Last week, I went over the current offensive depth chart for the 2022 Buffalo Bills. This week, I’m focusing on the defense and special teams. The Bills currently have 12 new players on their #1 ranked defense from last year. Out of that dozen, three of them are potential starters.
Buffalo Bills Defensive Depth Chart
|LDE||Greg Rousseau||A.J. Epenesa||Mike Love||Kingsley Jonathan|
|DT||Ed Oliver||Jordan Phillips||Brandin Bryant|
|DT||Tim Settle||DaQuan Jones||Eli Ankou|
|RDE||Von Miller||Shaq Lawson||Boogie Basham|
|MLB||Tremaine Edmunds||Tyrel Dodson||Tyler Matakevich||Marquel Lee|
|WLB||Matt Milano||Terrel Bernard||Andre Smith||Baylon Spector||Joe Giles-Harris|
|NCB||Taron Johnson||Siran Neal|
|LCB||Kaiir Elam||Dane Jackson||Nick McCloud||Tim Harris|
|SS||Jordan Poyer||Damar Hamlin||Josh Thomas|
|FS||Micah Hyde||Jaquan Johnson|
|RCB||Tre White||Christian Benford||Cam Lewis||Olaijah Griffin||Travon Fuller|
Starting with defensive end, Von Miller and Greg Rousseau are the presumed starters. Shaq Lawson could come into camp and look like the old Shaq and potentially fight for a starting job but, ultimately, I don’t see him winning it. I think Rousseau has too much talent, length and upside to be a backup. Last year, he finished his rookie year with 50 total tackles and four sacks, really coming on towards the end of the year. Besides, with someone like Miller on the opposite side now, I think we will see Rousseau take that next step as the offensive linemen will be paying so much attention to Miller.
I see a similar situation with the second team of defensive ends, just not to the same degree. If Lawson is on his A game to the point where he’s drawing a lot of attention from the o-line, that could potentially unlock A.J. Epenesa and we can finally start to see why the Bills drafted him with their top overall pick in 2020. As for the third pair of edge rushers, Mike Love and undrafted free agent (from Syracuse) Kingsley Jonathan will be most likely battling it out during camp to make this roster.
There will also be some rotation at defensive tackle, probably even a little moreso since no one is a complete game-wrecker and game-changer like Von Miller. It’ll definitely be interesting to see who the two starting tackles will be. I think Ed Oliver is a safe bet to be one of them, but then the Bills have Tim Settle, DaQuan Jones, and Jordan Phillips to choose from.
Out of those three and not knowing what’s going to happen at training camp, I see Settle starting alongside Oliver. He’s been stuck behind Washington’s talented front four his first four seasons in the league. In 63 games, Settle has 54 total tackles and 7 sacks while only starting in two games. He played college football with Tremaine Edmunds at Virginia Tech, so that could potentially help Edmunds to improve his game, especially in run defense. Besides, how do you not start Settle after this?
Defensive Tackle (3 & 4)
Behind Oliver and Settle is where I see Jones and Phillips fitting in. Speaking of juice, imagine former fan favorite Jordan Phillips rotating in the lineup with Settle. If he comes in for Settle, you will get the same energy levels without missing a beat. If he’s on the field as the same time as Settle, the stadium will be ELECTRIC. In 2019, Phillips amassed 9.5 sacks and 31 total tackles. He took a big 3-year, $30 million contract from the Arizona Cardinals the ensuing offseason, a value that was too high for the Bills. Phillips is now back on a 1-year, $5 million contract, so he may be playing with something to prove again this season.
As for Jones, the 30-year old had 38 tackles and one sack in 17 games last year (all starts) with Carolina. In 2020, the 320-pound DT from Binghamton, N.Y. had 49 tackles and two sacks in 16 games started with Tennessee. Last year, Jones also had 23 pressures and a career high 69.4 pass rush grade, according to PFF. Rounding out the defensive linemen, Brandin Bryant and Eli Ankou will be fighting for depth roles.
Moving over to linebacker, the Buffalo Bills will have the same two linebackers starting in their nickel defense: Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. I think it was interesting what they did in the draft this year, especially after releasing A.J. Klein. They selected Terrel Bernard in round three and Baylon Spector in round seven. On the surface, Bernard reminds me of another Milano with his 6’1”, 224 pound frame, while Spector reminds me of another Klein, but more athletic (the Bills ironically gave him number 54).
So it seems like Buffalo drafted two outside linebackers even though their starting middle linebacker is a free agent next year. However, GM Brandon Beane said that the Bills see Bernard and Spector both as inside-outside linebackers given their athleticism and versatility. So for now, I have Bernard as the third linebacker (the Klein role) and Spector battling Andre Smith and Joe Giles-Harris for the third outside linebacker spot behind Bernard.
And don’t think these backup linebackers are irrelevant in Buffalo. Here is the reception backup MLB Tyrel Dodson got at the Buffalo Bandits game last night.
Buffalo definitely improved their defensive backfield during the draft after landing CB Kaiir Elam and CB Christian Benford. I think Elam is an upgrade over Dane Jackson due to his physical traits and athleticism, but it will definitely be a great competition between the two this summer for the CB2 job (assuming Tre White is healthy). I also think Benford is an upgrade over Cam Lewis as CB4 with his big build and strong ball skills. In his four years at Villanova (36 games), Benford finished with 137 tackles, 47 pass breakups and 14 interceptions. Quarterbacks had a 25.2 rating when targeting Benford in coverage last season.
And of course, we can’t forget about Taron Johnson as the nickel corner with Siran Neal backing him up, both of whom aren’t free agents until 2025.
I think it was great news for Jordan Poyer and Bills Mafia that the Bills didn’t draft a safety this year (aka a Poyer replacement). They are very high on Damar Hamlin and Jaquan Johnson, but still, by not drafting a safety like a ton of people predicted, that tells me that the Bills are confident they can get a deal done with Poyer, or at least resolve the situation. The best safety duo in the league will be back for their sixth season together.
Buffalo Bills Special Teams Depth Chart
|P||Matt Araiza||Matt Haack|
|K||Tyler Bass||Matt Araiza|
|H||Matt Araiza||Matt Haack|
|PR||Isaiah McKenzie||Marquez Stevenson||Micah Hyde||Khalil Shakir||Malik Williams|
|KR||Isaiah McKenzie||Marquez Stevenson||Khalil Shakir||Malik Williams|
Buffalo’s third unit got a massive upgrade after they drafted P Matt Araiza and his cannon of a leg. The one knock on Araiza is that he never held for field goals and extra points in college, something that P Matt Haack does very well. However, Araiza said he’s been working on holding right along with professional punters. Given how far he can punt and the fact that he can kick field goals and be an emergency option for Tyler Bass, I don’t see any way where Haack makes this roster over him. I also would be shocked if the Bills kept Haack as the holder and Araiza as the punter. Keeping two punters would be a waste of a roster spot.
PR and KR
The Bills had their struggles last year in the return game, with Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson each having ball security issues. Micah Hyde became the emergency punt returner for big moments and when the weather was bad, not the most ideal situation for the Super Bowl favorites. The Bills didn’t do too much to change that this offseason, so that tells me they have confidence that between McKenzie and Stevenson, at least one of them should be able to handle return duties. Khalil Shakir and undrafted free agent WR Malik Williams (Appalachian State) also have experience in the return game, but that’s not their main role.
The Buffalo Bills have added 32 new players this offseason between free agency, the draft and undrafted free agency. Not all of them will make the final 53-man roster, but I think the Bills could have at least 20 of those new players on their roster for week one at the Los Angeles Rams. This is the most complete Bills roster that I have ever seen. We’re reaching the peak of this era of Buffalo Bills football. The next two years is our best window to finally bring home a Lombardi Trophy.