CHICAGO – The opportunities to impress are over.
Thursday’s preseason finale here against the Bears was the final chance for the Buffalo Bills’ bubble players to convince the coaching staff they are worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. Those decisions must be made by 4 p.m. Saturday, when teams are required to make their final cuts.
Here’s my final projection of what the Bills’ roster will look like:
Quarterbacks (3): Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen, AJ McCarron.
Analysis: An entire summer has come and gone, and the team doesn’t have a starter here yet. The fact McCarron played the entire fourth preseason game would seem to indicate the decision is down to Allen or Peterman. By far the most interesting decision the Bills have to make is what to do with McCarron, who rebounded from a miserable first half Thursday to lead the Bills to four fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-27 victory. If I was making the call, I’d keep him. He’s a good presence in the locker room, and let’s face it – with how the Bills’ offensive line has performed this season, the threat of injury is real. Unless the Bills were to get an attractive trade offer, it makes sense to keep McCarron.
Running backs/fullbacks (5): LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Marcus Murphy, Taiwan Jones, Patrick DiMarco.
Cuts (2): Travaris Cadet, Sam Rogers, Keith Ford.
Analysis: Murphy not playing cemented what we already knew – he’s got a great chance to make the roster. The big question here comes down to how many running backs the team will keep. If it’s four, the final spot could go to Jones based on special teams. Cadet had some nice runs Thursday, but it was too little, too late in his battle for a spot.
Wide receivers (5): Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Ray-Ray McCloud.
Cuts (8): Corey Coleman, Rod Streater, Kaelin Clay, Robert Foster, Cam Phillips, Austin Proehl, Malachi Dupre, Brandon Reilly.
Analysis: The first minor surprise is Coleman failing to make the team. Based on his performances since coming over in a trade with Cleveland, it’s hard to argue he deserves a spot. His one saving grace might be his speed, since that’s an element the team wants more of. McCloud was one of the final players to make the cut. A strong performance Thursday as a returner helped his case. The top four separated themselves a while ago at this position.
Tight ends (4): Charles Clay, Jason Croom, Khari Lee, Nick O’Leary.
Cuts (2): Keith Towbridge, Logan Thomas.
Analysis: It was a bad sign for Thomas that he played into the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game. Croom, on the other hand, sat out, a sign he’s won the No. 2 job behind Clay. Lee is the best blocker they have at the position, while O’Leary is steady enough across the board to be kept over Thomas.
Offensive line (8): Dion Dawkins, Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy, Russell Bodine, John Miller, Jordan Mills, Wyatt Teller, De’Ondre Wesley.
Cuts (7): Marshall Newhouse, Conor McDermott, Mo Porter, Adam Redmond, Ike Boettger, Josh James, Gerhard de Beer.
Analysis: Another mild surprise here, with Wesley beating out Newhouse for the swing tackle job. Newhouse committed five penalties over the final two preseason games – an unacceptable amount given his playing time. Additionally, the Bills would save $1.25 million against the salary cap by releasing him. That’s significant money. The interior positions seem set. I’d give consideration to keeping Boettger over Teller, but it’s unlikely the Bills will see that the same way since they drafted the latter in the fifth round. There are plenty of candidates for the practice squad here, including Redmond, Boettger and McDermott.
Defensive ends (4): Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Eddie Yarbrough.
Cuts (4): Terrence Fede, Ryan Russell, Mike Love, Mat Boesen.
Analysis: There’s been a clear top four here for a while. The only question heading into the regular season is whether Trent Murphy will be healthy enough to play. If there is legitimate concern that he won’t, maybe a player like Fede sneaks onto the roster to start the year. The thinking here, though, is that Murphy will be ready. Love is another candidate for the practice squad. He struggled against the run Thursday.
Defensive tackles (4): Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Adolphus Washington.
Cuts (3): Rickey Hatley, Tyrunn Walker, Albert Havili.
Analysis: Washington played into the third quarter Thursday night, which would usually be a bad sign. The good news for him is he had a nice tackle for loss in the first quarter – exactly the kind of play the Bills need more of. With Williams uncertain for the season opener because of a knee injury, Washington is needed on the roster from this view.
Linebackers (7): Tremaine Edmunds, Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano, Tanner Vallejo, Julian Stanford, Deon Lacey, Ramon Humber.
Cuts (2): Xavier Woodson-Luster, Corey Thompson.
Analysis: The Bills go heavy at this position to start the season, with a focus on special teams. Stanford is currently week to week with a nose injury, so he might not be ready for Baltimore. That makes Vallejo one of the final players to make it. Both Lacey and Humber are key players on special teams.
Cornerbacks (5): Tre’Davious White, Vontae Davis, Taron Johnson, Phillip Gaines, Lafayette Pitts.
Cuts (3): Breon Borders, Levi Wallace, Ryan Carter.
Analysis: Davis has been rumored as a “surprise cut” candidate, but it’s hard to see how the Bills would make that happen given their lack of depth at the position. The fifth spot is up for grabs. It goes to Pitts based on special teams, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Borders win that job. He had an interception in the fourth quarter Thursday to strengthen his case.
Safeties (5): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Rafael Bush, Dean Marlowe, Siran Neal.
Cut (1): Kelcie McCray.
Analysis: Without a logjam of deserving candidates at cornerback, the Bills can keep five safeties in their secondary. That’s good news for Neal, who has not impressed as a fifth-round draft pick. Given where the team took him, though, they are likely to keep him on the 53-man roster as opposed to trying to sneak him through waivers onto the practice squad. In this scenario, Neal would not figure to be active on game days.
Specialists (3): Reid Ferguson, Colton Schmidt, Stephen Hauschka.
Cut (1): Jon Ryan.
Analysis: The job was there for Ryan to win, but he did not make a strong case in two preseason games to beat out the incumbent in Schmidt, who beautifully placed a punt out at the Bears’ 2-yard line Thursday.