Time to take stock. With the NFL draft four weeks away and free agency moving into its fourth week, it’s time to look at the Buffalo Bills roster as the team returns for offseason conditioning work on Monday, April 3.
The Bills have 61 players on the roster right now, leaving 29 spots to fill for General Manager Doug Whaley and Head Coach Sean McDermott in the next four months, leading up to training camp.
What follows is a position-by-position breakdown of where the Bills roster stands right now, who’s departed from last year’s roster, who’s been added and who remains. We’ve ranked them in order of the most upheaval in the offseason so far:
Additions: Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer
Retained from 2016: Colt Anderson, Jonathan Dowling, Shamiel Gary, Joe Powell
Key departures: Aaron Williams, Corey Graham and Jonathan Meeks
Two starters are gone from last year’s corps of safeties, Aaron Williams and Corey Graham. But the Bills added two safeties in free agency – Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer.
Hyde, in particular, is expected to play right away and contribute on the back end of the Bills defense. At the NFL Owners meeting in Arizona earlier this week, Head Coach Sean McDermott rattled off all the reasons the Bills moved so quickly on Hyde the first day of free agency.
“Number one--he’s a good person off the field,” McDermott said. “That was big. The character side of it was big for us – knowing that he was a team captain on special teams for the Packers. And then, the versatility, toughness, and I remember watching Micah over the years just on [television] so watching him play different positions, whether it was nickel, safety, corner, and his role on special teams was a big like for us.”
Additions: Leonard Johnson
Retained from 2016: Ronald Darby, Charles Gaines, Marcus Roberson, Kevon Seymour
Key Departures: Stephon Gilmore, Nickell Robey-Coleman
Gilmore is a significant loss and a big cap number now for New England. And the Bills have yet to add much in the way of experience to the cornerback crew.
They have just five on the roster, including returning starter Ronald Darby and second year man Kevon Seymour, who made three starts last year.
McDermott admits not knowing much about Seymour after his rookie season. But the coach has looked at the video and he likes what he sees.
“What an athlete in terms of just the length,” McDermott told reporters in Arizona. “That’s really just the way the corner position is moving. You look at Kevon, he played some inside, he played the nickel position, he played outside and yet he was physical. As a rookie, I thought just watching the tape, he handled himself well.”
Retained from 2016: Lorenzo Alexander, Preston Brown, Ramon Humber, Reggie Ragland, Max Valles
Key departures: Zach Brown, Lerentee McCray
The switch from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 means fewer linebackers are needed on the roster. The Bills only have five on the roster now, so they’ll need to add some numbers.
On the outside, Pro Bowl MVP Lorenzo Alexander is back to pick up where he left off last year. And McDermott has eight-year veteran Ramon Humber, mostly a career special teamer, penciled in at outside linebacker also. Max Valles spent last season on the practice squad as an outside linebacker. His official designation has not been announced by the current coaching staff yet.
Inside, last year’s second round draft pick, Reggie Ragland, has obviously made a good impression on McDermott even before he takes a snap on the field. Ragland is recovering from a serious knee injury sustained in training camp last year that kept him on the sidelines all season.
McDermott says Ragland has a chance to be a starter at the middle linebacker spot, and Preston Brown returns as well. Brown has started all but two games in his three-year Bills career.
Additions: Andre Holmes, Philly Brown, Jeremy Butler, Corey Washington
Retained from 2016: Dezmin Lewis, Kolby Listenbee, Walter Powell, Brandon Tate, Sammy Watkins
Departures: Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Justin Hunter
Even with the high profile departures of Woods and Goodwin, the Bills at least have numbers at the wide receivers spot. They go into the conditioning part of the offseason with nine receivers on the roster.
Sammy Watkins returns from offseason foot surgery to reclaim his spot as the number one target in the passing game. And Coach McDermott, while not naming names, believes the number two wide receiver is already on the roster, before the draft and the rest of free agency.
“That will be fun to watch that battle throughout the offseason and the preseason and training camp,” McDermott said. “Who that is remains to be seen but I believe he’s on the roster.”
Additions: Ryan Davis
Retained from 2016: Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Jerel Worthy, Deandre Coleman, Marcell Dareus, Adolphus Washington, Kyle Williams
Key Departures: Corbin Bryant, Leger Douzable
The change in defensive philosophy means a different roster designation for Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson. Both regarded as outside linebackers last year, they’re now considered defensive ends and are likely to start on the edges of Buffalo’s D-line.
Free agent Ryan Davis was added to provide depth at defensive end. And the Bills return Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams to their familiar roles on the inside, with depth provided by Adolphus Washington and Jerel Worthy.
The Bills have eight defensive linemen on their roster right now.
Additions: Vladimir Ducasse
Retained from 2016: Patrick Lewis, Eric Wood, Ryan Groy, Richie Incognito, John Miller, Cordy Glenn, Seantrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Jordan Mills, Michael Ola
Key Departures: None
It looks like the Bills will return all five starters from last year’s offensive line. And Cordy Glenn, John Miller, Eric Wood, and Richie Incognito are going into their third consecutive year starting as a unit.
Right tackle Jordan Mills was re-signed a week into free agency. And he’s expected to compete with Cyrus Kouandjio and Seantrel Henderson for tackle reps.
For depth, the Bills matched a tender offer signed by backup lineman Ryan Groy and he returns for a second season in Buffalo. And Vladimir Ducasse, with 30 NFL starts on his resume, was signed in the free agent market. Ducasse started eight games under new Bills offensive line coach Juan Castillo last year in Baltimore.
Additions: Joe Banyard
Retained from 2016: Mike Gillislee, LeSean McCoy, Cedric O'Neal, Jonathan Williams
Key Departure: Reggie Bush
Not much turnover at running back, where the Bills have led the league in rushing for the last two years.
Valuable backup Mike Gillislee was tendered a restricted free agent contract by the Bills earlier this month.
LeSean McCoy is the bell cow of the Bills backfield, and Jonathan Williams returns for his second season.
Additions: Patrick DiMarco, Mike Tolbert
Retained from 2016: None
Key Departures: Jerome Felton
Head Coach Sean McDermott clearly has a defined role for the big back in Buffalo’s offense and he’s got two weapons in his fullback arsenal now, with the offseason additions of Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert.
Both DiMarco and Tolbert have Pro Bowl honors in their resumes and both will likely have a role to play on special teams. Stay tuned.
Additions: Josh Woodrum
Retained from 2016: Tyrod Taylor, Cardale Jones
Key Departure: EJ Manuel
Two-year starter Tyrod Taylor returns for his third season armed with a restructured contract and looking at a brand new offensive playbook. Cardale Jones waited until Week 17 for his first NFL action last year, but his upside is still strong and his potential is considerable.
At the owners meeting earlier this week, McDermott dropped a big hint that he’s going to add at least one more name to the quarterback depth chart.
“We’re going to look at every option and explore every avenue to improve this football team – whether it’s the draft or free agency or waiver claims,” he said. “Whatever it is, we’re going to look to improve this roster.”
Retained from 2016: Blake Annen, Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Key Departure: Chris Gragg
Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary stand at the top of the tight end depth chart. But keep an eye on project Logan Thomas during the run-up to training camp.
Thomas, signed by the Bills last November, spent five weeks on the active roster but didn’t see any game action. He’s a former quarterback/wide receiver at Virginia Tech with impressive physical gifts.
Additions: K Stephen Hauschka
Retained from 2016: Reid Ferguson, Colton Schmidt
Key Departures: K Dan Carpenter, LS Garrison Sanborn
P Colton Schmidt returns from last year’s trio of specialists. Hauschka is third all-time in NFL history converting 87.2 percent of field goal attempts, and he’ll handle kickoff duties as well.
First-year player Reid Ferguson, who worked with the specialists all last year while on the practice squad, is expected to get the first crack at handling the long snapping chores this year.