The 91 players on the Buffalo Bills’ roster have done all they can do.
With the preseason coming to a close Thursday night against the Minnesota Vikings, the Bills’ coaching staff and front office now must get down to the task of setting the 53-man roster for the regular season. That must be done by 4 p.m. Saturday.
Keep in mind that those 53 players may not be the same ones on the roster come Sept. 8 against the New York Jets. With nearly 1,200 players becoming free agents by Saturday, it’s entirely possible the Bills put in some waiver claims to bolster their roster.
For now, though, here is The Buffalo News’ final 53-man roster projection of the summer.
Quarterbacks (2): Josh Allen, Matt Barkley
Cut: Tyree Jackson
Analysis: Allen ended the preseason with a bit of a dud against the Lions, but overall it was a positive summer for the Bills’ second-year starter. He showed growth in key areas like hanging in the pocket and delivering on-time, accurate passes. There is a great deal of optimism heading into 2019 about Allen, with good reason.
Barkley, meanwhile, gives the Bills something they’ve long lacked – a reliable backup. He was terrific in the preseason. If something were to happen to Allen, Barkley looks capable of keeping things afloat on offense.
The drama at quarterback this preseason has been less about who makes the 53-man roster and more about whether University at Buffalo product Tyree Jackson could work his way onto the practice squad. Perhaps the furious fourth-quarter rally Jackson led Thursday night against the Vikings is enough to do that. Either way, the Bills will want a developmental quarterback on the practice squad with only Allen and Barkley on the active roster.
Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, T.J. Yeldon
Cuts: Senorise Perry, Marcus Murphy, Christian Wade
Analysis: An ankle injury at the wrong time damaged Perry’s push for a roster spot. While he’s been a standout on special teams throughout his career, this projection has the Bills keeping several other players for that reason. Simply put, Yeldon is the more talented player, and the Bills need as much of that as they can get for their offense. Murphy showed Thursday against the Vikings with a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown that he’s an NFL-caliber player, but he remains likely to fall victim to the numbers game.
Wade, who became the talk of the preseason after the first two games with his big gains, was quiet Thursday. He looks destined for the exempt spot on the practice squad, which would give the former professional rugby player another year to learn the game.
Fullback (1): Patrick DiMarco
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.
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: Several 53-man projections lately have seen the Bills keeping seven wide receivers, with both McKenzie and Williams sticking. That number feels too high, though. The Bills kept five receivers in Sean McDermott’s first year and six in 2018.
It’s worth pointing out that Williams played on offense against the Vikings, while McKenzie only appeared on special teams. In a battle that went down to the wire, he gets the nod here based on his ability to back up Beasley as the slot receiver.
After making touchdown catches in back-to-back weeks, Williams had a quiet night against the Vikings, with two catches for 18 yards. He’s the Bills’ biggest receiver, but it’s hard to figure how much a role he’d really have in the offense.
McCloud had a nice game against the Vikings, catching all five of his targets for 48 yards. Still, the issues with drops earlier in the preseason will be costly in what has been such a close battle. He’s a good candidate for the practice squad.
There has been speculation about the roster status of both Jones and Foster after they have played at times not common among roster locks – Jones in the second half of the third preseason game and Foster on Thursday night against the Vikings. That seems crazy to me. Both showed enough last year to be back on the active roster, especially considering Foster has been dealing with an injury this summer.
Tight ends (4): Tyler Kroft, Dawson Knox, Lee Smith, Tommy Sweeney
Cuts: Jason Croom, Nate Becker, Keith Towbridge, Kyle Carter
Analysis: The Bills’ front office and medical staff are scheduled to meet Friday, General Manager Brandon Beane said, and a decision on what to do with Kroft is likely to be made then. On the TV broadcast of Thursday’s game, Beane made it sound like keeping Kroft on the active roster to start the season is a possibility. Even if he’s not ready to play right away, the Bills can only dress 46 of their 53 players on game day. They could keep Kroft on the active roster and have him as one of their inactives early in the season. Doing so means he could get into the lineup sooner than if he were to start the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would keep him out for at least six games.
Knox is safe as a third-round draft pick, and looks to be healthy after dealing with a hamstring injury. Smith is a terrific veteran leader who will fill a blocking role and Sweeney sticks as the fourth tight end after a strong summer. Croom played deep into Thursday’s game. Unfortunately for him, he ran out of time to impress the coaching staff after dealing with a hamstring injury that dated back to the spring.
Offensive line (8): Dion Dawkins, Quinton Spain, Cody Ford, Mitch Morse, Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Ty Nsekhe, Ryan Bates
Cuts: Jarron Jones, Conor McDermott, Ike Boettger, Demetrius Rhaney, Erik Magnuson, Russell Bodine
Analysis: The Bills have made a couple moves in the last week to clear up the picture up front, including the trade of Wyatt Teller to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday. Teller was fighting for a reserve spot on the interior of the line. The team also released tackle De’Ondre Wesley with an injury settlement. He was in a competition for the third offensive tackle job.
Center Mitch Morse has cleared the concussion protocol, which is good news heading into the regular season. Still, there are questions to be answered here. Will Quinton Spain be ready to play against the Jets on Sept. 8 as he deals with an ankle injury? Where does rookie Cody Ford end up, guard or tackle? If the top five is left tackle Dion Dawkins, Spain, Morse, Ford at right guard and Ty Nsekhe at right tackle, who provides the depth if Dawkins or Nsekhe get hurt? Bates’ positional flexibility earns him a spot for that reason, although it’s possible the Bills would shift Ford to tackle and insert Feliciano or Spain into the lineup in the case of an injury to Dawkins or Nsekhe.
Bottom line: There is still a lot to sort out.
Defensive ends (4): Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Shaq Lawson, Darryl Johnson
Cuts: Eddie Yarbrough, Sam Acho, Jeff Holland
Analysis: Mike Love’s going on injured reserve this week made things easier here. Johnson flashed so much as a pass rusher early in the preseason that the seventh-round draft pick didn’t even play Thursday. Yarbrough has been with the third team since training camp began. He had a strong performance Thursday, but it’s hard to see him moving ahead of Johnson for the fourth defensive end spot. Acho and Holland, meanwhile, didn’t have enough time with the Bills to earn a roster spot.
Defensive tackles (4): Star Lotulelei, Ed Oliver, Jordan Phillips, Harrison Phillips
Cuts: Kyle Peko, L.T. Walton, Roderick Young
Analysis: Nothing to see here. There is a clear top four at the position. McDermott likes to rotate up front on the defensive line, but Oliver should be the clear leader in terms of playing time. Lotulelei will be the early downs run-stuffer. Who replaces him on obvious passing situations? That’s about the only bit of drama at this position. Peko, Walton and Young are playing for a spot on the practice squad.
Linebackers (7): Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Julian Stanford, Deon Lacey, Vosean Joseph, Maurice Alexander
Cuts: Tyrel Dodson, Corey Thompson
Analysis: Lacey came on strong at the end of the preseason, even though his long fumble return was called back against the Vikings, with the play being reversed to an incomplete pass. Figuring out the reserve spots behind Milano, Edmunds and Alexander went down to the wire.
Lacey, Joseph, Alexander, Dodson and Thompson all played against Minnesota. Joseph left the game in the second half with an injury but was able to return to the lineup. He didn’t help his cause by taking a pass interference penalty inside the Bills’ red zone, but that doesn’t figure to be enough to take him off the 53-man roster, especially considering he was a fifth-round draft pick. Joseph did leave the field early for evaluation of his injury, so that could factor in here. He’ll have to prove he can be a contributor on special teams, which is what helps Stanford, Lacey and Alexander earn spots.
If the Bills feel like they need another body at a different position, keeping six linebackers makes sense. In that case, Alexander would be my odd man out.
Safeties (4): Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Kurt Coleman, Jaquan Johnson
Cuts: Dean Marlowe, Abraham Wallace
Analysis: Coleman was not in uniform Thursday night – a good sign that he’s entrenched as the third safety behind starters Hyde and Poyer. The Bills are deep in the secondary, and Marlowe falls victim to a numbers game in this projection. The decision comes down to potential. Johnson, as a sixth-round draft pick, has more of it, even if Marlowe might be the better player right now.
Whoever loses out on the fourth safety spot would be a prime candidate for the practice squad. It figures to be easier to get Marlowe through waivers to the practice squad than it does Johnson, who forced and recovered a fumble for the Bills in the third preseason game to seal a victory. The Bills stashed Marlowe on the practice squad last year and promoted him to the active roster two different times. A similar scenario could unfold this year.
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: It’s a toss-up between Neal and Pitts for the last spot. Munnerlyn, by not playing Thursday night, looks to have secured a spot. He’s a trusted veteran with plenty of experience in this defense who can fill a leadership role in what will be a young position group. The thinking here is Munnerlyn and Kevin Johnson will serve as the backups at outside cornerback, while Neal backs up Taron Johnson in the slot and can fill the “big nickel” role in Sean McDermott’s defense. Neal’s physical tools, which include an ability to blitz off the edge, are more impressive than what Pitts brings to the table. It helped that Neal closed out Thursday’s win with an interception on the final play.
Both Neal and Pitts have played extensively on special teams this summer, but Neal has been with the first-team coverage units earlier in the preseason ahead of Pitts. The decision between the two might come down to that.
Specialists (3): Corey Bojorquez, Stephen Hauschka, Reid Ferguson
Cut: Chase McLaughlin
Analysis: Bojorquez shouldn’t go to Russell’s for a celebratory dinner. Just because the team released Cory Carter earlier this week, leaving Bojorquez as the only punter, his position is not necessarily set in stone. Just like they did last year when they claimed Bojorquez off waivers from the Patriots at final cuts, the Bills might once again see who hits the open market Saturday. If they think they can upgrade, we’ve already seen that they won’t hesitate to make such a move.
The Bills said all preseason that they had no worries about Haushcka, and they backed that up by signing him to a two-year contract extension. He ended the preseason on a high note Thursday by drilling a 54-yard field goal.
Not to be outdone, McLaughlin hit a 54-yard field goal of his own against the Vikings, but that won’t be enough to unseat Hauschka.