This is the 10th and final part of a series looking at 10 questions facing the Buffalo Bills entering training camp, which begins Thursday. Today’s question: Which undrafted rookie free agent has the best chance to make the 53-man roster?
Levi Wallace and Robert Foster showed last year that undrafted rookies shouldn’t be counted out when it comes to making the Buffalo Bills’ 53-man roster.
This year, however, the challenge for the nine players looking to follow in their footsteps appears even greater. A free-agent spending spree that featured 18 additions coupled with an eight-man draft class means a much deeper roster than the team had in 2018.
So who might defy the odds? The Buffalo News handicaps the field, from least to most likely:
9. OL Garrett McGhin – A two-time team captain at East Carolina, McGhin has the versatility the Bills crave on the offensive line. He played tackle, guard and center during 48 career college games. The problem is, offensive line is the area General Manager Brandon Beane heavily targeted in free agency – adding Spencer Long, Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain and LaAdrian Waddle – and then again with the team’s second-round draft pick, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford. Those seven players are all good bets to make the 53-man roster, as is returning left tackle Dion Dawkins. That’s eight jobs accounted for, and McGhin will start training camp behind returning veterans Ike Boettger, Jeremiah Sirles, De’Ondre Wesley and Conor McDermott.
8. TE Nate Becker – The broken foot suffered by presumed starter Tyler Kroft could keep him out at the beginning of the season and thus adds a little more intrigue to the position, but Becker still figures to be sixth on the depth chart among healthy tight ends when camp starts. Depending on what happens with Kroft’s timetable for recovery, it’s safe to assume the Bills will keep at most four tight ends. Three of those jobs are going to Kroft, third-round draft choice Dawson Knox and veteran Lee Smith, leaving Becker to battle it out with Jason Croom, seventh-round draft choice Tommy Sweeney and Keith Towbridge, a member of the practice squad in 2018.
7. CB Cam Lewis – It would be a great local story if the University at Buffalo product were to earn a spot, but that will be tough to do in a loaded defensive backfield. Lewis’ size – 5 feet, 9 inches and 183 pounds – limits him to slot cornerback. The Bills have a young, promising slot cornerback in second-year veteran Taron Johnson, and additionally moved safety Siran Neal to the position during the spring. Neal, a 2018 fifth-round draft pick, has better size than Lewis at 6 feet, 206 pounds. He also has the versatility to switch back to safety, which he played last season.
6. LB Tyrel Dodson – The Texas A&M product was a long shot for the roster even before he was arrested in Arizona in May on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, assault/domestic violence and damage of property of less than $2,000. The Bills have taken the stance that they are “gathering information as the legal process continues” instead of just cutting Dodson, but obviously a team that preaches the importance of character as much as the Bills do can’t be happy about the development.
5. WR Nick Easley – The Iowa product went from community college to earning a job with the Hawkeyes as a walk-on, making 103 catches over the past two college seasons. He led Iowa in targets in 2018 with 82 and ended his college career with an eight-catch, 104-yard, two-touchdown game against Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl. Easley’s straight-line speed isn’t great (4.58 seconds in the 40 at Iowa’s pro day), but he’s quick. His three-cone drill of 6.72 seconds was better than all wide receivers invited to the 2019 scouting combine. The big problem for Easley is that the Bills are set at slot receiver with the addition of Cole Beasley.
4. K Chase McLaughlin – It’s easy to forget veteran Stephen Hauschka had a miserable end to 2018, inexcusably missing short from 43 and 42 yards in the last two weeks of the season. Hauschka’s 78.6% success rate on field goals in 2018 was his worst since becoming a full-time starter with the Seahawks in 2011. It’s also worth pointing out that Hauschka has a $3.25 million cap hit in the final year of his contract, of which the Bills could save $2 million by moving on. That’s not likely on the surface, but McLaughlin shouldn’t be viewed strictly as a camp body. He had a solid senior season at Illinois, winning the Big Ten Kicker of the Year award after going 20-of-25 on field goals, including 4-of-5 from 50-plus yards, and finishing his career a perfect 79-of-79 on extra points. The possibility exists that he could push Hauschka.
3. LB Juwan Foggie – A converted wide receiver, the Charlotte product excels in pass coverage. His six interceptions in 2018 ranked second in college football, and led all linebackers. That’s a valued skill in the pass-happy NFL. He’ll have to prove he’s an NFL athlete after below-average testing numbers – a 4.77-second 40-yard dash and 31.5-inch vertical – but the competition for reserve linebacker jobs is fairly wide open. If Foggie can contribute on special teams, it’s possible he beats out Deon Lacey and/or Corey Thompson for a job.
2. QB Tyree Jackson – There are a couple of reasons Jackson is this high on the list. No. 1, there are only two quarterbacks ahead of him. The number of teams that keep two or three quarterbacks on the active roster is about evenly split. The second reason is multifaceted. If Jackson performs well during training camp and the preseason games, during which he’ll get a lot of playing time, the Bills would risk losing him off waivers if they cut him with the idea of adding him to the practice squad. Given the dearth of quality quarterbacks throughout the NFL, another team might only need to see a glimmer of hope from Jackson to decide he’s worth stashing on its 53-man roster with an eye toward developing him. That in no way makes Jackson a lock for the Bills – far from it – but it at least gives Beane and Co. something to think about if he does show progress this summer.
1. WR David Sills V – The reason Sills is ahead of Easley on this list is his size. At 6 feet, 3 inches, Sills is the tallest wide receiver on the Bills’ roster, a height matched by Duke Williams. The Bills had a draftable grade on Sills, and were happy to be able to sign him as an undrafted free agent after he produced 33 touchdowns at West Virginia the past two years. A converted quarterback, Sills could be just scratching the surface of his potential as a receiver. Foster showed last year that a rookie, even one who went undrafted, can still make a big impact. Sills has a chance to do just that in 2019, but it won’t be easy. Foster, Beasley, Zay Jones and John Brown all look safe, as does Andre Roberts primarily as a returner. That means Sills will have to convince the Bills he’s worthy of being kept as a sixth receiver.
Story topics: Andre Roberts/ Cam Lewis/ Chase McLaughlin/ cody ford/ Cole Beasley/ David Sills V/ Dawson Knox/ John Brown/ Jon Feliciano/ Juwan Foggie/ Keith Towbridge/ LaAdrian Waddle/ Lee Smith/ Levi Wallace/ Mitch Morse/ Nate Becker/ Nick Easley/ Robert Foster/ Siran Neal/ Spencer Long/ Stephen Hauschka/ Tommy Sweeney/ Ty Nsekhe/ Tyler Kroft/ Tyrel Dodson/ Zay Jones