Sean McDermott is fond of pointing out how players who look good in spring practices sometime disappear when training camp begins.
The Buffalo Bills’ coach believes he’ll learn more about his team when the pads come on at St. John Fisher College starting at the end of next month.
That doesn’t mean the spring is meaningless, though. Some players showed they deserve a longer look when camp does start, and some failed to distinguish themselves. For those players, there is time to turn things around. Here’s a 53-man roster projection now that spring practices have wrapped up.
Quarterbacks (2): Josh Allen, Matt Barkley.
Cut: Tyree Jackson.
Analysis: The Bills started last year with just two quarterbacks on the active roster, and follow that pattern again this season. Jackson can make this a more difficult decision if he lights it up during the preseason, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest that’s about to occur. If he’s released, he’s a possibility for the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Running backs/fullbacks (6): LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Devin Singletary, Senorise Perry, Patrick DiMarco.
Cuts: Marcus Murphy, Christian Wade.
Analysis: This is an unusually high number to keep, but it’s plausible. The Bills continue to stand by McCoy, believing his miserable 2018 season is behind him. For now, we’ll take them at their word, but we reserve the right to change our minds. By signing Gore and Yeldon and drafting Singletary in the third round, the Bills made McCoy expendable. Perry makes the cut exclusively for special teams. DiMarco also is a key contributor on special teams, as well as one of the respected veterans in the room. His usage offensively last year was low, but there are times a fullback is needed.
Wide receivers (5): John Brown, Cole Beasley, Zay Jones, Robert Foster, Andre Roberts.
Cuts: Ray-Ray McCloud, Isaiah McKenzie, Duke Williams, Cam Phillips, David Sills V, Nick Easley, Victor Bolden Jr., Da’Mari Scott.
Analysis: Keeping five running backs requires being thin somewhere else, and that somewhere in this case is at wide receiver. There is a clear separation from the top five and the remaining eight who likely are competing for one or, at most, two spots. Of the eight on the projected cuts list, five of them spent some time on the team’s 53-man roster last year. None of them distinguished themselves, though, and this position feels more like quantity and not quality.
Tight ends (4): Jason Croom, Lee Smith, Dawson Knox, Tommy Sweeney.
PUP list (1): Tyler Kroft.
Cuts: Keith Towbridge, Nate Becker.
Analysis: Kroft’s foot injury complicates matters here. If he makes a full recovery sooner than expected, perhaps he’s on the Week 1 roster. If he misses all of training camp and the preseason, however, it’s not realistic to expect him to contribute right away. The PUP list would keep him out for at least the first six weeks, opening a spot for Sweeney – a seventh-round draft pick out of Boston College. Croom is another beneficiary of Kroft’s injury. It has to be frustrating for the Bills that Croom also missed time in the spring because of injury. The team needs time to see if he’s up to handling the starting job while Kroft is out, because rushing Knox into the lineup is less than ideal.
Offensive guards/centers (4): Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain.
Cuts: Ike Boettger, Wyatt Teller, Garrett McGhin, Russell Bodine, Vlad Ducasse.
Analysis: Free agency drastically changed the landscape on the interior offensive line. The four making the team in this projection were acquired this offseason, forcing out Bodine, Ducasse, Teller and Boettger, players who combined for 32 games and 26 starts in 2018.
Offensive tackles (5): Dion Dawkins, LaAdrian Waddle, Cody Ford, Ty Nsekhe, Jeremiah Sirles.
Cuts: Conor McDermott, De’Ondre Wesley.
Analysis: Sirles makes it as the ninth offensive lineman based on his flexibility. He can shift inside if needed. The top four at offensive tackle look relatively set, although it remains to be seen who will start at right tackle. Eventually, that will be Ford’s job, but it might not be that way in Week 1. Dawkins started throughout the spring, but still might get pushed for that job at training camp by Nsekhe.
Defensive ends (4): Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Trent Murphy, Darryl Johnson.
Cuts: Eli Harold, Eddie Yarbrough, Mike Love.
Analysis: The fourth defensive end spot is one of the more wide-open competitions on the roster. Yarbrough didn’t take a step forward in 2018, which opens the door for Johnson – a seventh-round draft pick this year – to steal a spot. After not having his fifth-year option picked up, Lawson knows he’s playing for a new contract, while Murphy will have to show he’s able to stay healthy. The contract extension for Hughes is looking like more of a good idea given that uncertainty next to him.
Defensive tackles (4): Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Harrison Phillips, Jordan Phillips.
Cuts: Kyle Peko, Robert Thomas, L.T. Walton.
Analysis: The easiest position on the roster to project. Barring injury, there’s no reason to expect any changes to the top four. How quickly the team moves Oliver into the starting lineup will be something to watch when camp starts.
Linebackers (6): Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Vosean Joseph, Maurice Alexander, Julian Stanford.
Cuts: Deon Lacey, Tyrel Dodson, Juwan Foggie, Corey Thompson.
Analysis: The starters are set with Alexander, Milano and Edmunds. There should be good competition for reserve spots behind them. Expect new special teams coordinator Heath Farwell to have an opinion here, as whoever is kept will be expected to contribute there. That’s why Alexander gets one spot. As a fifth-round draft pick, Joseph should also be considered a favorite for a spot. That leaves Stanford, Lacey and Thompson – who were all on the 53-man roster last year – fighting it out for the last spot. Stanford’s ability to serve as Edmunds’ backup at middle linebacker earns him the spot.
Cornerbacks (6): Tre’Davious White, Kevin Johnson, Taron Johnson, E.J. Gaines, Levi Wallace, Siran Neal.
Cuts: Cam Lewis, Denzel Rice, Lafayette Pitts, Ryan Lewis.
Analysis: Neal worked at slot cornerback during the spring, so he earns one of the final roster spots here. That would qualify as at least a mild surprise. There could be one or more moves at cornerback that raise some eyebrows given the quality level of competition on the roster. Kevin Johnson and Gaines aren’t necessarily locks, especially if Wallace holds on to his starting job opposite White.
Safeties (4): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Rafael Bush, Jaquan Johnson.
Cut: Dean Marlowe.
Analysis: The starting tandem of Hyde and Poyer is one of the league’s best. Bush is a reliable veteran reserve, while Johnson gets a chance to watch and learn as a sixth-round pick. Marlowe is a good player, but he’s stuck on a loaded secondary.
Specialists (3): Corey Bojorquez, Stephen Hauschka, Reid Ferguson.
Cuts: Cory Carter, Chase McLaughlin.
Analysis: The Bills did bring in McLaughlin to push kicker Hauschka, but the punting competition between Bojorquez and Carter is the real drama here. Bojorquez gets the advantage based on his start to last season.