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Buffalo Bills: 4 Key Roster Battles

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Photo by Sara Schmidle

Preseason is finally upon us and so too are the many debates regarding who will secure open roles for the Bills. It was just a short time ago Bills Mafia was clamoring to figure out which camp player could provide competent QB play for Buffalo. Fortunately, the Bills won’t need to debate that for quite some time. Still, there are some important roles up for grabs on this roster, so why don’t we dive into those.

WR6: Jake Kumerow (#15) vs. Isaiah Hodgins (#16)

Photo by Joshua Bessex/AP

It seems that every off-season Bills Mafia finds new darlings to root for at the bottom of the Bills’ roster. Christian Wade, Duke Williams, and Brandon Reilly have been a part of that group in recent years. Of course, a new batch has emerged in 2021. With the battle for WR6 heating up, two distinct parties have emerged, one being “Team Kumerow” and the other “Team Hodgins”. The former represents 29-year-old former Packer, Jake Kumerow, and the latter representing 22-year-old 2020 207th overall pick, Isaiah Hodgins.

The debate over these two has centered around their play in camp, but who wins this spot will likely be determined outside the offense. Since Brian Daboll took over as OC in 2018, the Buffalo Bills’ WR6 have combined for just 33 targets. Andre Roberts had 5 in 2020, Robert Foster 18 in 2019, and Deonte Thompson 10 in 2018. This means the most consistent playtime the Bills’ WR6 will see is not on offense, but instead special teams.

The question of who will be better in that role (Kumerow or Hodgins) is not a straightforward discussion. They each have surprisingly similar physical traits with one key difference being Hodgins’ slightly larger wingspan (80.5” vs 74.5”). This pushes the debate towards “experience” as the differentiating factor between the two.

In three seasons, split between Green Bay and Buffalo, Jake Kumerow has 309 Special Teams snaps in 25 Games. That equates to an average of 12.4 ST Snaps/GP. For context one of the best ST players in the NFL (and current Bill) Tyler Matakevich, has a career average of 19.6 ST Snaps/GP. As for Hodgins, he has a sparse history of ST play. He finished College with 0 tackles (and had 94 in High School), raising concerns regarding his abilities in the coverage unit. For the return team, Hodgins’ lack of strength and difficulty dealing with “press-man” are also troubling.

Preseason will decide the Bills’ WR6, with Heath Farwell likely making the final decision. Who has the advantage now? We are inclined to believe it is the player with professional experience in two of the three phases of football.

UBER PREDICTION: Jake Kumerow

Starting Guards: Jon Feliciano (#76) vs. Cody Ford (#74) vs. Ike Boettger (#65) vs. Forrest Lamp (#70) vs. Jack Anderson (#66)

Photo by Rick Scuteri/AP

The Buffalo Bills have quietly amassed a crew of good, but not great, talent at the Guard position. Jon Feliciano, Cody Ford, Ike Boettger, and Forrest Lamp combined for a total of 39 starts in 2020 alone, making this a highly experienced group. Meanwhile, Jack Anderson Buffalo’s 2021 seventh-round pick started 38 games for Texas Tech. Though the Bills have nine Guards in camp these five are most likely to vie for the starting roles.

The more clear cut of the two spots seems to be RG. Incumbent starter Jon Feliciano was extended this offseason and likely needs to hold off just Cody Ford and Jack Anderson. Contractually, the Bills are “obligated” to roll with Feliciano who is under control for the next three seasons, with a greater dead cap than cap hit. More importantly, Buffalo views Mongo as a starter when not injured, starting him every game since he came to Buffalo. Ford and Anderson each can push to start at RG but their best chance of earning a starting role is on the other side of the line.

The battle for LG is much more intriguing. Boettger is the most recent starter, appearing in 12 games and starting seven for the Bills in 2020 due to injuries. He and Cody Ford look to be the front runners here after the Bills’ brass expressed confidence in Ford. Ford’s first two seasons have been up and down, in large part is due to his constant position shifting. Jack Anderson is likely on the outside looking in, but is an interesting prospect. Arguably the best pulling Guard on the Bills, Anderson has a skillset that has been missing from Buffalo since the departure of Richie Incognito. Lastly, Forrest Lamp was “accidently” left off the depth chart, signaling that his time in Buffalo may be short.

While the Bills seem intent to improve the run game, the OL’s primary responsibility will be to protect Josh Allen. No one player is more focused on protecting Allen than Jon Feliciano so pencil him at RG. As for LG, it’s a coin toss right now but public expressions of confidence tend to mean something.

UBER PREDICTION: RG – Jon Feliciano, LG – Cody Ford

CB2: Levi Wallace (#39) vs. Dane Jackson (#30)

Photo by Adrian Kraus/AP

This camp battle became a key discussion for Bills Mafia beginning January 25, 2021. Who would be CB2 for the Bills? Would they take a CB in Round 1 of the Draft? Would they bring in a Richard Sherman, William Jackson, Adoree’ Jackson, or Steven Nelson to play opposite Tre White? Well, the Bills elected to do neither, signaling their faith in incumbent starter Levi Wallace and/or fan favorite Dane Jackson.

The argument for Levi Wallace is pretty straight forward. The three-year starter held off the likes of Kevin Johnson and Josh Norman to maintain his stranglehold on the CB2 position. Still, it is often debated by Bills fans whether this starting role is warranted. At times, Levi Wallace has been abused by opposing offenses. The most recent jarring examples include last year’s 49ers game, where Wallace gave up 160 yards as the primary defender. Earlier in the season, Wallace had similar struggles as Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins, who attacked him to the tune of a 123.6 passer rating. Surprisingly though, Wallace has been somewhat a fixture of consistency in this Buffalo Bills defense. His Passer Rating against, through a full season, has never exceeded 85.5 and he’s proven to be a solid open field tackler.

This year, Wallace will need to hold off a seventh-round pick who has appeared in just five NFL games. Dane Jackson hopped onto the scene while Levi Wallace dealt with nagging injuries and COVID in 2020. When on the field, Jackson always seemed to be around the ball, both in the air or on the ground. In his first game, he picked off Sam Darnold towards the end of the second quarter. Later in the season, he stacked the stat sheet with 8 Tackles, 1 FR, and 1 PD against the Arizona Cardinals. That PD had the Bills buzzing as Jackson saved a TD one-on-one with Deandre Hopkins, one of the best WRs in the NFL.

The starting CB2 role could go either way, but all reports out of camp mark Levi as the more consistent of the two. Jackson seems to have the skillset to compete in the NFL but at least for now he seems to be another in the list of players who Levi will beat out to start in Buffalo.

UBER PREDICTION: Levi Wallace

KR/PR: Isaiah McKenzie (#19) vs. Marquez Stevenson (#5)

Buffalo Fanatics on Twitter: “History: #Bills WR Isaiah Mckenzie (@_IsaiahMcKenzie) is the first NFL player in the modern era to play on the same team as his son. pic.twitter.com/2tv8CH6e0r / Twitter”

History: #Bills WR Isaiah Mckenzie (@_IsaiahMcKenzie) is the first NFL player in the modern era to play on the same team as his son. pic.twitter.com/2tv8CH6e0r

The most visceral of roster debates among Bills Mafia is none other than who should return punts and kicks for Buffalo. With the departure of All-Pro return specialist Andre Roberts, a massive hole has appeared on the Bills special teams. Roberts brought some much-needed consistency to Buffalo and cured their fumbling woes in the return game. Enter Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson as the primary options to return this season.

Isaiah McKenzie has held onto a roster spot in Buffalo for two and a half seasons as a gadget player, stacking up six receiving touchdowns in that span. In 2017 and 2018, McKenzie was primarily a return man for Denver and Buffalo, returning 37 Punts (7.6 Y/R) and 15 Kicks (19.1 Y/R). Those returns were not without incident however, as McKenzie muffed six punts and fumbled two. Of course, this is of little concern to his defenders, who heavily focus on his 84-Yard punt return TD in Week 17 of the 2020 season.

His competition for this role is almost exclusively Marquez Stevenson, a return specialist out of Houston. Stevenson and McKenzie have surprisingly similar measurables:

  • Stevenson: 4.48s 40-time, 4.21s 20-yard shuttle, 6.86s three-cone
  • McKenzie: 4.42s 40-time, 4.15s 20-yard shuttle, 6.64s three-cone

But it’s Stevenson’s return ability in college that opened eyes. In his Junior and Senior seasons, Stevenson returned 21 kicks for the Cougars with three TDs, averaging 29.4 Y/R. Like McKenzie though, ball security could be a concern as Stevenson did finish his college career with eight fumbles (return and offense).

Reports out of camp have McKenzie as the front-runner. Meanwhile, Stevenson has struggled catching the ball. Couple that with McKenzie’s proven impact on the offense, (primarily jet sweep) and, for now, it looks like Lil’ Dirty will be returning kicks for Buffalo in 2021.

UBER PREDICTION: Isaiah McKenzie

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