The Buffalo Bills wrapped up their offseason program on Thursday and will open training camp July 30 at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York. Here’s a 53-man roster projection:
Quarterbacks (3): Tyrod Taylor, EJ Manuel, Cardale Jones
Jones would be far from ready to take over the starting job as a rookie in case of an injury to Tyrod Taylor, so Manuel's hold on the No. 2 spot should be safe. The Bills also wouldn't save anything against their salary cap by cutting Manuel because his base salary ($2.827 million) is fully guaranteed.
Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams
ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates named this one of the NFL's top 10 offensive position groups; it just needs to stay healthy. McCoy dealt with hamstring and knee injuries last season, and Karlos Williams was sidelined with an undisclosed medical procedure in August, a concussion in October, a shoulder injury in December and a knee injury in the season finale.
Fullbacks (1): Jerome Felton
There's a chance that undrafted rookie Glenn Gronkowski could give Felton a run for his money this summer -- literally. The Bills could save $1.65 million in cap space this season and $1.2 million next season by releasing Felton, if Gronkowski proves a comparable replacement.
Wide receivers (6): Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Dezmin Lewis, Leonard Hankerson, Kolby Listenbee, Marcus Easley
Watkins, Woods and Listenbee aren't going anywhere, and as long as Easley recovers from his serious knee injury in time for the start of the regular season, he'll be on the roster for special teams. The question is whether the Bills keep five or six receivers, and who those last two players will be. Right now, I think Lewis and Hankerson have the inside track, but Marquise Goodwin, Greg Salas and possibly Greg Little will be in that mix, while the Bills will have to consider Walter Powell for his kick-return abilities.
Tight ends (3): Charles Clay, Chris Gragg, Jim Dray
I haven't seen enough from last year's sixth-round pick, Nick O'Leary, this spring to warrant a roster spot. He's too undersized to be used as a blocker in Greg Roman's run-first offense.
Offensive line (8): Cordy Glenn, Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, John Miller, Jordan Mills, Cyrus Kouandjio, Fernando Velasco, Ryan Groy
When Seantrel Henderson returns to the field after surgery to treat Crohn's disease remains uncertain. I'll put him on the non-football illness list until there's more clarity.
Defensive line (6): Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Adolphus Washington, Corbin Bryant, Jerel Worthy, Justin Zimmer
I'll give the last spot to Zimmer, an undrafted rookie who is undersized but powerful and versatile. Down the road, he could play a similar role for Rex Ryan as Mike DeVito did for several years with the New York Jets and, later, for Ryan's former assistant Bob Sutton's Kansas City Chiefs defense.
Outside linebacker (4): Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson, Lorenzo Alexander, IK Enemkpali
The major question here is whether first-round rookie Shaq Lawson goes on the reserve/PUP list or is kept on the 53-man roster until he's healthy. If he goes on PUP, which I am projecting here, Lawson can't practice until after Week 6. If he's on the 53-man roster, Lawson could practice and play before then. It will all come down to where Lawson is in his shoulder rehab by late August.
Inside linebacker (4): Preston Brown, Reggie Ragland, Zach Brown, Randell Johnson
There is a battle emerging behind Brown and Ragland, and special teams will likely be a deciding factor. I'll give Johnson the edge for now, but veterans Kevin Reddick and Jamari Lattimore, as well as undrafted rookie Eric Striker are in the mix.
Cornerback (6): Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey, Kevon Seymour, Mario Butler, Javier Arenas
The Bills have thrust Seymour, a sixth-round pick, into the mix right away, inserting him into the first-team defense in place of Gilmore. There will be some competition at the bottom of the chart here, and I'll give the nod to Arenas, who can help as a punt returner.
Safety (4): Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, Robert Blanton, Jonathan Meeks
The Bills have mixed Blanton into some packages with their top defense, so I feel confident about him making the squad. The question is how many safeties the Bills keep here. I'll give the edge, for now, to Meeks over Duke Williams and Colt Anderson, but it's a toss-up.
Kickers (2): Dan Carpenter, Jordan Gay
It's status quo here unless either (1) undrafted rookie Marshall Morgan proves a capable (and more cost-friendly) replacement for Carpenter or (2) Ryan reverses course on keeping Gay, a kickoff specialist, on his roster this season given NFL rule changes that lessen the benefit of a touchback.
Punter (1): Colton Schmidt
No competition here, so Schmidt wins by default. He was solid last season.
Long-snapper (1): Garrison Sanborn
The Bills brought in an undrafted rookie, Reid Ferguson, but that seems more related to having three kickers on the roster. Sanborn's job isn't in jeopardy.