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Ranking the Bills current positional needs

Still plenty of work to be done on roster

Sal Capaccio
March 19, 2017 - 10:08 pm

We’re just over one week into NFL free agency.  The Bills have signed 13 new players, yet still have over 30 roster spots to fill before going to camp with a full complement of 90 players.

Here’s a breakdown of how I still see their current needs, ranked by positional group:

1. Cornerback

The team’s top corner, Stephon Gilmore, signed with the Patriots.  They cut nickel man Nickell Robey-Coleman.  Corey White is a free agent and yet to sign anywhere.  Right now, the Bills currently have five players at the position: Ronald Darby, Kevon Seymour, Leonard Johnson, Charles Gaines, and Marcus Roberson.  Darby struggled last year after a tremendous rookie season.  Seymour got some valuable playing time but was up and down, as should be expected with any rookie.  Johnson is the most experienced player of the group, playing 62 games in his career, but has primarily been a backup through five NFL seasons. The other three players have started a combined 13 games in the NFL.  This spot has a serious depth issue right now and there’s certainly an argument that the top two could be upgraded, as well.

2. Wide receiver

Andre Holmes was signed and is, as of right now, the number-two wideout behind Sammy Watkins.  He has terrific size and is considered an excellent route runner.  But only 28 receptions over the past two seasons is not the most inspiring second option on paper.  After that it’s a host of players who will be fighting for spots with one another, and some even just to make the roster.  Jeremy Butler, Corey “Philly” Brown, and Corey Washington are newcomers added with Dezmin Lewis and Walter Powell from last year.  Kolby Listenbee will finally suit up after missing a year with an injury.  I’m sure the team is banking on one or two of these players to really step up now that they’ll be given an opportunity they may not have had elsewhere, but any one of them would be seen as a number-three WR at best on most rosters until they prove that.  Last year, the Bills brought 13 WRs to training camp (including Listenbee and Marcus Easley who never dressed).  Right now they have eight on the roster. Another solid option is needed at the top and certainly more depth and competition.

3. Offensive tackle

Specifically the right side is the bigger need, but there are depth issues all around here.  Cordy Glenn is the entrenched starter on the left side, but he was rarely fully healthy last year and missed five games. Behind him and on the other side there are a whole lot of question marks.  Cyrus Kouandjio, Glenn’s backup who started the five games he missed, fell at home in January and had hip surgery.  Seantrel Henderson, a swing tackle who played primarily on the right, is suspended the first five games of next year.  The right side starter all season last year, Jordan Mills, is back.  But he was wildly inconsistent and the $4 million, two-year deal he signed suggests the team isn’t totally sold on him being the main man there once again.  Both recently signed Vlad Ducasse and Ryan Groy can play that spot if needed, but it’s neither of their more natural position.  Both are mainly interior players. 

4. Linebacker

I’m still not sure what the plan is as far as the starting linebackers.  Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland both have similar skill-sets, and neither has the kind of speed or athleticism head coach Sean McDermott likes to have in his 4-3 Under, Cover-3 zone scheme. One will play MLB and one will play WLB, most likely, with Lorenzo Alexander penciled in as the starting SLB as of now.  This is not a coverage group.  Alexander is also going on 34 years old and will again play plenty of special teams as well as be asked to contribute rushing the passer on some third down situations.  So there has to be more depth at that position alone.  And there are still plenty of questions about how effective Ragland will be coming off an ACL injury.  On top of that, he’s never even taken an NFL snap yet.  Ramon Humber is the only other LB to have played in an NFL game.  McDermott said he may use only two backers in base sets.  If that’s the norm, the position will have a lot more options.  But if there are going to be three on the field, there needs to be more speed and depth added.

5. Safety

Micah Hyde was a very nice addition in free agency.  And since McDermott plays a lot of Cover-3, he may be the centerfielder in the middle of that zone in most situations.  He can also drop down into the box or even play cornerback when needed depending on opponent and situation.  But behind him is a relatively unknown Jordan Poyer.  The staff loves his athleticism and potential, but he’s started only 10 games in 4 NFL seasons.  Colt Anderson is a core special teams player first and foremost.  But as of right now he’s third on the safety depth chart, considering Jonathan Dowling and Shamiel Gary have played a total of 10 NFL games with only one start between them.  

6. Tight end

Charles Clay is a good player who has been underutilized in the Bills offense.  That said, he led the team in receptions last year with 57.  But behind him is a grand total of 10 NFL career catches in the form of Nick O’Leary.  Blake Annen has a nice combination of size and speed, but he was on IR all of last season and never played, and Logan Thomas is a converted QB just starting to play the position.  Clay also appeared on the injury report almost weekly, so there’s at least some concern there (note - he only missed one game and that was due to the birth of his child).  

7. Quarterback

Josh Woodrum.  That’s the name of the third QB on the roster right now behind Tyrod Taylor and Cardale Jones.  Another arm needs to be added before training camp.  I’d like to see one veteran and one drafted player - assuming Woodrum is only here as an arm for rookie and minicamps.  Jones needs to have some competition for the number-two spot, and considering Taylor’s deal doesn’t scream “long-term answer,” another young signal-caller should get into the mix. 

8. Defensive End

Alexander will help on third downs, and recently signed Ryan Davis will be a rotational player, but there’s still depth needed behind Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson. 

9. Fullback

Just testing you.

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