By Paul Wanecski
As the season comes closer to kickoff, the rosters are far from completed. With that being said, some of the names we have become accustomed to seeing on the field for the Buffalo Bills may not be on the roster come week one. In a previous article, we covered the offense. Now it is time to evaluate the positions on the defense to determine who may be gone when the season officially starts.
Safety – Kenny Ladler
As the roster stands, the team has seven players listed at the safety position, most notably Corey Graham who has been speculated to move to that position most of the offseason. If Mike Pettine gave us any glimpse as to what to expect, we may see a lot of safeties on the roster (at one point, six were on the active roster in 2013). Still, looking at the type of safety they will need, Jonathan Meeks, Kenny Ladler and Bacarri Rambo will be fighting for a spot. The safeties can really be separated into two different categories; deep cover and in-the-box. While Meeks, Ladler, Rambo and Graham fit the category of cover safeties, you have to assume that only two or possibly three of that style player will make the 53 man roster. Duke and Aaron Williams have essentially carved themselves a roster spot given the type of player they are and the lack of competition for what is commonly referred to as the “strong safety” position. Rookie Wesley Miller might be released to the practice squad, as the undrafted 5’9” safety from UTEP would likely clear waivers. With all that being said, it would be a surprise to see Ladler make the roster. The Bills will carry 5 safeties, especially since Graham can drop to corner when needed.
Defensive Line – Jarius Wynn
Of all the positions to determine depth, this one poises a bit of a challenge. BuffaloBills.com lists a variety of players at positions that they are not really expected to play. Manny Lawson is listed at defensive end, although he is expected to play outside linebacker. Alex Carrington is listed at defensive tackle when he has played defensive end in the last two 3-4 schemes he was a part of. It is expected is that Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams will make up the starting front, however they are arranged. Clearly, fans enter heated debate as to if Hughes or Williams will be lined up at defensive end or outside linebacker. Stefan Charles should back up Dareus in the middle. The Bills have not been shy about bringing in defensive ends, currently listing 5 players with one or less year of NFL experience against the nine players listed at that position. This should make Jarius Wynn concerned. He was brought in to play defensive end last season. While he has experience playing end in both a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme, it is unlikely that he will survive this regime change.
Linebacker – Randell Johnson
Ty Powell is a defensive freak just like Manny Lawson. Rex Ryan just won’t be able to bring himself to release either of them. Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham have carved themselves a roster spot. Either Mario or Hughes will occupy a linebacker spot. Jimmy Gaines, Tony Steward and AJ Tarpley will account for a practice squad spot with one of them likely making the 53 man roster for special teams support. This puts Randell Johnson, the former 7th round pick, on the outside looking in. Drafted for a 4-3 front, the 6’4”, 245lb linebacker from Florida Atlantic has battled nagging injuries his entire career. One slip and he will be lost in the shuffle. While he has the build that you want in a 3-4 outside linebacker and is pretty clean when dropping back into coverage, he has what would be considered below average NFL pass rushing ability. The depth at the position will just to be great for him to push past the rest of the roster.
Cornerback – Leodis McKelvin
To be fair, if I said Nickell Roby (as much as I want to), nearly half of BillsMafia would go absolutely ballistic. Drafting Ronald Darby does show that the Bills wanted to add speed in the secondary. If he happens to win the second cornerback spot, that would push Leodis McKelvin to splitting slot corner duty with Roby. Given the comparison, Roby has seen nearly all his NFL playing time at that position, where McKelvin has seen practically none. The move of Corey Graham back to safety unclogs this position a bit. Ron Brooks would need to be the best special teams player on roster to make week one. Ross Cockrell should compete for a reserve roster spot. Given the dynamic, we could take the Ron Brooks slam dunk when speaking of incumbent Bills who will be released. Instead, we are going to say McKelvin will lose his roster spot this season. Releasing McKelvin would save $2.9 million in salary cap space. While the Bills have had a front row seat to seeing how quickly depth at cornerback can be depleted given the injuries the last two years, Rex Ryan can make just about anything work, making McKelvin expendable to Roby.