on the field results and with projection in mind, number 13 is not only the first offensive lineman on the list, but a fan favorite to boot.
C Eric Wood
Age: 28 (3/18/86) Height: 6'4" Weight: 310
Why he's here:
- Coaches are always in search of players who just get it. Whatever it is, it can't be defined… but you know when a player has exactly what you're looking for. That fits Wood quite well, posing the right amount of skill level, a working knowledge of both the current and historical sides to the game as well as someone with an at times nasty demeanor on the field. A very smart player, Wood rarely gets caught out of position. Sometimes he gets beat by his man, but his normal Sunday exhibits someone that usually isn't caught lunging or trying to overcorrect a mistake. That's what gets a lot of offensive lineman into trouble, but not him.
- Once again serving as one of the top offensive lineman on the team, Wood might have an easier time of it this year now that the Bills signed Chris Williams to play left guard for them. That will prevent Wood from having to overcompensate and focus in on his own responsibilities without trying to do too much. Last season was not his best by any means, but he has the ability to be one of the 10 best centers in the league on a yearly basis. It also doesn't hurt his case by being one of the vocal leaders on the team, either.
The last two times the Buffalo Bills addressed the tight end position in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft was back in 1983 (Tony Hunter, first round) and 1994 (Lonnie Johnson, second round). Although they neglected it again in 2014, had they stayed at their original draft position there was a solid chance they would have ended that streak.
However, they didn't stand pat in the draft order. They made a trade with Cleveland to move up and get Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, leaving the tight end position to be decided amongst the men already on the roster.
Outside of quarterback and defensive tackle, tight end is really the only position that didn't see many changes from the start of the 2013 season up to the start of the upcoming training camp. The only change is that the incumbent starter might have to stave off another player that has had former success in the league.
The Starter (1) Scott Chandler
- Chandler is a bit undervalued in the offense mostly because fans will look at his lack of athleticism, compare him to a Rob Gronkowski or a Jimmy Graham, and many will scream for an upgrade at the position. While that line of thinking isn't exactly out of order, Chandler has been dependable for the Bills over the course of the past three seasons. The team can likely do better than him as a starter, but they can (and have in the past) also do far, far worse. If we're to take the offseason words of both head coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley seriously though, Chandler could face some competition from a member of "the depth."
The Depth (2) Tony Moeaki, Lee Smith
- The man to watch from this group will be Moeaki, who isn't assured a roster spot at this point in time, but he has a much better chance to make the 53-man roster than others. While Chandler was away for personal reasons during mandatory minicamp, Moeaki got some valuable reps and made some nice plays in the process. He's had past success in the league, and the Bills are willing to find out if he can do it again after his fair share of injuries. Smith is essentially a sixth offensive lineman that they'll use to help the run game. There is usually room for a blocking specialist like him on a run-heavy team.
The Bubble (1) Chris Gragg
- This could be surprising to some because he was a draft pick in 2013, but let's face it. He's a seventh-round pick that couldn't get on the field outside of garbage time situations last year. The hope will be that athletic tight end progresses enough to the point where he can warrant a roster spot, but with a lot of talent being added to the roster at other positions, space could get tight. The 24-year old is firmly on the bubble, and the ultimate decision will be based on how effective he is in practice from July 20 through the end of August. He very well could force their hand and make them go with four tight ends. Or, they could to go with only the top three. Either way, Gragg needs a strong month.
The Longshot (1) Mike Caussin
- Caussin has been around the Bills for a while now ever since signing with the team in September of 2010. This will be his fourth training camp with Buffalo, entering Felton Huggins territory for training camps attended without ever making the 53-man roster. Before, the Bills had the advantage of being able to put him on the practice squad and maintain his rights. He's even had a pair of injuries that has taken away the past two seasons which has also maintained his status with the Bills. 2014 may serve as his last chance though, and he'll have to unseat at least one and maybe even two of the tight ends already ahead of him.
Just because a player has the size a team covets, it doesn't necessarily mean he's a better player than someone with the prototypical size. And by that logic, it brings us to number 14 on the countdown of the top 20 talents on the Buffalo Bills roster.
Using the trio of overall raw skill level, actual on-the-field performance and projection of what they might do in the future to rank players, it was hard to ignore the next person on the list despite his status as an undrafted free agent last year. His diminutive stature makes him a crowd favorite for some, but he certainly plays much bigger than he is.
CB Nickell Robey
Age: 22 Height: 5'8" Weight: 165
Why he's here:
- During the offseason workouts in 2013 the player everyone — including the coaching staff — took note of was the undrafted free agent Robey. His listed height might even be a bit generous, but Robey overcompensates for that with a blend of strength, an explosive lower half and instincts that gives the Bills no choice but to put him on the field. In the role as a nickel cornerback last year, Robey flourished once taking the job from Ron Brooks during training camp. His statistics (39 tackles, 3 sacks, 10 passes defended and one interception) don't tell the entire story. If you watch the film, you'll see Robey is usually always in the right position to make a play, making many quarterbacks look elsewhere for their targets. If he was just a bit taller and longer in the arms, a lot more people would be talking about his skills.
- It appeared as though once again in the offseason workouts, and under a new defensive coordinator mind you, Robey had to work his way up the depth chart. He didn't start out as the first-team nickel which caught a few, including yours truly, by surprise. By the end of the mandatory minicamp though Robey was back in his natural position with the first-team defense as the nickel cornerback. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz raved about him and head coach Doug Marrone certainly knows what he's capable of in both coverage and as an explosive blitzer from the edge. He's not an outside cornerback, but up against slot receivers, Robey is a very good talent.
The Buffalo Bills went out in the offseason eager to add pieces around quarterback EJ Manuel in an effort to help him make the next step forward in his progress. They drafted the best receiver available by trading a future first-round selection, and, they acquired another wideout with past success but one that fell out of favor with his first club.
That man, who is both a Buffalo native and has once carried a lot of buzz with his name, comes in as the number 15 most talented Bills player. The criteria for the countdown is a mix of overall raw skill level, on the field performances as well as a certain projection aspect to it. Having a solid blend of all three, once again the list goes to the offensive side of the ball with this player:
WR Mike Williams
Age: 27 (5/18/87) Height: 6'2" Weight: 212
Why he's here:
- Williams burst on to the scene in his rookie season in Tampa Bay, meshing with Josh Freeman well enough to earn him 65 receptions for 964 yards and a whopping 11 touchdowns in his opening year. He followed that up with two more productive seasons in the 60-catch range, showing he could be a big target for the Buccaneers moving forward. Despite his height, Williams is a red-zone threat and someone that was depended on once close enough to the red zone. While he isn't necessarily the quickest, his ability to play outside the numbers and high point the ball is something the Bills haven't had. His off-the-field antics got him into some hot water, and ultimately got him traded away from the very team that was so impressed by him early on.
- Essentially on a one-year pact to stay on his best behavior and follow team protocol, the Bills can walk away from Williams if he doesn't hold up that end of the bargain or if he fails to make the type of impact they believe he can. The role for Williams still must be defined, but on paper he figures to come in on three wide receiver sets as one of the outside players, allowing either Sammy Watkins or Robert Woods to be able to play the slot. If he can provide a red zone presence it will go miles for EJ Manuel's progress. But since his role will likely be limited to that barring an injury, he falls a bit shorter than others on the list despite his raw skills and prior success.
Training camp hasn't even started yet for the Buffalo Bills, and already they have adversity to deal with at one of their starting positions, and a key one at that. A big push this offseason was to upgrade the linebacking core around Kiko Alonso, and they felt they found a pair of starters and some depth to go along with it.
What they didn't account for was the best player on that unit going down with a torn ACL in the beginning of July, paving the way for more questions to be asked about how the linebacker group will shake out.
How does that linebacking room look now, just under two weeks ahead of camp? Here's a look:
The Injured (1) Kiko Alonso
- The biggest blow to the 2014 season to date, the weakside linebacker and standout defender Alonso will likely miss the whole year because of a torn ACL. It's a devastating loss to a defense that hoped to be much improved, and the second-year player was among the best the unit had to offer in a more natural position on the weakside. At least the Bills will have the entirety of training camp to iron out how to deal with it, rather than figuring it out on the fly in a random week during the season.
The Starters (2) Brandon Spikes, Keith Rivers
- Since there are no indications of what will become of the weakside position, only two starters are guaranteed at this point. Both Spikes and Rivers were brought in this offseason to play differing roles. Spikes will be the two-down, run defending middle linebacker and likely will be taken out in obvious passing situations. Rivers is described by GM Doug Whaley as a potential "four-down" player, so it's fair to expect Rivers will be on the field as much as he can handle. Before Alonso's injury Rivers was slated to play the strongside linebacker role, but the new information could cause them to rethink it and give him a look on the weakside, considering he has experience there in past stops.
The Depth (1) Preston Brown
- The third-round pick is the safest among the now top two on the linebacking depth chart. He created some buzz for himself following the offseason workouts and might even have put himself in the position to take the third starting job now that Alonso is injured. Whether it's at the strongside or weakside linebacker position, Brown has previous experience in college with both. If it's weakside, his main competition will be third-year player Nigel Bradham.
The Bubble (3) Nigel Bradham, Ty Powell, Randell Johnson
- Bradham leads the list as the player that will likely be safe, but until he carves out that niche for himself he remains on the bubble. The difference is that his bubble has a much harder exterior than most. If the Bills elect to keep Rivers at strongside, Bradham and Brown will battle for the starting job at weakside linebacker. Ty Powell is the backup middle linebacker at the moment, and someone that the Bills consistently brought up during the pre-draft process as a player they were excited about. Johnson was the team's seventh-round pick with an extreme amount of athleticism, but a lack of polish. Expect him to get looks at both strongside linebacker and defensive end during training camp, which will likely pave the way for him getting to the practice squad.
The Longshots (3) Jimmy Gaines, Darrin Kitchens, Nathan Williams
- The hometown Gaines will likely be the third-string strongside linebacker backing up both Rivers and Johnson. Kitchens is an undersized player that likely slots in on the weakside, meanwhile Williams will likely be the third-team middle linebacker. To have any shot, the trio will have to really stand out on special teams. Among the three, Gaines probably has the best chance (although remote) to stick, while Kitchens has the biggest mountain to climb.
Defense reigns supreme on the countdown of the top 20 talents on the Buffalo Bills roster, and that's where the next player on the list takes us once again. The next member of the list has never played a down for the Bills, but has the type of game that makes the team believe he can make an immediate impact in an area that they've struggled for several seasons.
The criteria for the top 20 is a blend of overall raw skill level, actual on-field performance and a projection as to what they might do in the future based on studying the players over the past couple of years. So who is number 16? A former villain to Bills fans and to a certain bearded quarterback that once started in Buffalo:
LB Brandon Spikes
Age: 26 (9/3/87) Height: 6'2" Weight: 255
Why he's here:
- A rather peculiar end to his tenure with the New England Patriots after four seasons landed Spikes as an unrestricted free agent and Buffalo pounced on the middle linebacker for their 4-3 defensive scheme. Spikes is not the jack of all trades type, but he is a master at one part of his game. On run downs, the linebacker will be among the best weapons the Bills can arm themselves with to help stop a problem that has plagued them since Chan Gailey took over as the head coach in 2010. Although limited as an athlete in pass coverage, Spikes' downhill, thumping style makes him an immediate upgrade to what they were working with last season in Arthur Moats on base sets to help stop opponents from getting big rushing gains.
- Spikes signed only a one-year contract with the team, and it screams as a "prove it" deal after the drama that unfolded in New England at the end of the 2013 season. The linebacker will likely be fully motivated to prove himself playing only on a one-year pact, and can provide the stability against the run when he's in there. However, the Bills should not attempt to use him too much even though Kiko Alonso is likely lost for the season. Spikes is very good against the run, but his game is not as a normal three-down linebacker. The expectation is that he'll be on the sidelines on those obvious passing downs.
As the Buffalo Bills and the rest of the National Football League approaches the start of training camp, WGR Sports Radio 550 continues to reveal the top 20 most talented players on the Bills roster. It's an exercise that looks at the player's overall skill level, success on the field and how they may project into the future.
Last time, the most important player to the Bills' hopes was revealed as number 18 on the list. Who is number 17? A talented defensive player that is perhaps miscast for the upcoming season:
DE Manny Lawson
Age: 29 (7/13/84) Height: 6'5" Weight: 240
Why he's here:
- Over the course of the 2013 season, Manny Lawson was one of the most consistent defenders throughout. You knew precisely what you would get from him on a weekly basis as a stout, edge-setting and run-defending player that stayed within his responsibilities. He was rarely caught out of position, and for the games that the Bills looked to be much improved against the run, Lawson played a big role in that. Although limited as a pass rusher, his ability against the run makes him a good defender that can pitch in for teams. His combination of length and strength makes him very good at keeping defenders from getting into his pads.
- Had Lawson continued to be in Mike Pettine's defense for the upcoming season, he likely would have been higher on this list. However, now he is a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. It's a role that he hasn't done well with, and one that doesn't exactly fit his skill set or body type. He'll be depended on as the third defensive end due to a lack of depth, which could cause him to struggle. However, in setting the edge against tight ends Lawson will continue to be effective. The problem, though, is that he'll likely get more matchups against offensive tackles than smaller players.
From the 2013 roster to the one the Buffalo Bills have in 2014, perhaps no other position saw more changes than what the team did with the wide receiver group. They drafted another player at the position, traded for a veteran, traded away a veteran and brought in a lot of bottom of the roster players they're going to kick the tires on.
With likely six spots up for grabs, wide receiver is usually one of the more compelling positions to watch as training camp rolls along. How does the current roster shake out, and who needs to fight? That's the next destination of the camp primer series.
The Starters (2) Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods
- When the Bills sent away their first round pick in 2015 to move up to take Watkins, there was little doubt that he would step in right away and be not only the team's starter, but their top wideout. His blend of explosiveness, hands and physicality make him a rare find from a talent perspective, so expect the Bills to have him on the field in bunches. He'll pair with Robert Woods in sets with only two wide receivers in hopes that they form a very dynamic duo. The Bills are still very high on Woods, believing that he is as good of a number two target as they can find.
The Depth (2) Mike Williams, Marquise Goodwin
- When the Bills go to three wide receiver sets, expect to see Williams trot on to the field. They view him as a potential instant contributor, and someone that could help EJ Manuel in both the red zone and as a player with high pointing ability on all areas of the field. Goodwin will be the change of pace wide receiver just as he was last year when healthy. Both Williams and Goodwin are likely locks for the final 53-man roster, as long as the former doesn't give the Bills an off-the-field reason to part ways with him.
The Bubble (5) Marcus Easley, Kevin Elliott, T.J. Graham, Chris Hogan, Cordell Roberson
- It will likely be five players for two spots in this bubble grouping. The standout amongst the five players is the former third-round pick Graham, who has failed to grasp on to ample opportunities since being selected by the team. He will be facing a training camp where he must show improvement not only as a receiver, but as someone that can chip in on special teams as well. Graham has a lot of work to do to secure a roster spot, especially with players like Easley and Hogan who each played a lot of special teams for the Bills in 2013. Elliott and Roberson are grouped together as two taller targets for EJ Manuel, and represent what the Bills have been trying to find in the offseason. Through the offseason workouts, Hogan is having the best 2014 to date. However, there's still a long way to go between now and the beginning of September when the real decisions have to be made.
The Longshots (3) Ramses Barden, Caleb Holley, Chris Summers
- Most will recognize Barden's name for being a former third-round pick of the New York Giants in 2009. He failed to latch on with them and then signed a contract with Buffalo in January in hopes to revive his career. The 6-foot-6 wide receiver is hard to miss on the field, but easily hideable in drills during offseason workouts. The same goes for Summers, who is a 6-foot-5 former small school (Liberty) receiver. Holley found his way on the roster after a successful tryout during the Bills' rookie minicamp, but faces an uphill battle to even get into bubble status.
The countdown of the top 20 most talented Bills on the roster is underway and started off on the offensive side of the ball. As it continues along, after a brief stop on defense, once more we find ourselves on the side that is in charge of putting up points on a weekly basis.
Using a blend of the player's overall skill level, success on the field and projection, the next player on the list is undoubtedly the most important to the outcome of the 2014 campaign. Coming in at number 18 is quarterback EJ Manuel.
QB EJ Manuel
Age: 24 (3/19/90) Height: 6'4" Weight: 237
Why he's here:
- When the Buffalo Bills boldly elected to use their first round pick on EJ Manuel in the 2013 NFL Draft in a year that many pundits believed no quarterbacks should be taken that highly, they were doing it with an eye towards what he could become. It's hard to ignore the talent that Manuel has from a skill level perspective, having the prototypical height, the prototypical arm, the mobility and the charisma that teams look for in quarterback prospects. The only problem is that Manuel cannot be viewed any differently than from a projectional prism. Most of the great NFL teams have their quarterback among the top of their talent lists, but the Bills aren't there yet with Manuel. Until his on the field success matches up with his skill level, the team might continue to find themselves yearning for the playoffs.
It's hard to predict what Manuel might do in 2014 from a statistical perspective. The Bills will likely utilize a run-heavy approach while also giving him more of a chance to diagnose defenses than he had in 2013. Now that he's acclimated to the NFL game, Manuel will have a better season than he did in 2013 — it's just a natural progression for most young quarterbacks in the game. The bigger question that needs to be answered will be if Manuel's progress as a player will match up with where the Bills want him to be. One of his biggest determining factors will be how accurate he is on intermediate throws, an area in which he has struggled since his time at Florida State. Now that the team has a bonafide top wide receiver target in Sammy Watkins along with another quality NFL player in Mike Williams, the Bills are about to begin to find out their answer on their former first round quarterback.
As can be expected, a majority of the Bills' top 20 talents will be on the defensive side of the ball. For the first time in this countdown, though, the defense appears on the list.
Mixing overall skill level, on-field performance and projection as the recipe for the analysis, the next member of the countdown had a step in the right direction in 2013. A highly hyped player coming out of college, number 19 on the list used to be among the most heavily criticized by fans. Playing a position that is under the microscope weekly, the 19th rated player has stuck around for quite a long time:
CB Leodis McKelvin
Age: 28 (9/4/85) Height: 5'10" Weight: 185
Why he's here:
- If this were a list that ranks raw talent only and which players have the most, McKelvin and his effortless athleticism would rank somewhere in the top 10. However, when you mix in how long he's been in the league along with his varying levels of play, it knocks him down a few pegs. Even still, at the age of 28, McKelvin possesses the skill level to be a good starting cornerback in this league. He started to scratch the surface in his rookie season, but was then derailed by injury. For the next few years his reputation was as a player that was always there to make a play, but usually ended up giving up the big play to the receiver. He had a solid season under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine which was the best of his six seasons in the league as a corner. The only problem, though, is that you can't ignore the middle four seasons which consistently questioned his status as a former first-round selection.
- There is one question hovering over the upcoming season for McKelvin: Was 2013 a fluke due to a pressure-packed defensive scheme that hid their cornerbacks, or, has McKelvin finally gotten his bearings and is on the way to being a dependable starter? It will be fascinating to find out which side will end up with the most evidence when the season is complete. The teachings of defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson have definitely helped McKelvin, but will they be enough to change the habits learned during his formative years as a player? His performance will be something to keep a close eye on throughout the year, considering his contract and the signing of Corey Graham in the offseason.
Bills Top 20 Talents
20) TE Scott Chandler 19) CB Leodis McKelvin
18) ??? - Tuesday, July 8, 8 am
17) ??? - Tuesday, July 8, 6 pm
The countdown to training camp is on for the Buffalo Bills. In less than two weeks, the Bills will move into the dorms at St. John Fisher College and get on the practice field for the first time on July 20.
In addition to the position by position training camp primer series, WGR Sports Radio 550 will also be counting down the top 20 most talented Bills. This countdown considers overall skill level, actual on the field performance and projection based on film study over the past couple of seasons.
On to the ranking, starting with Number 20:
TE Scott Chandler
Age: 28 (7/23/85) Height: 6'7" Weight: 260
Why he's here:
- Considering how his career started off in Dallas and San Diego, Chandler has made a remarkable comeback to become the type of productive player he is after essentially being written off by most. Although he isn't the fastest, which he'll be the first to admit, he has become an incredibly dependable target. In 2013, he led the Bills in both receptions (53) and yards (655) all while setting his own personal career high with each category. He also co-owns the record for most touchdowns in a single season by a Bills tight end, reaching pay dirt six times in both 2011 and 2012.
- Chandler returned to the team after a brief stint in free agency and is slated to be the starting tight end this year. He may face some competition for playing time if Tony Moeaki is able to get back to the same form he had in his early years, but for now Chandler appears as though he'll be the starting tight end. It's unlikely that he'll repeat as the team's leader in both receptions and yards with all the new wide receivers added in the offseason, but he'll still remain a tall target for EJ Manuel to go to under duress.
In under two weeks the Buffalo Bills will be back at training camp and the annual battle for roster spots will commence once more. Leading up to the opening practice on Sunday, July 20 at St. John Fisher College, WGR will take a position by position look at the roster to handicap who to look for when fans go to see the practices over the course of a month.
First stop? Defensive end:
The Starters (2) Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes
- An open and shut case as long as both players are healthy enough to contribute, Williams and Hughes will get the majority of time on the field during game settings. Williams is coming off back-to-back seasons with a sack total in double digits, while Hughes reached that plateau for the first time in his career. Through offseason workouts Hughes was consistently in the backfield, a trend he first started since arriving in Buffalo last year. Both players have shown that they can have a big impact on the game, and both will be heavily depended on in a defense that is predicated by pressure from their defensive line.
The Depth (1) Manny Lawson
- During the offseason the Bills made the declaration that Manny Lawson, who they had signed to play linebacker in Mike Pettine's defense in 2013, will instead play defensive end in Jim Schwartz's scheme this season. With no other players on the roster that have nearly the same experience on defense, Lawson will be the third man in to this group. The only way this will change is if the injury to Kiko Alonso causes the Bills to re-evaluate Lawson's role in the defense. However, since Alonso played weakside and Keith Rivers appears locked in as the strongside linebacker, Lawson will likely continue to work with the defensive ends.
The Bubble (3) Jarius Wynn, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Jacquies Smith
- The fourth defensive end on the roster will be up for grabs between these three, two of which that are very similarly built. In fact the only thing that separates them, according to the Bills' official roster, is one pound. Wynn (6-foot-3, 285-pounds) and Igbinosun (6-foot-3, 286-pounds) each provide the role of a bigger run defender, with the edge going to the former at the moment due in part to actual NFL experience. Wynn, 27, is entering his sixth year in the league and was a free agent acquisition of the Bills. Igbinosun, 23, was an addition to the practice squad during the 2013 season. Smith is a bit of a lighter defensive end but had some quality reps during the offseason workouts when Mario Williams couldn't participate and Manny Lawson was away from the team. The job favors Wynn, but a strong camp from either Smith or Igbinosun could put them in position to steal a spot.
The Longshots (1) Bryan Johnson
- The lone undrafted free agent of the group, Johnson (6-foot-4, 250-pounds) is built more like Hughes and Lawson. He'll likely get looks on the right side of the defensive line as more of a pass rushing specialist, but the odds of him making the roster aren't great. Coming from a small school, Johnson will need a healthy and strong camp to even get into bubble territory. He lost some ground during offseason practices by not getting on the field due to an injury.