The Buffalo Bills are fielding one of their deepest rosters in years. This is great news for Buffalo, but it also means that some difficult cuts will have to be made. It’s a good problem to have, but the Bills are going to have to let some talented players walk away in the next few weeks. Here are five players that are firmly on the roster bubble.
Based strictly on camp play and preseason play, Deonte Thompson deserves to be on Buffalo’s opening day roster. The only problem is trying to figure out how many receivers the team can realistically carry and where Thompson stands among them. The receiver is certainly behind Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin, but are any other receivers ahead of him at this time? That is all up to the coaching staff. Chris Hogan, Marquise Goodwin and Marcus Easley are all in the mix with Thompson but there’s no telling how much each receiver is valued. Hogan has had a rough camp, but was a significant contributor in 2014. Goodwin hasn’t shown much as a pure receiver but his speed is valued by the team. Easley has a good chance of making the roster just because of his outstanding play on special teams.
Thompson deserves a spot over Goodwin and Easley at this point, but it doesn’t mean he’ll be given one. Rex Ryan said yesterday that teams have inquired about the receiver. If the team doesn’t plan on keeping him on their 53-man roster, they’d be wise to listen to all offers and pull the trigger on a deal that is the most beneficial to them.
Prediction: Makes the 53-man roster
There was a lot of initial excitement about the Bills drafting O’Leary late in the 2015 NFL draft. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman loves utilizing tight ends and the Bills didn’t have any proven depth behind Charles Clay. Now, midway through the preseason, O’Leary really hasn’t done much to stand out for the Bills.
Could Buffalo’s sixth round draft pick be released? It’s certainly possible. MarQueis Gray seems to have the No. 2 TE job locked down and the team loves Matthew Mulligan’s blocking ability. That leaves O’Leary competing with Chris Gragg for the team’s fourth tight end spot. The bad news for O’Leary is that Gragg has been impressing in camp as of late and the tight end led the Bills in receiving against the Browns. Unless O’Leary really steps up his game in the next two weeks, there’s a good chance that he’ll be looking for work elsewhere.
Prediction: Cut and moved to practice squad if unclaimed
O’Leary isn’t the only rookie fighting for a roster spot on Buffalo’s 53-man roster. Steward, a sixth round pick, is fighting to make the Bills. Recently, the linebacker saw his odds improve when the team lost Ty Powell for the season to an ACL injury. Due to Powell’s injury, Steward was recently told he’s be seeing reps at the MIKE linebacker position. Rex Ryan recently said the following on Steward:
“We’ve thrown a lot at this young man and we’re going to throw some more at him,” Ryan said after Saturday’s practice at St. John Fisher College. “Have him play some ‘MIKE’ also, which he doesn’t know about yet, but it’s going to be good.”
Ryan also added that Steward’s game against the Browns was ‘far and away his best game.’ In addition to playing linebacker, Steward is also seeing time on special teams. Early in camp, you didn’t hear much about Steward, but he seems to be turning heads at the best possible time.
Prediction: Makes the 53-man roster
Cockrell recently returned to practice after suffering a knee injury during the team’s scrimmage a few weeks back. You never want to see a player lose his roster spot due to an injury, but he was struggling in camp before his injury.
Right now, Cockrell is realistically behind the following cornerbacks: Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey, Mario Butler and Ron Brooks. Leodis McKelvin is also safe, regardless of his ankle injury and Ryan stated that he doesn’t see the team putting McKelvin on the NFI list. Unless the Bills carry seven cornerbacks, Cockrell may not make the team after being drafted in the fourth round last season.
Rex Ryan was recently asked about keeping kickoff specialist Jordan Gay on the roster. Here was his response:
“Well you prefer not to, unless, you better have a really, really special guy,” said Ryan. “(Gay is) pretty good. He kicks almost a five second hang time on kickoffs and he launches them. So I think his percentage is probably higher than anybody’s in the league on touchbacks in the same type of situations. Some guy can kick it off in Colorado, I don’t know what their deal is, but if our guy did it, he’d kick it out of the stadium probably. So he’s very talented to say the least. But yeah, you have to be special if you’re going to keep somebody like that.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Gay. Ryan says you keep them if you have a special guy and then refers to Gay as ‘pretty good.’ Ryan may not be enthused about the idea but it may be what’s best for the Bills. Dan Carpenter just returned from a hamstring injury and it’s possible he could re-aggravate the injury early in the season if he were asked to kick field goals and handle kickoff duties. Until Carpenter is 100 percent, the team may feel the need to keep Gay aboard.
Prediction: Rex keeps Gay on the 53-man roster (begrudgingly)
Thigpen can do a lot for the Bills. He can handle punt return duties, provide depth at wide receiver and even play running back if injuries were to occur in the regular season. Thigpen can wear many hats but his main role would be handling punt returns. Is that enough to justify keeping him on Buffalo’s 53-man roster? It’s a tough call to make, but right now it’s hard to envision the team keeping Thigpen around.
Prediction: One of the team’s final cuts