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Updated 53-man roster projection after Bills' latest moves

Jay Skurski

Overreactions are the name of the game in the once-a-week NFL.

That’s particularly true after the first game of the preseason, when fans finally get to see their first taste of real football since February.

For the Buffalo Bills, it’s important to remember that Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts is just a piece of the evaluation process. Weeks of practices and three preseason games remain before the roster has to be trimmed.

Nevertheless, it’s not too early to unpack what we learned about the Bills on Thursday and how it might apply to the eventual 53-man roster. With that, here is The Buffalo News’ latest projection updated following Saturday's moves:

Quarterbacks (2): Josh Allen, Matt Barkley.
Cut (1): Tyree Jackson.

Analysis: It was an acceptable start for Allen, although he did make a pair of inaccurate throws to Zay Jones that he would like to have back against the Colts (Jones “repaid” him by dropping what should have been a touchdown). Barkley had a nice showing and is locked in as the No. 2. Jackson showed off the big arm he’s known for, but completed just 2 of 10 throws. He remains a practice-squad candidate.

Running backs/fullbacks (5): LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, Senorise Perry, Patrick DiMarco.
Cuts (3): T.J. Yeldon, Marcus Murphy, Christian Wade.

Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie re-signed with the team Tuesday, according to his agency. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Analysis: McCoy sat out Thursday and Gore carried the ball just twice against the Colts, so there wasn’t much to take away from their performances. Singletary, meanwhile, averaged just 3.0 yards per carry on nine attempts, but showed some of the elusiveness that made him a third-round draft pick. He also caught a team-leading three passes. They are a firm top three at the position. Perry earns the fourth spot based primarily on special teams, but it’s worth noting he made a nice catch for a 15-yard gain against the Colts and scored a touchdown on a leaping, 1-yard run.  The big development is Yeldon being squeezed off the roster. He lost a bad fumble against the Colts, and simply hasn’t done enough to show he’s worth keeping a fifth player at the position. DiMarco, meanwhile, is a key contributor on special teams and a respected leader in the locker room. Those are traits valued by the coaching staff. Wade might have done enough on one touchdown run to convince the team he's worth an exempt spot on the practice squad.

Wide receivers (6): John Brown, Cole Beasley, Robert Foster, Zay Jones, Andre Roberts, Ray-Ray McCloud.
Cuts (6): Cam Phillips, Isaiah McKenzie, David Sills V, Duke Williams, Nick Easley, Victor Bolden Jr.

Analysis: The top five remain unchanged, although Foster playing into the second half provided at least some intrigue Thursday. My take: He flashed enough in 2018 that it would be crazy for the Bills to give up on him, even if he hasn’t taken the step forward the team hoped he would this summer. McCloud hangs onto the sixth spot for now thanks to a strong training camp, although he did have a bad drop against the Colts. The biggest move was made by McKenzie, who had a team-leading 62 yards on two catches and also returned three punts for 25 yards. The competition for the sixth spot, if there is one, will likely continue through the final preseason game. Any of the six projected cuts could land on the practice squad.

Tight ends (3): Dawson Knox, Lee Smith, Tommy Sweeney.
PUP list (1): Tyler Kroft.
Cuts (4): Jason Croom, Keith Towbridge, Nate Becker, Kyle Carter.

Analysis: Sweeney didn’t help himself Thursday, dropping his only target. He’s had a good training camp, though, and injuries ahead of him make his spot secure. Smith’s role is set in stone as the blocking tight end, and Knox is safe as a third-round draft pick. With no timetable set on Kroft’s return to practice, it’s looking more likely that he begins the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would keep him out for six weeks. Croom is also dealing with a hamstring injury that dates back to the spring, which would lead you to believe it’s something more serious than just a normal strain. It’s hard to count on him at this point.

Offensive line (8): Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Mitch Morse, Cody Ford, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano, Spencer Long, De’Ondre Wesley.
Cuts (9): Ryan Bates. Russell Bodine, Ike Boettger, Vlad Ducasse, Wyatt Teller, Jarron Jones, Conor McDermott, Garrett McGinn, Demetrius Rhaney.

Analysis: If Ford’s move inside to guard becomes permanent, the Bills’ depth at tackle will take quite a hit following the season-ending quad injury suffered by LaAdrian Waddle. Wesley earns the eighth and final spot as a result. The Bills gave Feliciano a look with the starters at center Thursday as Morse remains out with a concussion. Spain has been with the first team at left guard throughout camp. The toughest cut here is Teller, but he falls victim to Ford’s new position. Bodine had been working with the starters in place of Morse, but didn’t get the call Thursday. When he did get into the game, he sailed a snap over Barkley’s head.

Defensive line (9): Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Mike Love, Darryl Johnson.
Cuts (4): Kyle Peko,  Eddie Yarbrough, Roderick Young, L.T. Walton.

Analysis: The top four defensive tackles are set with Lotulelei, Oliver, and the two Phillips – although Harrison Phillips playing deep into Thursday’s game raised some eyebrows. It would be a big surprise if his roster spot were in jeopardy this soon, however. Love has consistently been with the second team, but he could be competing with Johnson for just one spot. We’ll keep both in this projection, influenced heavily by Johnson’s showing against the Colts, which included a third-down sack. Yarbrough, who has been with the Bills for the past two seasons, also had a sack against the Colts, but is still buried on the third team.

Linebackers (6): Lorenzo Alexander, Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Julian Stanford, Corey Thompson, Maurice Alexander.
Cuts (3): Tyrel Dodson, Vosean Joseph, Deon Lacey.

Analysis: The starters are set with Alexander, Milano and Edmunds, and the backups are coming into focus, too. Stanford has consistently been the second-string middle linebacker behind Edmunds, and doubles as a key special-teams contributor. One of the biggest takeaways from Thursday’s game was Thompson starting in Alexander’s spot. Alexander, meanwhile, has gotten plenty of second-team work, and is also valued for his special teams. Cutting Joseph, a fifth-round pick, might seem like a stretch, but in this projection I have Johnson ahead of him. Pass rush is simply a more valued trait in the NFL.

Cornerbacks (6): Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Taron Johnson, Lafayette Pitts, Siran Neal.
Cuts (3): Ryan Lewis, Denzel Rice, Cam Lewis.

Analysis: The top four of White, Wallace, Kevin Johnson and Taron Johnson are relatively secure. Cornerback E.J. Gaines was among my projected cuts before he was placed on injured reserve Saturday with a groin injury. The Bills signed Captain Munnerlyn, a former Carolina Panther who has an understanding of Sean McDermott’s defense but will be pressed for time to show that he can make the 53-man roster. He misses the cut for now but could quickly shake things up on the depth chart. Neal, who is firmly on the roster bubble, got a chance as the starting nickel cornerback Thursday with Taron Johnson sitting out. Neal’s versatility allows him to play several positions, which McDermott likes. Pitts has been with the second team at outside cornerback, and plays special teams. Cam Lewis has drawn praise from the coaching staff, but looks more like a practice-squad candidate at this point.

Safeties (5): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Kurt Coleman, Dean Marlowe, Jaquan Johnson.
Cut (1): Abraham Wallace.

Analysis: The Bills are going heavy in the defensive backfield in this projection, but that makes sense given their depth at both safety and cornerback. Marlowe helped himself with a nice interception against the Colts, while Johnson led the team with eight tackles, including one for a loss. He also had a pass defensed. He’s been running with the third team, but given his draft status is likely to find his way onto the active roster.

Specialists (3): Reid Ferguson, Stephen Hauschka, Cory Carter.
Cuts (2): Chase McLaughlin, Corey Bojorquez.

Analysis: I’m not convinced the Bills’ opening-day punter is even on the roster at this point. In the Corey-vs.-Cory battle Thursday, neither player was particularly impressive. The Bills claimed Bojorquez off waivers from the Patriots at final cuts last year, and it’s possible they do the same thing again. Hauschka, meanwhile, missed a 34-yard field goal last night – not the start he wanted to the preseason after a miserable end to last year. Still, he’s a proven veteran and McLaughlin hasn’t done enough to this point to unseat him. Ferguson continues to enjoy perhaps the most roster security of anyone not named Josh Allen.

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