Over the past few seasons, the Buffalo Bills position group with the biggest question mark has been the offensive line. Between injuries and rocky performances, it has taken some time for the OL to figure it all out.
But this season, they finally may have put it together. With Aaron Kromer returning as O-line coach, there’s a heaping amount of depth at all five positions. Of course, however, there’s only so much space on the roster to accommodate them all.
Typically, Sean McDermott and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll kept nine offensive linemen on the active roster. Now that Daboll has left for New Jersey, this number could change, though I think that’s unlikely.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at who has the best chance to make the final cut for the Buffalo Bills roster.
Locks: T Dion Dawkins, C Mitch Morse, T Spencer Brown
Out of the many offensive linemen the Bills have on their depth chart, these three are practically mortal locks to make the final roster. Dawkins and Morse are the two longest-tenured linemen on the team — Dawkins entering his sixth year with the team and Morse his fourth — and both coming off their best seasons yet.
Brown also proved that he is one of the most vital pieces of the entire unit last season, taking over the starting right tackle position in Week 4 matchup against the Houston Texans. Count on all three of them being part of the starting five starters new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey sends out Week 1 in Los Angeles.
Almost Definitely Locks: G Rodger Saffold, G Ryan Bates
The two highly favored candidates to start at guard for this season are not locks? How come?
Yes, Rodger Saffold is a Pro Bowl guard. Yes, Ryan Bates proved to be a surprising OL hero last season. But they have yet to be confirmed as starters and, if last season proved anything with regard to the O-line, it’s that guard was a super unsafe position.
That doesn’t mean they SHOULDN’T be the ones starting. In fact, there’s no question they should be.
At the ripe age of 34, Saffold isn’t getting any younger, but he was one of the lead blockers for Derrick Henry during his Offensive Player of the Year campaign in 2020. Not only that, he has proved time and time again to be one of the more reliable guards in the NFL.
As for Bates, the former depth piece proved that he was the best candidate to take over at guard last season. He allowed the lowest pressure rate among ALL NFL guards with a minimum of 400 snaps at 1.8%. There’s a reason Brandon Beane & Co. matched his four-year offer sheet with the Chicago Bears. That being said, he’s only started a handful of games in his career.
I highly doubt either of them get cut, but for those reasons, I wouldn’t consider them mortal locks.
Favorable Outlook: OL Greg Mancz, OL David Quessenberry, OL Greg Van Roten
Each of these three new faces on the Bills makes their case due to their versatility. And each has started for their previous teams.
Mancz spent last season mainly on Miami’s injured reserve. Prior to that, however, he was a key backup-turned-starter in Bill O’Brien’s Texans offense. His play in Houston earned him a two-year contract extension, but Mancz never quite lived up to expectations. His ability to play well at guard and center will serve him well as a primary backup for the interior line positions.
Quessenberry also brings versatility at both guard and tackle. After serving as a depth piece for most of his career, Quessenberry started at right tackle in Tennessee last season. While his performance with the Titans was impressive, his chances of starting for Buffalo are slim. With a strong camp performance, he could win a spot as swing tackle over second-year tackle, Tommy Doyle. However, it’s also important to note that he is listed as a guard and not a tackle on the Bills’ official roster.
Van Roten, the Bills’ most recent addition, started – and severely underperformed – at guard for the Jets last season. With seven years in the league, his veteran presence and experience are the main arguments for keeping him on Buffalo’s roster this season.
Of the Buffalo Bills’ many depth pieces, these three are definitely the favorites to stay and will serve as the primary backup options.
Wouldn’t Shock Me: G Ike Boettger, T Tommy Doyle
In 2020, I argued that Ike Boettger should be a starting guard for the foreseeable future. Now, I’m questioning whether he’s even worth a roster spot. The same goes for Doyle.
Boettger’s service to the Bills and his starting experience could very well keep him on the team. However, with the emergence of Ryan Bates, the talent-packed depth chart, not to mention his torn Achilles he sustained Week 16 against the Patsies last year, his chances of him staying in Buffalo seem slim.
Though it wouldn’t shock me if the Bills decided to keep him. And I’m rooting for him to stay. However, Dorsey and Kromer may be looking for new – and fully healthy – players to serve as backups, so they may favor Mancz and/or Van Roten over Boettger.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to say where Tommy Doyle might fit on this roster. He’s certainly a fan favorite, but with Kromer having coached in Tennessee last season, his familiarity with Quessenberry may point to him as the primary swing tackle. But two backup tackles aren’t entirely out of the question. Like Boettger, I wouldn’t be surprised if Doyle ends up on the 53, or possibly on the practice squad.
Practice Squad Hopefuls: G Jacob Capra, T Luke Tenuta, OL Alec Anderson
I don’t see any of these three making the final Buffalo Bills roster. At best, these guys are practice squad material.
Capra, a 2021 late-season addition who kind of just stuck around, may do the same in 2022. He was only elevated to the 53-man roster for a single game — Week 15 against The Carolina Panthers — and then was demoted back to the practice squad. Expect him to do the same this year.
Tenuta was, surprisingly, the only offensive lineman drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the 2022 NFL Draft. But just because they drafted him doesn’t mean they’ll keep him. In my write-up for the Bills’ late-round picks this year, I noted how he has a few knocks to his overall play. He needs at least a year of NFL coaching before he’s ready to make any roster; a year on the practice squad should help him do just that. That said, I would love if he proved me and his other doubters wrong.
As for Anderson, one of the three undrafted free agent O-line signings, he may have the best chance to continue his NFL career, at least in Buffalo. And no, it’s not because he slammed his friend through a table after he signed his contract.
This may be a hot take, but his experience at both tackles, his nasty run blocking, and his potential development should not be overlooked. With a year to develop, we could be looking at a good-depth piece for the next few years.
Probably Won’t: OL Cody Ford, T Tanner Owen, OL Derek Kerstetter
Cody Ford is nearing bust territory, and he has been for some time. Last season proved it. And I do not think he will be a member of the final 53. It’s not only because he won’t receive any playing time. I physically cannot stand to watch him play, and I’m not alone. He lost his starting spot early last season, and when he came in as a backup, it was just so damn tough to watch him play. It’s pretty evident that the Buffalo Bills coaching staff has given up on the Oklahoma product, and it’s probably for the best.
While I like Kersetetter’s versatility and starting experience, and Owen’s high upside as a D-II product, the Bills’ veteran depth may have the upper hand on this one.
Bobby Hart: T Bobby Hart
Of course, these are just projections. Nothing is set in stone and training camp is still one month away. While I stand by my projections, anything can happen with a new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. And I hope a lot of these guys — I’m looking at you, Boettger and Tenuta — prove me wrong.
On to training camp!