The Buffalo Bills may have lost their preseason opener 25-24 to the Carolina Panthers, but the preseason is all about evaluating players. Following the game, there were quite a few players who stood out for positive and negative reasons. Here’s a look at four players who performed well and five who struggled.
Brown desperately needed a strong performance against the Panthers and the running back delivered. The running back found lanes to run through and showed excellent burst on the field. Most importantly, Brown held onto the football. He’s had fumbling issues in the past and early in training camp, so this was the most encouraging part of Brown’s performance. On the night, Brown rushed for 52 yards on six carries, a stellar 8.7 YPC, and added five yards on two receptions.
Brown is still considered a longshot to make the roster as LeSean McCoy, Fred Jackson and Karlos Williams are roster locks and Anthony Dixon has an edge over Brown due to his special teams play. Even if Brown is eventually released by the Bills, he’ll have plenty of suitors if he continues to run well during the preseason.
Goodwin didn’t have a huge stat line by any means, but he was actually involved when he was on the field. He took his one reception for 29 yards and showed off his speed and vision on the field by creating after the catch. The team also gave Goodwin a carry that went for two yards. Last season, Goodwin saw 91 snaps per Pro Football Focus, so seeing that he has a role in this year’s offense has to be encouraging to the wide receiver.
It seems like Brooks has been fighting for a roster spot the last two or three seasons and he always seems to land on the 53-man roster. Injuries to Leodis McKelvin and Ross Cockrell will give all of the cornerbacks additional playing time throughout the preseason and on Friday, Brooks made the most of his opportunity. Brooks had a near interception during the game, but his best play of the night was his strip sack of Joe Webb. The cornerback looks like he’s on his way to once again landing a roster spot on Buffalo’s 53-man roster.
Randell Johnson had a lot of natural ability when the Bills drafted him late in the 2014 draft. On Friday night, Johnson showed that he’s grown from his rookie season. Johnson has a terrific mentor in Manny Lawson and he didn’t look as raw on the field on Friday. He showed terrific instincts on one play when he broke into the backfield and batted a pass. The second year linebacker could thrive this season for Buffalo and by 2016, he may find himself replacing his mentor.
Mulligan saw a lot of playing time early due to his blocking ability, but he also drew two penalties. It was like Lee Smith never left the team. Mulligan’s first penalty was a questionable call as he didn’t look like he was intentionally blocking down field, but getting called for two penalties isn’t going to help him make the 53-man roster. Luckily for Mulligan, MarQueis Gray, Nick O’Leary and Chris Gragg didn’t do anything to stand out on Friday.
Kupper is a longshot to make Buffalo’s roster, but he didn’t help himself on Friday. Many fans booed E.J. Manuel on his first series of the game, but the boos should have been directed at Kupper. He was responsible for two botched snaps that did Manuel no favors. There’s a good chance that Kupper doesn’t survive the team’s first series of cuts.
Some people believe Chris Hogan’s spot on the roster is not a given. I wasn’t one of those people, but Hogan didn’t do himself any favors by dropping a Matt Cassel pass early in the game. The pass was a little bit behind Hogan, but it was a ball he needs to catch. Hogan has had issues with drops early in training camp and he needs to fix this problem quickly. His odds of making the roster are still strong, but last night was a poor performance for the receiver.
Before we get into the negatives, let’s not make too much of Darby’s first game. He did make a few plays and had two passes defensed, but it was clear that Cam Newton and Derek Anderson focused on the rookie last night. He had good coverage on Ted Ginn Jr.’s long catch but Newton threw a perfect ball. Darby was also responsible for giving up an easy first down on a ball where he simply didn’t turn around in time. That was the biggest knock on Darby coming out of the draft and it’s something he still needs to work on. In addition to these plays, Darby gave up a touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin and a long gain to Devin Funchess. It wasn’t the greatest of performances, but it was a good learning experience for the cornerback. He’s likely to get picked on by quarterbacks throughout the preseason and regular season until he proves himself on a consistent basis.