Every teams 53 man roster consists of 1st string, 2nd string and 3rd string players. Typically if a player is good enough to compete for a starting spot he will make the team, if he’s not starting he’d be the first one off the bench. Today’s list is for the exception to the rule, players who will either start or not make the team. In most cases this list is reserved for veteran players, usually ones who don’t contribute that much to special teams and that if they were starting wouldn’t contribute much. If you have a roster spot that is not contributing then teams typically prefer that the spot doesn’t cost them too much, hence why most teams don’t have veteran backups. A team would rather pay a 4-7th round rookie to be a backup and play special teams than 2-3 million to a veteran who may or may not play special teams. This puts a lot of veterans on the roster bubble, win the starting job or get your walking papers. The 5 players who fit the bill (pun included) for the 2014 Buffalo Bills are…
1) Kraig Urbik, RG
Urbik has been starting at RG for the Bills since the end of Chan Gailey’s first year as the Bills Head Coach. He has started 42 of the 48 games over the three years, he filled in at Center capably when Eric Wood was injured two years ago and has been a solid if not spectacular starter. All indications are that he will open camp as the starting right guard, but will he remain there? Urbik is set to make over 2.5 million each of the next 3 years, an excellent price for a starting guard, maybe a bit much for a backup. The Bills went out of their way to try and improve the offensive line this offseason as they signed Chris Williams to man the left guard spot, drafted Cyrus Kouandjio to be the right tackle, Cyril Richardson to be the swing guard and future starting right guard. They also took a flyer on Seantrel Henderson, the impressive looking tackle from the University of Miami. Generally your draft picks (especially rounds 1-4) will always make the team. Former right tackle of the future Chris Hairston has been working at tackle and guard through OTA’s and by all account has been impressive. The wild card for Urbik is Henderson, if he is able to keep his head on straight and make the team then he would likely start the year as the swing tackle (back up at both LT and RT), if Hairston keeps doing what he’s doing then he could be the swing guard, Richardson being a higher draft pick would likely make the team. With Cordy Glenn’s ability to play guard as well that gives you a lot of options at the guard position, possibly making Urbik expendable.
Verdict: I think Urbik makes the team, however I could see a scenario where he loses his job during the season and the Bills then deem him expendable and cut him during the year.
2) Tony Moeaki, TE
With Scott Chandler nursing injuries Tony Moeaki took the majority of the first team reps during the Bills offseason workouts. Moeaki started his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, as a 3rd round picking he has shown promise throughout his career. The negative for Moeaki has been his ability to stay healthy, if he hadn’t bit the injury bug so much he’d likely still be the starter in KC. Moeaki should compete with incumbent starter Scott Chandler for the number one spot on the tight end depth chart. Let’s say Chandler wins the job the Bills would likely prefer the younger and also talented Chris Gragg as the backup pass catching tight end. Lee Smith has the blocking tight end spot sewn up, with the Bills carrying at least four running backs this year it’s highly doubtful that they keep four tight ends. However, if Moeaki wins the job I could see the Bills keeping Moeaki and Chandler, Smith as the blocking tight end and possibly cutting Gragg.
Verdict: I think Chandler wins the job and Moeaki is cut at the end of training camp.
3) Frank Summers, FB
The Bills already had stud running backs in CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson on the roster, this offseason they added Anthony Dixon from the 49ers and traded for Bryce Brown (Philadelphia Eagles) during the draft. As noted above, the Bills could keep as many as four tight ends, no way could they also have five running backs on the roster. The four backs listed above are all making the team (Spiller, Jackson, Dixon, Brown). Dixon is the wildcard, he was signed to be a special team’s contributor and possible goal line back, however he certainly has the physique to be able to play fullback. Also, being he’s likely fourth in line for regular carries this would give him another way to contribute. Finally, the Bills could use blocking tight end Lee Smith in the fullback role. With the Bills expected to be a more wide open offense this year the need for the fullback should be lessened anyway. Summers will have to be very impressive this offseason to retain his roster spot.
Verdict: Cut during training camp.
4) Ron Brooks, DB
The Bills 4th round draft pick in 2012 has seen plenty of playing time the last 2 seasons, mostly due to injuries. Once everyone got healthy last year the pecking order at cornerback became pretty set, 1) Gilmore 2) McKelvin 3) Robey. Brooks was able to make the field as the 4th corner during Dime situations. This offseason the Bills added free agent CB Corey Graham from the Ravens (side note: Graham is a Buffalo native), the coaching staff has made it clear that the Nickel corner job is Graham’s to lose. Robey who played impressively last year as an undrafted rookie is likely to be the 4th corner and play in Dime situations. The Bills also drafted Ross Cockrell in the 4th round this year making him the likely 5th cornerback on the depth chart, it is doubtful the depth chart goes six deep at corner. The one thing Brooks has going for him is the Bills are employing a new scheme this year. If Brooks can show he’s a better fit in Jim Schwartz defense then Nickell Robey then he still has a shot at making the roster.
Verdict: I really thought about being bold here and having Brooks make the roster over Robey but I think the coaching staff will look back to Robey’s success last year and he’ll be the guy. I think Brooks will be cut at the end of training camp.
5) T.J. Graham, WR
No one can say that Graham hasn’t been given opportunities. His rookie year he was thrust into action after number 3 wide receiver David Nelson tore his ACL in week 1, Graham responded with 31 receptions 322 yards and 1 touchdown. Last year he again received plenty of snaps with Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin all missing time, he finished the season with 23 catches 361 yards and 2 touchdowns. The biggest problem for Graham is the Bills possess great depth at the receiver position this year and they have a player with a similar skill set in Goodwin. Goodwin also has the benefit of being drafted by the Marrone regime while Graham was a Gailey pick. To make the team Graham doesn’t have to win a starting job per se, but he needs to have a more impressive offseason then Goodwin. Sammy Watkins, Woods and Mike Williams are the top 3 wide receiver options and Goodwin is slated to be the deep threat. All accounts are that Chris Hogan is having a strong offseason and that Marcus Easley is likely to stick as a special team’s contributor. The Bills won’t keep more than 6 wide receivers. Graham needs a strong training camp to make this team.
Verdict: I think I am in the minority here but I think Graham makes this team. Reports from mini camps have Goodwin leaving the field every other practice with some kind of ailment. Goodwin is making the team no question so I think Graham makes the team at the expense of Hogan or Easley.
***Two players not mentioned***
Erik Pears is a name most Bills fans would expect on this list. I thought that was too easy, in my mind he was cut the second the Bills drafted Kouandjio. The other name not mentioned was Nigel Bradham, if I made this list a week ago he would have been on it. However, the injury to Kiko Alonso has changed that. I don’t know if he will be next man up as many have speculated but the Bills will certainly need him as depth this year making his roster spot safe.
What do you think Bills fans? Did I miss anybody? Agree/disagree with my predictions? Let me know in the comments below, make sure to follow me on twitter @TVandyH20 and to like and share our cover32 Bills Facebook page!