After a successful 2020 NFL season, free agency was somewhat quiet for the Buffalo Bills. With the first wave of free agency in the review mirror, how does the Bills’ depth chart shape up as attention turns toward the 2021 NFL Draft?
Buffalo Bills Depth Chart
The Buffalo will head into the 2021 NFL Draft with a limited number of new faces after retaining a number of their own free agents. For analysis regarding each position group on both offense and defense, scroll below the depth chart.
Quarterback: Josh Allen, Mitch Trubisky, Jake Fromm, Davis Webb
Running Back: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones, Antonio Williams, Christian Wade
Fullback: Reggie Gilliam
Wide Receiver: Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Jake Kumerow, Isaiah Hodgins, Duke Williams, Tanner Gentry
Tight End: Dawson Knox, Jacob Hollister, Tommy Sweeney, Nate Becker
Offensive Tackle: Dion Dawkins, Daryl Williams, Ryan Bates, Trey Adams
Offensive Guard: Jon Feliciano, Cody Ford, Ike Boettger, Jordan Devey
Center: Mitch Morse, Jordan Devey, Trey Adams
Interior Defensive Line: Ed Oliver, Vernon Butler, Star Lotulelei, Justin Zimmer, Harrison Phillips, Brandin Bryant
EDGE: Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, A.J. Epenesa, Darryl Johnson Jr., Bryan Cox Jr., Mike Love
Linebacker: Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, A.J. Klein, Tyler Matakevich, Andre Smith, Tyrel Dodson
Cornerback: Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, Levi Wallace, Siran Neal, Dane Jackson, Cameron Lewis
Safety: Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Jaquan Johnson, Josh Thomas
Kicker: Tyler Bass
Punter: Matt Haack
Long Snapper: Reid Ferguson
Buffalo Bills Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
The Bills offense is set to enter the 2021 NFL season with a similar-looking depth chart to how they finished 2020. Who are the new additions, and how do they fit into a unit that impressed last season?
Josh Allen heads up the Bills’ QB depth chart coming off a superb 2020 NFL season. Last year he completed 69.2 percent of his passes with 4,544 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.
Allen added 8 touchdowns with 421 rushing yards, giving him 25 career rushing touchdowns and 1,562 career rushing yards. According to Next Gen Stats, Allen has the second-highest completion rate over expected at 4.6 and the fourth-highest passer rating at 107.2.
Behind Allen, the Bills added Trubisky to compete with Jake Fromm for the backup role. The Bills gave Trubisky a one-year contract worth $2.5 million, with $2 million guaranteed at signing. He struggled in his time as the starter for the Bears. However, his numbers do indicate there is significant potential. In his career, he has a 64 percent completion rate, with 64 touchdowns and 37 interceptions.
Fromm has yet to take a snap in his NFL career. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for the Bills to add a player with experience who could come in if Allen were to get injured in 2021.
The Bills’ depth chart at running back is still enigmatic. In three playoff games last season, the running back group combined for just 103 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Allen accounted for 145 rushing yards in those three games.
The Bills’ lack of ability to lean on their backs in crucial games highlights these RB committee concerns. In 2020, Singletary combined for 1,168 rushing yards on 268 carries. Their output was adequate, but the Bills need to get more from the run game.
Entering the 2021 season, Singletary should remain the starter, but Moss had just 44 fewer carries in three fewer games last year. Moss was also the leader in terms of red zone carries (30), compared to 22 for Singletary. We could see Moss take over the lead-back role early in the 2021 season.
Behind Singletary and Moss are some intriguing options. In his only game, Antonio Williams had 63 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on 12 carries. Meanwhile, Taiwan Jones did not register a single touch, playing just 4 snaps offensively. On the other hand, he was a key special teams contributor, playing 47 percent of such snaps.
One name to watch is former rugby player Christian Wade. Wade had an impressive touchdown in the preseason back in 2019. It will be interesting to see if he can earn a roster spot over Jones or Williams.
Stefon Diggs made an incredible start to his career with the Bills. His 127 receptions and 1,535 receiving yards led the league as both were career-high numbers. Only five receivers had a better catch rate than Diggs last season. He will enter 2021 atop the Bills’ wide receiver depth chart, and his breakout is a considerable reason why Buffalo released John Brown.
Cole Beasley also posted career numbers in 2020. He reeled in 82 of 107 targets with 967 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns. He was one of the five players who had a catch rate above Diggs, cementing his spot as the second target in this offense.
The Bills added veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders who is coming off a 61 reception season with 726 yards and 5 touchdowns. In fact, Sanders is a perfect replacement for Brown as the third weapon in the Bills’ arsenal.
Gabriel Davis may be one of the most talented WR4 options in the league. In his rookie season, Davis had 599 yards on 35 receptions. However, Allen struggled when targeting Davis, with 4 of his interceptions coming on those 62 targets.
Thus, as Davis continues to develop, it is understandable the Bills added a veteran option they can rely on in Sanders. Behind Davis is an intriguing group, including Isaiah Hodgins and Jake Kumerow.
The tight end depth chart for the Bills raises plenty of question marks. They replaced Tyler Kroft with Jacob Hollister in free agency, though this move did not answer much. In the past two seasons, Hollister has a total of 66 receptions, 558 yards, and 6 touchdowns.
As such, those numbers mean that Hollister will not come in as an immediate top option at the position. This is reflected in the contract the Bills gave him, which is for one year and worth just $1.1 million.
Hollister will compete with Dawson Knox, who has 52 receptions, 676 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns in his two-year career. Both tight ends have an opportunity to start next season. Additionally, there is a clear gap from Knox and Hollister to the third and fourth tight ends on the roster. Sweeney and Becker have a combined 8 receptions and 114 receiving yards in their NFL careers.
Becker has yet to play a game in the NFL. The tight end position is somewhere the Bills could look to address in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Bills made a significant effort to keep the top of their offensive line depth chart intact this offseason. They brought back Daryl Williams, Mitch Morse, and Jon Feliciano either ahead of, or during, free agency. These five should be locked in as the starters, especially Dawkins, Williams, and Morse.
Feliciano has all but made himself a starter, while Ford should return to a starting role after suffering an injury midway through the season.
Behind this group are Ryan Bates and Trey Adams at tackle, with Ike Boettger as the primary backup guard. At center, both Jordan Devey and Ryan Bates are potential options to take snaps if something were to happen to Morse.
Buffalo Bills Depth Chart Analysis | Defense
The Bills defense was considered the strength of the roster heading into the 2020 season. After a tough season, the Bills need to see immediate improvements from their defense in 2021.
Interior Defensive Line
The potential return of 2020 opt-out Star Lotulelei adds significant depth to the Bills’ defensive line depth chart. Still, Ed Oliver and Vernon Butler should remain as the starters, having played the most snaps at the position in 2020. The Bills will hope to see former No. 9 overall selection Oliver develop further in his third season. Oliver has 11 tackles for loss through two years, 14 QB hits, 8 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.
Butler had an underwhelming first season for the Bills, with 5 tackles for loss, 2 QB hits, and just 18 combined tackles.
That relative lack of production opens an opportunity for Lotulelei to challenge for a chance to start. The Panthers’ former first-round pick had 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 3 QB hits in 2019. Even so, after a year out of football, can Lotulelei return to the field and stake a claim to start in 2021?
Phillips and Zimmer are both players who also have the upside to start in 2021. Zimmer had 7 QB hits, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 sack in relatively limited playing time last season. Phillips saw more time on the field last season, but his production does not outweigh Zimmer’s.
Some thought the Bills may move on from Hughes and Addison this offseason to open cap space. However, the Bills chose to rework several deals to retain the two players atop their pass-rush depth chart. Hughes has been in Buffalo since 2013 but has not had double-digit sacks since 2014.
Addison was also underwhelming in 2020, with just 5 sacks. That combination of 9.5 sacks between those two players largely points to the Bills’ issues pressuring Patrick Mahomes last season.
As a result, there is an opportunity for former Iowa Hawkeyes pass rusher A.J. Epenesa to step up as a starter. He managed just 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, and 4 QB hits as a rookie. Yet, he played only 27 percent of the snaps on defense. If Epenesa can start the season strongly, he could supplant Addison or Hughes as a starter.
After Epenesa, there are a plethora of unknowns in Johnson, Cox, and Love. All three have a combined 21 pressures across five years. Thus, none of those three options are real contenders to replace Addison, Hughes, or Epenesa as starters in 2021.
The Bills prioritized keeping their top three linebackers on their depth chart intact this past offseason. Tremaine Edmunds is set to enter the final year of his rookie deal, having posted triple-digit tackle numbers in each of his first three seasons. Above all, Edmunds has quickly made himself one of the top linebackers in the league.
He is eligible for a fifth-year option this offseason, but after being nominated to the Pro Bowl in 2020, he will be due to earn $12.7 million if the Bills pick it up.
Buffalo retained Milano on a four-year, $41.5 million contract. He lost six games to injury but still managed a career-high 3.5 sacks and 9 QB hits. The third part of their group is Klein, who posted career-high numbers in sacks, QB hits, and tackles last season. Klein is yet another former Panthers player on this Bills roster and has two years remaining on his three-year $18 million contract.
Behind those three, the depth chart becomes somewhat questionable. Matakevich and Smith played a combined 119 snaps last season. Accordingly, it would not be surprising to see the Bills address their depth at linebacker, either in the second wave of free agency or the 2021 NFL Draft.
At the top of the Bills’ cornerback depth chart is one of the best at the position in Tre’Davious White. After signing a four-year contract extension worth $69 million, White saw a slight dip in his numbers. He still performed exceptionally well, allowing just a 57 percent completion rate on 65 targets.
Wallace stepped up last season as well. He allowed a 58 percent completion rate with 558 yards and 3 touchdowns, proving to be a formidable partner for White.
Taron Johnson saw a significant increase in playing time last season. He made a substantial splash with a 101-yard interception return in the playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. Johnson impressed in his role in the slot, which is a crucial part of the modern defense.
Siran Neal and Dane Jackson will compete to be the primary backups. Neal tends to play more in the slot, making him the primary backup to Johnson. Neal posted slightly better numbers than Jackson last season, but both received limited playing time.
With the combination of Poyer and Hyde, the Bills enjoy one of the best safety pairings. They signed Poyer to a two-year extension last offseason and committed to two more seasons with Hyde the year prior. Hyde is the better of the two in coverage, while Poyer tends to drop down into the box and go after the QB. Last season, Poyer blitzed 55 times, posting 5 pressures and 2 sacks.
Much like the rest of the defense, depth is a concern at safety. Neal could provide some cover, but the primary replacement is Jaquan Johnson, who has played just 102 snaps on defense in his career. Thomas featured in two games last season, playing a total of 15 snaps on special teams. This is another position on defense where the Bills could look to add depth in the draft.
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