Bills fans already know about the high-profile players on the team, but what really makes a franchise a contender is the quality of the players that fill out the bottom of the roster. The team finally appears to have competition at nearly every position on the field, which means that we may see a few “unknown” players earn spots on the final 53-man roster.
After evaluating the current 90-man roster, I picked out 10 dark horse players that have the potential to possibly win over the coaching staff and play a role with the 2013 Buffalo Bills, whether that be on the 53 man roster or the eight-man practice squad.
LB Keith Pough, 23 years old, 6’2” 239 lbs
Keith Pough was an extremely productive linebacker during his collegiate career with the Howard Bison, racking up an astonishing 292 tackles and an FCS-record 72 tackles for a loss. Pough is a relentless player that has a nose for the football and consistently disrupts plays in the backfield. He’s extremely instinctive and reacts well off the snap, but went undrafted most likely due to a poor combine performance in which he ran a 4.90 40-yard dash.
Pough brings the versatility that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has stressed since he took over the position, as Pough has thrived as both a pass rushing outside linebacker and an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive front, and the “Mike” linebacker in 4-3 fronts.
Pough is a classic example of someone who plays faster than their timed speed, and despite the logjam at the linebacker position, Pough could be a player that sticks around and provide a solid pass rush as a situational player.
WR Kevin Elliott, 24 years old, 6’3” 215 lbs
The Buffalo Bills signed wide receiver Kevin Elliott in mid-December of last season and didn’t hesitate to sign the big-bodied pass catcher to a two-year contract. Elliott has the prototypical measurables you look for in an outside receiver.
The team added Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in the second and third rounds of the 2013 NFL draft while signing Da’Rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent, but Elliott has the skill set to impress throughout training camp.
Despite his muscular frame, Elliott consistently displays excellent body control and has the ability to locate the ball at it’s highest point while making highlight receptions. Elliot’s only issue is that he’s raw due to seeing limited playing time in Jacksonville, as he was stashed behind two standout receivers in Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts.
In his four seasons with the Florida A&M Rattlers, Elliott played like a man among boys, averaging 14.3 yards per reception while hauling in 173 passes for 2,472 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns.
RB/FB Kendall Gaskins, 22 years old, 6’1” 240 lbs
Kendall Gaskins is another one of the Bills’ undrafted free agents that brings an intriguing blend of size and versatility to the team’s backfield. Having played both fullback and running back at Richmond, Gaskins gained 1,749 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground while adding another 393 yards and four touchdowns on 46 receptions out of the backfield.
The Bills already have a solid one-two punch at running back with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, but last year proved that the team was in dire need of a big, physical back that could move the chains or find the endzone in short-yardage situations.
As long-time Bills’ fullback Corey McIntyre wasn’t retained, Gaskins may have an edge over a player like Frank Sommers who doesn’t have the ideal size or versatility that brings added value to the team.
LB Jamie Blatnick, 23 years old, 6’3” 253 lbs
While the Bills have quite a few players at the rush linebacker position, Jamie Blatnick, who was signed to the team in April following an open tryout, has been impressing during Offseason Training Activities. Due to the absences of several starters, Blatnick has been making the most of his first-team reps, recording two would-be sacks.
Blatnick was an extremely productive player during his collegiate career at Oklahoma State, where he recorded 118 tackles, 23.5 of which came for a loss and sacked the quarterback 16 times. He showed solid instincts as well, batting down nine passes and forcing three fumbles in his career as well.
Chris Brown was impressed with Blatnick’s play so far, stating
“Blatnick has turned in some good play the past week or so often reading the play or locating the ball carrier quickly, and the coaches are noticing.”
WR/TE/H-Back Dorin Dickerson, 25 years old, 6’2” 227 pounds
Dorin Dickerson is an exceptional athlete that possesses a great combination of size, speed, agility and athleticism. The only issue is that coaches haven’t been able to find a true offensive role for him. After being listed as a tight end and a fullback last year, he was moved to wide receiver this offseason.
On Bills Pro Football Central Radio, Dickerson explained to Del Reid and Chris Brown that he played the 2012 season at 245 pounds, and the coaching staff is now asking him to slim down to fit more of the wide receiver mold.
Dickerson’s versatility and athleticism is what kept him on the team after he was tendered as a restricted free agent. The fact that he can play fullback, tight end, H-Back and wide receiver while assisting on special teams will definitely help him as he tries to make the 53-man roster.
Marcus Dowtin, 24 years old, 6’2” 226 lbs
Linebacker Marcus Dowtin was a Mike Pettine signing, as the defensive coordinator worked with him during his time with the New York Jets. Dowtin is undersized for a typical linebacker role, but in Pettine’s “nickel base” defense, he could be an asset due to his speed and coverage ability.
Dowtin is already familiar with the basic concepts of Coach Pettine’s scheme, giving him an upper hand over some of the other defensive players on the roster and has been getting a lot of praise throughout Offseason Training Activities.
The theme of the Bills’ defensive front is “multiplicity” and “versatility” which Dowtin brings both of, as Pettine explained to BuffaloBills.com.
“He was primarily an inside linebacker in New York,” said Pettine. “We’ve been training him as an outside linebacker here, but he’s another player that has some position flexibility. He’s athletic enough, he can play inside, he can play outside. He can do some safety type jobs, he can do some defensive end type jobs. Again, that’s the type of player that we’ll always have a role for in our system, with that amount of versatility.”
It seems that Dowtin could be Bryan Scott’s successor as the nickel linebacker/ oversized safety that will be utilized in coverage situations while providing run support.
CB Crezdon Butler, 26 years old, 6’0” 191 lbs
With Leodis McKelvin sidelined during Offseason Training Activities, the 3rd year cornerback, Crezdon Butler, out of Clemson has been getting an opportunity to prove himself. A former fifth round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010, Butler has only played 19 career snaps. However, WGR550’s Joe Buscaglia sees promise in the 26-year old, stating
“As far as the actual competition goes, one name to keep in mind is Crezdon Butler. The 26-year old Butler was signed off Arizona’s practice squad last November, and has been working almost exclusively on the outside. He made a couple of nice plays, breaking up what appeared to be completions throughout Wednesday’s practice.”
DL Jarron Gilbert, 26 years old, 6’5” 289 lbs
Jarron Gilbert was one of the top defensive line prospects in the 2009 NFL draft after an extremely productive career at San Jose State in which he recorded 145 tackles, 42 for a loss and 21.5 sacks. Drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears, Gilbert’s size made him a difficult choice for a full-time position. He was undersized for the defensive tackle position, and was a bit large for the standard 4-3 defensive end role.
Now that the Bills are transitioning to a hybrid 3-4 front, Gilbert’s build is perfect for the five-technique, or 3-4 defensive end position, where he would be able to kick inside as a three-technique defensive tackle in four-man fronts.
Gilbert had an impressive preseason last year, but eventually lost the final defensive end job to Kyle Moore and was placed on the practice squad. At just 26-years of age, Gilbert still has room to grow and could thrive in a new scheme that appears to be a better fit for him.
Nickell Robey, 21 years old, 5’7” 169 lbs
The Bills signed USC’s Nickell Robey as an undrafted free agent last month after the 5’7” 169 pound cornerback wasn’t selected in the draft. In his three years with the Trojans, Robey started all 37 games as an outside corner, recording 163 tackles, seven interceptions (three were returned for scores), 24 passes defensed and forced two fumbles.
Robey’s size will be his biggest obstacle as he adjusts to the National Football League, as he was able to rely on sheer athleticism and ball skills over technique in college. However, Robey plays much bigger than his size, displaying the ability to read-and-react quickly to passes, breaking on balls and using physicality to break up passes.
Dominique Ellis, 23, 5’11” 195 lbs
Shortly after the 2012 season ended, the Bills signed defensive back Dominique Ellis. Again, as versatility is the theme on defense, Ellis is one player to keep an eye on throughout camp. Coach Pettine has stated on numerous occasions that he wants his defensive backs to be able to handle the responsibilities of both safety and cornerback; two positions in which Ellis has experience playing.
In our Q&A with Ellis, he told us he’s played in a variety of schemes and has played strong safety, free safety, both outside corner spots and covered the slot. That ability to serve in various roles will give him an upper hand at gaining a roster spot, especially given Pettine’s love for fielding anywhere from four to seven defensive backs at any given time.