2014 Buffalo Bills Preview: 12 Questions Surrounding Roster Depth

Quality depth in the NFL is hard to come by, as Buffalo Bills fans have grown to realize over the past 15 years, but it’s a necessary component of any contending roster. Prior to this season, the Bills have fielded some talented rosters at first glance, but quality has often transformed into disaster, due to injuries at crucial positions.

CBSSports.com’s NFL Insider, Pat Kirwan, developed a list of 12 questions that he believes every team looking towards the playoffs must answer if they have any real chance to emerge as contenders.

Here at BillsMafia.com, I decided to try and answer these questions, to determine if the Bills are on the right track. Obviously, training camp will provide more concrete answers, but for now, let’s see how the Bills’ roster fares!

1. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?

The Bills have been testing Chris Hairston at right guard during the team’s minicamp, splitting reps with incumbent starter, Kraig Urbik. Hairston played 583 snaps in 12 games (5 at LT, 7 at RT) in 2012, before an undisclosed injury sidelined him for the entire 2013 season. Hairston is a big bodied lineman, standing 6’6” 330 pounds, and if healthy, should provide quality depth at both tackle and guard.

2. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?

Guard was one of the weakest positions on the Bills’ entire roster last season, but the front office brought in veteran Chris Williams through free agency and Cyril Richardson in the fifth-round of the draft. At center, Eric Wood has performed at an above average level over the past five seasons. Kraig Urbik, the current starter at right guard, also has experience filling in at center when Wood missed time due to injury.

3. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?

At the moment, the Bills probably have the most talented stable of running backs in the National Football League. C.J. Spiller has eclipsed 100 yards in nine games over the past two seasons, while Fred Jackson had one of his best statistical seasons last year. Behind them is the newly acquired Bryce Brown, a bigger back with good quickness that put up 100+ yards in each of the two career games in which he saw significant action.

4. Is there a good second tight end on the roster?

Fans were clamoring for the Bills to take North Carolina’s Eric Ebron during the draft, but instead, the team decided to go into camp with Scott Chandler, the team’s leading receiver in 2013, along with Tony Moeaki, Lee Smith, and Chris Gragg.

Chandler has been a reliable weapon in between the hashes over the course of the last four seasons. Tony Moeaki showed flashes of potential with the Chiefs, but injuries ended his last two seasons prematurely. Lee Smith is primarily a blocker, and Chris Gragg has great speed, but is a project at the moment.

5. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down?

The Bills invested heavily in the wide receiver position over the past few seasons, using a third-round pick on T.J. Graham in 2012, a second and third round pick on Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in 2013, a first and a fifth round pick on Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams this past offseason.

In two-WR packages, the projected “starters” are Watkins and Woods, but if an injury were to occur, Williams has quality experience as a starter.

6. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?

Jerry Hughes is taking on a bigger role this year, moving from a situational pass rusher in Mike Pettine’s hybrid defense, to a base 4-3 defensive end in Jim Schwartz’ new scheme. However, Hughes’ liabilities against the run likely pigeonhole him into a two-down role, where he’s asked to rush the passer.

7. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?

Following Marcell Dareus’ legal issues from the offseason, this question will be imperative to the Bills’ defense in 2014. Dareus is awaiting word on a possible suspension from the league office, but the team re-signed Alan Branch, a 6’6” 320 pounder that played nose tackle and defensive end last season. Behind Branch is Stefan Charles, a second-year player that made a good impression on the coaching staff last year in limited action.

8. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?

Last year, the lack of depth at cornerback was exposed when injuries took place. The Bills brought in veteran corner Corey Graham, who has experience in the slot as well as the boundary. Graham is expected to compete with Nickell Robey for the slot cornerback job.

9. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages?

Assuming Corey Graham wins the nickel job, Robey would slide to No. 4. Robey was one of the best slot cornerbacks in the entire NFL last season, as the 5’7” 165 pounder proved doubters wrong.

10. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses?

The Bills don’t have much depth at safety, but Da’Norris Searcy excelled as the team’s third safety in “Big Nickel” packages, where he lined up in the box. Searcy excelled in his role as a hybrid linebacker, racking up over 70 tackles.

11. Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?

Marquise Goodwin didn’t get a chance to return many kicks last season, as the team’s special teams units weren’t very good. However, the second-year pro is an Olympian, and ran the fastest 40 at the 2013 Scouting Combine. He also showed flashes that leave promise as a wide receiver.

12. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?

Preston Brown was drafted to backup Brandon Spikes at inside linebacker for the season, meaning he’ll have to be an asset to special teams in order to provide significant value as a rookie. Behind him is Ty Powell, a freakish athlete that Doug Marrone mentioned numerous times as a “core” special teams player.