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Plenty of tough cuts in latest Bills' 53-man roster projection

Jay Skurski

DETROIT – With one week to go before the Buffalo Bills must set their 53-man roster, there are more questions than answers at this point.

How many wide receivers will make the cut? What do the injuries on the offensive line mean for how many players must be kept there? What should be done in a loaded secondary? Which linebackers offer the most value as reserves who double as special-teams standouts?

After Friday night’s third preseason game against the Lions, here is The Buffalo News’ best guess at answering those questions, in the form of our third 53-man roster projection of the summer:

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

Analysis: Allen continued his maddening habit of throwing across his body to the middle of the field Friday night, leading to an easy interception. Even though the play didn’t count because of a roughing-the-passer penalty, it was the lowlight of the preseason for Allen, who simply has to stop doing that. Barkley had another strong showing as the No. 2 quarterback. It was a quiet night for third quarterback Tyree Jackson, who completed 2 of 4 passes. He hasn’t done enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster, but is a good candidate for the practice squad.

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

Analysis: A heavy emphasis was put on getting reps for the running game Friday, with both McCoy and Gore getting more work than usual. Singletary took his only carry 9 yards for a touchdown. Yeldon had three catches for 51 yards out of the backfield. Perry didn’t play against the Lions because of an ankle injury. He makes the cut based on special teams, although it wouldn’t be a surprise if the team only keeps four running backs – with Perry and Yeldon competing for the last spot. Since they both have specific strengths, we’re keeping both for now. Murphy is the victim of a numbers game – he’s good enough to play somewhere in the NFL. Wade has captured the imagination of fans in the preseason, but a year on the practice squad is needed.

Fullback (1): Patrick DiMarco
Cut: None

Analysis: DiMarco doesn’t project to have a huge role on offense, but he’s a team leader and special-teams contributor who will be called on in certain situations. The Bills never even bothered bringing in an extra fullback to compete with DiMarco this summer.

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

Analysis: The battle for the final spot at wide receiver will go down to the wire. McKenzie gets the nod here based on his ability to back up Beasley as the slot receiver. The toughest cut earlier this summer would have been McCloud, but Williams has moved into that position after making touchdown catches in back-to-back weeks. Williams is the Bills’ biggest target, and got a chance to showcase his skills with the first team Friday night. Jones playing into the second half caught the attention of some, but McDermott said that boiled down to wanting to get him more work after he played sparingly in the first two preseason games. We’ll take the coach at his word. It seems premature to suggest Jones or Foster could be in jeopardy after what they accomplished last season.

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

Analysis: The Bills had Knox on a rep count Friday night as he returns from a hamstring injury. Most of those snaps were spent with the starters. Kroft still has not been cleared to practice, so it’s hard to imagine him being on the Week 1 active roster. Croom hasn’t been able to get healthy since the spring, and his inability to stay on the field costs him a spot.

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

Analysis: Injuries up front leave things way more up in the air than the Bills would prefer. Spain exited Friday’s game with an ankle injury and was in a walking boot with crutches coming out of the locker room. Bates, who was acquired recently from the Philadelphia Eagles in a trade, has quickly worked with the second team. He makes the cut based on his positional flexibility, although if Spain’s injury isn’t serious, the Bills might opt to keep eight up front. When everyone is healthy, it seems like the Bills want to use Ford at right guard and Nsekhe at right tackle. That opens a spot for a third tackle, with Wesley getting the nod here over McDermott, even though both of them are injured at the moment. It was telling that Teller did not come into the game after Spain was hurt against the Lions.

Defensive ends (4): Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Darryl Johnson
Cuts: Mike Love, Eddie Yarbrough, Sam Acho

Analysis: Love has taken some bad penalties the last couple weeks. He’s still getting most of the second-team reps, but the coaching staff can’t be pleased with the flags. Johnson’s pass-rush potential necessitates keeping him on the 53-man roster. The Bills don’t want to expose him to waivers with the goal of sneaking him onto the practice squad. He also helped his cause with two tackles on special teams against Detroit.

Defensive tackles (4): Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Harrison Phillips
Cuts: Kyle Peko, L.T. Walton, Roderick Young

Analysis: Still the easiest position to project, as there is a clear top four at the position. Peko, Walton and Young are playing for a spot on the practice squad.

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

Analysis: Lacey has been on the outside looking in all summer in these projections, but strengthened his case with a sack against the Lions. That’s still not enough to unseat Stanford, Joseph or Alexander for a reserve spot, though. Joseph makes it based on being a fifth-round draft pick, although a case could be made for Thompson, who has gotten more work with the second team this summer. Special teams will factor heavily into the decisions here.

Safeties (4): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Kurt Coleman, Jaquan Johnson
Cuts: Dean Marlowe, Abraham Wallace

Analysis: The Bills are deep in the secondary, and Marlowe falls victim to a numbers game in this projection. He’s played well enough to earn a spot, but the Bills like Coleman’s veteran presence and Johnson is a sixth-round draft pick who had a huge play Friday night, forcing and recovering a fumble that sealed the Bills’ win. He’s also been heavily involved in special teams, which bolsters his case for a roster spot.

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

Analysis: Munnerlyn, Neal and Pitts are likely fighting for one or two jobs. Munnerlyn can play both inside and outside, so he wins one of them, while Neal’s ability to play the “big nickel” in McDermott’s defense earns him the other. Pitts is one of the toughest cuts in this projection based on his play on special teams.

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

Analysis: Bojorquez underwhelmed against the Lions, although his performance got better as the night went on after his first two punts were ugly. There is still the possibility the Bills look outside the organization for their punter, similar to how they found Bojorquez last year at final cuts. Hauschka drilled a 43-yard field goal against the Lions. The Bills say they’re not worried about his missed kicks in the first two preseason games.

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