When Pro Football Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells analyzed his roster he used to talk about groceries.
“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries,” he said, looking for more authority over his roster make-up.
The 2019 Buffalo Bills look like they’re finished shopping for groceries, with 81 players on the roster and eight-nine more to be added as undrafted free agents. The job now—unpack the groceries, line them up in the pantry. And then figure out which ingredients go where, in the makeup of the final 53-man roster.
What follows is a position-by-position breakdown of the Bills roster this spring, with some of the new groceries added, some of the returning ingredients, and analysis of which position groups might be the most intriguing to follow through the offseason workouts in the next few months:How long will it take to determine the starters along the offensive line?
New additions: C Mitch Morse, T Ty Nsekhe, T LaAdrian Waddle, G Spencer Long, G Jon Feliciano, T Cody Ford (rookie), G Quinton Spain
Returning from 2018: T Dion Dawkins, G Wyatt Teller, G Vladimir Ducasse, G Ike Boettger, T Jeremiah Sirles, T Conor McDermott, C Russell Bodine
All five starting offensive line spots could change from the 2018 season. Free agent signee Mitch Morse is slated to start at center, and third year vet Dion Dawkins would likely return as the starter at LT, but everything else is in play.
The Bills have already said that second round draft pick Cody Ford will begin his career as a right tackle and he’s probably got that job nailed down. Free agent addition Spencer Long will likely battle for a starting guard spot. He started the final four games at left guard last year after starting the first four at center. But what about veteran tackle Ty Nsekhe, a swing tackle from Washington? Does he move into the lineup at tackle and allow the Bills to try Dawkins inside at guard? Vlad Ducasse made nine starts at left guard last year. Wyatt Teller made the other seven at that spot. Do they figure into the picture as a starter this year? Free agent additions Jon Feliciano and Quinton Spain will also get their opportunities to earn starting spots as well.
New offensive line coach Bobby Johnson has some evaluations to make when the players line up this spring. And head coach Sean McDermott says one of the big challenges is to make those evaluations and get the offensive line in place in time to build cohesion and chemistry.
“You want to give everyone a chance to compete and see what their best football looks like,” McDermott says. “But also, at some point, we need to make a decision and go with it so that we can build the continuity that’s so important and the communication that goes with it and the chemistry that you want one cohesive unit to have. That’s a challenge.”
A variety of different styles to choose from at the wide receiver position
New additions: John Brown, Cole Beasley, Andre Roberts, Duke Williams
Returning from 2018: Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Isaish Mckenzie, Ray-Ray Mccloud, Da’mari Scott, Cam Phiillips, Victor Bolden, Jr.
First-year wide receivers coach Chad Hall has his work in front of him this spring, also. He’s got three veteran NFL free agents added to the group (Brown, Beasley and Roberts) and an interesting CFL veteran in Duke Williams.
The Bills will have to sort through the various skill sets in their receiving group to find the right five-six-man unit by September.
They have speed wide receivers in Foster, Brown, and McKenzie; a size-matchup in Duke Williams (6-3, 225 pounds); an all-around receiver in Zay Jones, and an accomplished slot receiver in Cole Beasley. What flavor do you want?
New faces dominate the tight end group
New additions: Tyler Kroft, Dawson Knox (rookie), Tommy Sweeney (rookie), Jake Fisher
Returning from 2018: Jason Croom
It’s a pretty big upheaval at tight end from a year ago, with Jason Croom the only returning veteran. He played 15 games and caught 22 passes in a back-up role last year and has already impressed coaches with his work in the offseason conditioning program.
Third round pick Dawson Knox and seventh rounder Tommy Sweeney figure to get a lot of attention when the rookies arrive next week. Knox may contribute right away. Longtime NFL scout Jim Nagy, the Executive Director of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, scouted Knox for his game and thought he has first-round talent.
“I really thought talent-wise, there wasn’t much difference between him and T.J. Hockenson who went eighth overall to the Detroit Lions,” Nagy told One Bills Live. “Dawson can block. He’s a really tough kid. He’s got a great body-type for the position. He was really under-used for Ole Miss. He’s going to be a way more productive pro than he was in college. I think they drafted a long-time starter there.”
"I really connected with Coach Boras and got to know him...we just really clicked"Will the Bills find the right mix of youth and experience at running back?
New additions: Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Devin Singletary (rookie), Senorise Perry, Christian Wade
Returning from 2018: LeSean McCoy, Marcus Murphy, Keith Ford, FB Patrick DiMarco
It was not viewed as a position of dire need this offseason, but the Bills signed a likely Hall of Famer and a proven pro running back to add to their backfield mix this offseason. And they used a third-round pick on rookie Devin Singletary from Florida Atlantic.
But with LeSean McCoy back looking to rebound from his disappointing 2018 production, the Bills will have to sort out the carries among their running back options this spring. They could wind up with a “running back by committee” approach by the time they hit the regular season.
No competition this offseason, Josh Allen enters 2019 as the unquestioned starter.
New additions: None
Returning from 2018: Josh Allen, Matt Barkley, Derek Anderson
The Bills set their quarterback room set as soon as the 2018 season ended by re-signing back-up Matt Barkley on December 21st and back-up Derek Anderson 10 days later. With a nod to the cohesion and communication in the quarterback meeting room, they wanted the group that finished last season (with Josh Allen) back for another season.
New quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey will also get to work with talented prospect Tyree Jackson from the University at Buffalo who is planning to officially sign his contract with the Bills late next week according to GM Brandon Beane. The Bills have signed him as an undrafted free agent and may be ready to invest some development time into him.
Ed Oliver adds a jolt of youthful energy to the defensive line room
New additions: DT Ed Oliver (rookie), DE Darryl Johnson (rookie), DE Eli Harold
Returning From 2018: DT Star Lotulelei, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Shaq Lawson, DE Trent Murphy, DT Harrison Phillips, DT Jordan Phillips, DE Eddie Yarbrough, DE Mike Love, DT Kyle Peko, DT Robert Thomas
The Bills have 13 defensive linemen on the roster and at least half of them are likely to take a regular turn through the defensive line rotation on game day. They need numbers up front and they’ll use them: last year seven Bills defensive linemen played at least 30 percent of the snaps, and none of them played more than 65 percent.
First round draft pick Ed Oliver can expect to get the lion’s share of the work at the three-technique tackle spot. And NFL draft analyst Doug Farrar of USA Today says Oliver is the perfect fit for that job in Buffalo.
“I think when you look at traits and things that are transferable to the NFL, I would argue that there’s no one more able to be a more transcendent player than Ed Oliver,” Farrar told One Bills Live this week.
Backup DE Mike Love, who spent most of last year on Buffalo’s practice squad, has won admirers in the personnel department and from his teammates. He could challenge for significant snaps this spring and summer.
"When you watch Kyle Williams and Ed Oliver, there are a lot of traits that are similar that I think makes this a really excellent fit for Ed in Buffalo"Tremaine Edmunds will lead this returning group of starting linebackers
New additions: LB Vosean Joseph (rookie), LB Maurice Alexander
Returning from 2018: LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Matt Milano, LB Corey Thompson, LB Julian Stanford, LB Deon Lacey
The Bills are light in numbers here, at least until the undrafted rookies are officially signed and added to the roster. They’re expecting starter Matt Milano to come back full speed after missing the last three games in 2018. And they’re expecting another strong year from 13-year vet Lorenzo Alexander in his fourth season with the Bills.
The key man for this group is last year’s first round pick Tremaine Edmunds, back for his second year as a starter.
“I still have a long way to go,” he told One Bills Live during a break in the team’s offseason conditioning work. “I’m still trying to improve every day. I show up here, whether it’s conditioning, lifting, or in the meetings-getting mental reps. I still have a long way to go—We still have a long way to go.”
"Stay positive. You're going to face adversity in your rookie year. There's going to be many ups and downs."Who will win the second cornerback spot?
New additions: CB E.J. Gaines, CB Kevin Johnson, S Jaquan Johnson (rookie)
Returning From 2018: CB Tre’Davious White, CB Levi Wallace, S Micah Hyde, S Jordan Poyer, CB Lafayette Pitts, CB Taron Johnson, CB Ryan Lewis, S Siran Neal, S Dean Marlowe, S Rafael Bush, CB Denzel Rice
The big question to be answered in the secondary is who starts at cornerback opposite Tre’Davious White. Levi Wallace finished 2018 starting the final seven games. Kevin Johnson is a former Texans first round draft pick who made 18 starts in Houston over four seasons. And E.J. Gaines is back with Buffalo after a one-year stint in Cleveland. He made 11 starts at CB with the Bills two years ago.