On paper, there aren’t many players on the Buffalo Bills’ offense who are going to strike fear into opposing defenses. Outside of Lesean McCoy, Charles Clay and Kelvin Benjamin (when healthy), a vast majority of the offensive starters are relatively unproven. For that reason, fans will need to keep a close eye on five starting spots that are currently up for grabs (barring any notable roster additions between now and the start of training camp).
Let’s take a look at the positions in question, who will be competing for said roles, and the projected winners.
Center: Russell Bodine & Ryan Groy
At the beginning of the offseason, Bills fans everywhere were shocked to learn that long-time starting center, Eric Wood had elected to retire from the NFL due to a worsening neck injury. With his departure, the organization needed to act fast in order to add depth at one of the most important positions on the offensive line.
During the first week of free agency, the team came to terms on a two-year contract with former Cincinnati Bengals center, Russell Bodine. After starting every game for the Bengals since they selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Bodine didn’t stay unemployed for long.
Despite his longevity as a starter in Cincinnati, fans of the team celebrated his departure, citing inconsistent play over the last two seasons. That sentiment was echoed by Pro Football Focus who gave Bodine an overall grade of 46.8 last season, ranking him as the 25th best center in the NFL.
Bodine’s only competition for a starting role with the Bills comes in the form of Ryan Groy. Last year, Buffalo matched a two-year $5 million RFA offer sheet given to Groy by the Los Angeles Rams. During the 2016 season, he was called into starting action seven times for Buffalo due to injuries across the line.
Though Bodine has more starting experience, Groy did grade out well as a starter in 2016 according to PFF who referred to him as the Bills’ “secret superstar.”
Projected Winner: Groy
Right Tackle: Jordan Mills and Marshall Newhouse
This competition is a bit of a “pick your poison” situation. Neither Mills or Newhouse were particularly well thought of by their respective fan bases during the 2017 season.
Though Mills has started every game at right tackle in Western New York over the past two years, he has been routinely criticised as one of the weak links on the offensive line. Some of his flaws were covered up last season by Tyrod Taylor’s elite escapability, but with the pocket oriented passers on the Bills roster, his poor footwork and spotty pass blocking will be on full display, especially without a strong guard next to him to help cover up some of his mistakes.
Newhouse’s criticism’s during his time in Oakland are nearly identical. In 14 games as the Raiders’ starter last year, the seven-year veteran often appeared slow off the snap, routinely getting beat by more athletic pass rushers on the edge. His PFF grade of 46.4 ranked him as the 65th best tackle in the league.
Bills fans will need to hold out hope that a viable starting option becomes available following June 1st cuts in the NFL. If not, it could be a long year on the right side of the line.
Projected Winner: Mills
Right and Left Guard: John Miller, Vlad Ducasse & Wyatt Teller
This one is particularly intriguing. Both starting guard spots are completely up for grabs on the Bills’ offensive line, and with a change in blocking scheme on the horizon, things got a whole lot more interesting.
Though he often drew a great deal of ire from fans, Vlad Ducasse wasn’t as bad last season as people made him out to be. That’s not to say that he’s starting material, but with a suspect right tackle beside him, his job was made that much more difficult. In fact, he drew a particularly impressive grade of 75.5 last season per PFF, which ranked him 24th among guards in the NFL. Not too shabby.
What’s important to note is Ducasse’s role as a full-time starter last year despite being brought in as a reserve by the previous coaching regime. That alone speaks volumes about how he is viewed by Sean McDermott and his staff.
John Miller’s situation is a bit more curious. After showing very well as a rookie starter in 2016 under Rex Ryan, he was benched for the entirety of the 2017 campaign, likely due to a switch in blocking scheme that would no longer suit his strengths. Now that the team is moving away from the zone blocking scheme they ran in 2017, Miller has now become a likely candidate to regain his role on the right side of the line next season. If he can pick up where he left off after an excellent rookie season two years ago, he will be one of the more reliable players on the line.
Last but not least is rookie Wyatt Teller. The 6-foot-5, 314-lb behemoth was viewed as a steal when the Bills selected him with the 166th overall pick in the fifth round last month. During his time with Virginia Tech, he excelled in a gap blocking scheme, similar to the one Brian Daboll will likely use in Buffalo. Though the Bills are thin at the position, it might not be the smartest decision to start a rookie fifth-round pick on an already suspect offensive line.
Projected Starters: John Miller (Right) and Vlad Ducasse (Left)
Quarterback: A.J. McCarron, Josh Allen & Nathan Peterman
You had to know this one was coming. Roster prognosticators have discussed this topic ad nauseam since the Bills picked Josh Allen seventh overall last month. Despite a wide set of hard opinions on the topic, the situation may be more wide-open than people realize.
A majority of fans feel that A.J. McCarron is far and away the most likely player to emerge as the starting quarterback on September 9th, but it’s far from set in stone. From the moment Brandon Beane made Allen “his guy,” he has been abundantly clear that the role of starter is still wide open for 2018.
While McCarron may be the odds-on favorite to win the job, Allen and Peterman both still have a good chance to seize the opportunity from him, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they did. Though McCarron had by far the most impressive collegiate career of the three, his short stint as a starter in Cincinnati in 2016 wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Sure there were flashes of greatness, but certainly not anything to show that he is definitively better than his competition.
Bills fans are all too familiar with the failed Peterman experiment against the Los Angeles Chargers last season. In a record-breaking debut, he played himself out of the opportunity before the first half even ended. Despite a brutal first effort, McDermott has actually continued his praise of Peterman’s work ethic and desire to improve during the offseason. While he is probably the least likely candidate to emerge as the starter, don’t discount McDermott’s fondness for him (no matter how head-scratching it might be).
Rounding out the list is quite possibly the most polarizing first-round pick in team history in Allen. Regardless of whether you personally feel that he will forge a successful NFL career, the general consensus among fans seems to be that he needs to spend time holding a clipboard before being thrown into action. While this is probably true, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that Beane felt so strongly about him that he actually traded up to secure his services. Typically, players selected in the top-10 of the draft are day one starters.
That being said, his flaws are apparent to pretty much anyone who has watched his tape extensively and putting him behind a patchwork offensive line is a recipe for disaster. McDermott is smart enough to realize that, and unless he comes out and lights the world on fire in preseason action, the Bills would be wise to keep him on the sidelines this year.
Projected Winner: McCarron
Editor’s babble: Although the quarterback mystery may be more interesting to some, how the offensive line will be constructed and perform w/a power scheme is most intriguing for this old fan. Thanks to Anthony Sciandra for his insightful contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @SciandraSports.
*Views expressed belong to the author and are not necessarily shared by the owners of the BillsMafia.com website.