Get ready for a free-for-all on the offensive line at Buffalo Bills training camp, and don’t be surprised if Josh Allen is playing behind five new starters in September.
The Bills’ O-line overhaul – no, call it an extreme makeover – continued Friday with the selection of Oklahoma’s Cody Ford.
Everybody knew the Bills’ braintrust was dissatisfied with the front five after last season. But who expected this kind of a mass immigration to the offensive line room?
Ford is the seventh new lineman added since February.
Here’s a subjective depth chart by position, with the early-line odds on who will start:
Left tackle: Ty Nsekhe, Dion Dawkins, Jeremiah Sirles. Nsekhe is the under-the-radar, 33-year-old veteran signed as a free agent from Washington. Call Nsekhe the 60-40 favorite to beat out the incumbent Dawkins, who endured a subpar sophomore season last year. Dawkins may well see some snaps at guard, too, but the competition is crowded in the middle three.
Left guard: Quinton Spain, Wyatt Teller, Vlad Ducasse. Spain, signed in early April from Tennessee, started 48 games for the Titans over the past four years. That makes him a modest favorite to start. You have to think Ducasse is being kept around only as injury insurance.
Center: Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Russell Bodine. Morse is the only stone-cold lock as starter, having signed an $11.1 million-a-year contract, the richest of any center in the league. Bodine, who like Ducasse lost his starting job, also looks like a roster long shot.
Right guard: Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Ike Boettger. Call it a near toss-up. We’ll say Long, signed from the Jets, is a 55-45 favorite over Feliciano, signed from the Raiders. But Feliciano or Long could factor in at left guard, too.
Right tackle: Cody Ford, LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott. Ford is the overwhelming favorite. Waddle, who started seven games for New England the past two years, is the top swing tackle candidate.
When the Bills get to Rochester this summer, get ready for daily updates on all the mixing and matching the Bills do to sort out their starting five.
Just to review the impetus for all these moves:
The Bills ranked ninth in the NFL last year in rushing and 21st in sacks allowed per pass play. But the blocking was worse than both those numbers indicate.
Josh Allen finished second among NFL QBs in rushing yards. Take QB runs away, and the Bills ranked 29th in rushing.
The Bills average yards per game by running backs (77.3) was the lowest in the 59-year history of the franchise.
LeSean McCoy, who turns 31 in July, is not a top-five NFL back anymore, but he’s still a lot better than his career-worst 3.2 yards-per-carry average last year indicated.
The addition of Ford is good news for the running game.
Ford arguably was the most physical blocker in the draft. He is aggressive. Some NFL scouts affectionately were calling him mean this spring. He’s not super tall – at 6-foot-3 ¾. But he has long arms (34 inches). You need your right tackle to be more physical than your left tackle to help power the run game.
A note of caution: A lot of scouts think his best NFL future is at guard, partly because of his slightly less than ideal height and partly because he didn’t play tackle until 2018 at Oklahoma. Those scouts think he can be great at guard.
This is a case where he deserves the chance to succeed at tackle, and he can shift to guard after 2019 if necessary.
“Ford is a nasty mauler who has the versatility to play either right tackle or guard,” said ESPN’s Todd McShay.
Bills General Manager Brandon Beane deserves credit for acting quickly to get Ford. The Bills moved up from 40 to 38 ahead of Tampa Bay, which had a glaring need at tackle.
Tackles had gone at Nos. 35 and 37. The run had begun. There were not going to be sure starting tackles available in the third round.
Kansas State tackle Dalton Risner still was on the board. But even though Risner has great character and experience, he’s nowhere near as physical as Ford. Risner is a bit of a tweener. He plays too tall for guard, he’s not athletic enough to play tackle. He’s not burly enough for right tackle. He’s decent, but his upside is not high.
The Bills, obviously, didn’t want Risner. He went at No. 41.
If the Bills hadn’t taken a tackle in the second round, they were looking at taking a much more raw project tackle prospect later in the draft.
The fact they went for Ford is bad news for Dawkins. The Bills clearly think they can do better than Dawkins in the starting lineup. Dawkins all of a sudden is an underdog to keep a starting job.