Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Buffalo Bills' Final 53-Man Roster
Training camp is a time of excitement and joy for NFL fans because it means the NFL season is right around the corner. This time of year, though, is not fun and is extremely stressful for a majority of players, coaches and front offices, as teams must trim their rosters to 53 players before the start of the season.
The Buffalo Bills are no different, and this year could be tougher than most because of the talent on the roster. The Bills have done an excellent job the past few years of adding depth at a number of positions, and they will be getting to a point where they are cutting quality football players.
I have highlighted 10 players who will be fighting for those final few spots on the 53-man roster—five players who will make it and five who won't.
Out: T.J. Graham
The Bills have added four wide receivers the past two seasons who are expected to push T.J. Graham down the depth chart and potentially right out of Buffalo. Since being drafted in the third round in 2012, he has not been lived up to expectations. With the additions of Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams this year and Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin last year, Graham could be the odd man out.
The third-year wide receiver's chances are going to be greatly affected by how many wide receivers the Bills will keep on the roster this year. Most NFL teams will generally keep six wide receivers on their 53-man roster; four spots are already accounted for by the wide receivers mentioned above.
Chris Hogan has turned some heads through the first part of offseason practices should get the fifth roster spot with his impact on special teams. That leaves one final roster spot at the wide receiver position, which I believe will go to the next player on this list.
In: Marcus Easley
The special teams unit struggled last year for the Bills, and this is why the team focused on it this offseason with the additions of Corey Graham and Anthony Dixon. One player who did stand out last year on special teams was wide receiver Marcus Easley, and cutting him would be a major blow to this group in 2014.
In April special teams coordinator Danny Crossman talked about finding "core" special teams players, and the additions of Graham and Dixon help that core.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Easley made 18 tackles on special teams, which led the Bills and was 10 more than the next player on the team. This type of production won't go unnoticed, and Easley should end up grabbing one of the final spots on the Bills' 53-man roster.
Out: Dustin Hopkins
Every one of the 53 roster spots available is extremely important to NFL organizations, and it is rare for teams to dedicate two of those spots to kickers.
Last year the Bills found themselves scrambling at the start of the season to find a replacement for the injured Dustin Hopkins. They ended up deciding on Dan Carpenter, who went on to have an excellent season and earned a new contract this offseason.
Fast forward to this season—Hopkins is healthy, and the Bills have a bit of a dilemma on their hands. Can they afford to carry two kickers on their roster with Carpenter handling the field-goal duties and Hopkins handling the kickoffs?
I don't think it will be possible without sacrificing depth at another position, so one of the two will eventually be cut.
The fact that the Bills gave Carpenter a multiyear deal (four years, $9.95 million) makes it seem like they are committed to him for the long term. This does not bode well for Hopkins' chances to make the roster and will most likely make him one of the team's final cuts.
In: Tony Moeaki
The Bills are going to have a very tough decision to make at the tight end position this upcoming training camp. Last year the team used a seventh-round pick on Chris Gragg, who has the potential to be a big contributor in the passing game. The problem is that he still could use some time to develop his technique at the position.
Gragg's biggest competitor for a roster spot could be Tony Moeaki, whom the Bills signed toward the end of last season but did not get up to speed quick enough to see game action. He has battled injuries his entire NFL career but looked healthy in OTAs and is ready for the NFL season.
It remains to be seen exactly how many tight ends the Bills want to have on the roster to start the season, but if they decide to go in with only three, it will come down to Gragg and Moeaki. If this is the case, I expect Moeaki to win because of his experience and the fact that he is more well-rounded as a tight end than Gragg.
Out: Doug Legursky
Last year the Bills called on Doug Legursky to step in as the starting left guard after they released Colin Brown. The team recognized that Legursky was not the answer either and brought in free agent Chris Williams along with fifth-round rookie Cyril Richardson this year.
Legursky has been pushed down the depth chart with these additions, and by the time training camp is over, he could find he doesn't have a spot on the 53-man roster. One of the reasons he could end up making the roster is because of his ability to play guard and center. In the end, though, the Bills have added too much talent to find a spot on the offensive line for him.
In: Chris Hairston
One way a player can increase his chances of making the team after the final cut is by showing versatility. The oft-injured Chris Hairston was the reserve tackle in 2012, playing on both the left and right side, and he is now getting some looks at the right guard position in OTAs.
This trend should continue in training camp, and it will be up to Hairston to demonstrate in practice and the preseason that he could handle being the swing tackle as well as the backup right guard. This type of versatility would be valuable for the Bills and could open up a roster spot at another position.
Out: Erik Pears
At this point in the offseason, it may be more of a surprise that Erik Pears makes the roster rather than being cut. He unfortunately has a number of things working against him, from his salary ($3.45 million cap hit in 2014) to the young talent added at the position this offseason.
The timeline for when he gets cut will depend on how Cyrus Kouandjio looks in training camp and how quickly he claims the starting role. If the rookie tackle from Alabama is as NFL-ready as many hope, then Pears could be cut earlier in training camp out of respect for the veteran in order to give him an opportunity to find work with another team.
There would be a lot of question marks around the position if Pears is released, however. The Bills would have to feel comfortable going into the season with two rookies (Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson) and a player who has battled injuries his entire career (Hairston). The Bills won't be able to keep all these players, though, and in the end I expect Pears to be the odd man out.
In: Seantrel Henderson
The Buffalo Bills took a chance when they drafted Seantrel Henderson in the seventh round of the NFL draft. He is the type of player who has first-round physical talent, but some people question whether he has the intangibles and smarts to stay out of trouble. The Bills had to go so far as to warn him that this was his "one shot," per Mike Rodak of ESPN.com.
While it has been a short period of time, it seems like the message has sunk in, as Henderson is seizing his opportunity. The rookie even saw reps as the first-team left tackle when Cordy Glenn was forced to miss practice due to illness during OTAs.
The team is going to have a tough decision to make come cut time. While Henderson has the physical talent, concerns remain about whether he can be trusted. In the end, the Bills will find a way to keep him on the roster and see how far he takes his one shot.
Out: Corbin Bryant
The defensive tackle position on the Buffalo Bills is one of the strongest on the roster with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams starting and Alan Branch as the primary backup. The team also has a young prospect in Stefan Charles, who showed a lot of potential at the end of last season when he got the start against the Patriots in Week 17. In the first half, Charles had five tackles and one sack in place of the suspended Dareus.
This is why Corbin Bryant could be on the outside looking in when the final cuts are made before the start of the season. ESPN's Mike Rodak highlighted Corbin Bryant in his Bills Bubble Watch and mentioned that Charles has less NFL experience, making him more of an "untapped prospect."
With the versatility of Jarius Wynn, who could slide into tackle if need be, per Rodak, the Bills should feel comfortable going into the 2014 season with four defensive tackles. As a result, Bryant will just miss the cut.
In: Ron Brooks
The fact that the Bills brought in free agent Corey Graham and used a fourth-round pick on Ross Cockrell made it seem that Ron Brooks' days as a Buffalo Bill would be numbered. Well, if OTAs are any indication, he will not be giving up his roster spot willingly.
The top four spots at the position are pretty much set with Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin on the outside and Nickell Robey and Corey Graham lining up in the nickel and dime positions. This will leave Cockrell and Brooks battling for the spots behind the top four, and it would seem Cockrell has the edge because the Bills invested that fourth-round pick in him.
Last year the Bills struggled with injuries at the cornerback position, which is why I believe they will go deeper at this position in 2014. If this is the case, Brooks should be able to sneak his way onto the roster as insurance at cornerback.
Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce