After falling short of their Super Bowl quest in 2022, the Buffalo Bills will head into next year hoping to claim the Lombardi Trophy. Unlike last offseason, when the Bills took a home-run swing by signing future Hall of Fame pass rusher Von Miller, Buffalo took a more modest approach in 2023 and focused on draft additions and mid-tier signings to bolster their NFL roster. That approach will help the Bills reinforce their depth chart but will also set up several intriguing training camp battles.
Top Buffalo Bills Training Camp Battles To Watch
Right Guard | Ryan Bates vs. O’Cyrus Torrence
Last April, Ryan Bates signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Bills. However, he can’t feel secure about his starting role after Buffalo used their second-round pick on Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence.
Buffalo is unlikely to simply release Bates, as they’d take on nearly $5 million in dead money by doing so. Plus, even if he’s not a starter, Bates could provide valuable depth given his ability to play both guard spots and center. But he’s in danger of being replaced in the starting lineup after allowing 32 pressures a season ago, 16th-most among the 60 guards with at least 600 snaps, per PFF.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane had never used a Day 1 or 2 selection on an interior line offensive lineman since taking over in 2017, but he couldn’t pass on the value of landing Torrence at No. 59 overall. During his college career, Torrence didn’t allow a sack and was widely viewed as a first-round choice — he ranked 30th on the Industry Consensus Board heading into the draft.
If Bates loses his competition to Torrence, he won’t have the option to factor in at left guard, where the Bills gave former Cowboy Connor McGovern nearly $10 million guaranteed this offseason. Instead, Bates’ future in Buffalo could become a real question, as the Bills could move on next offseason with more than $3 million in cap savings.
No. 3 WR | Deonte Harty vs. Trent Sherfield vs. Khalil Shakir
We didn’t list running back as a notable Bills training camp battle because James Cook, Damien Harris, and Nyheim Hines will all likely have defined roles within Buffalo’s offense. The same could be said at wide receiver, but one of Deonte Harty, Trent Sherfield, or Khalil Shakir may step up to become the Bills’ clear WR3 behind Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis.
Buffalo gave Harty a two-year pact worth $9.5 million this offseason, but he’s more likely to be deployed on special teams and as a specialized deep threat. Beane has indicated the Bills are confident Harty can play both in the slot and outside, but he’s only 5’6″, so his time out wide will likely be limited.
Sherfield had primarily been a special-teams player throughout his NFL career before appearing on 58% of the Dolphins’ offensive snaps and managing a 30/417/2 line in 2022. Sherfield earned praise from Josh Allen during the Bills’ organized team activities (OTAs), but he spent most of his time at outside receiver, an indication that he might play in the slot in Buffalo.
Shakir, the Bills’ fifth-round pick in 2022, saw limited action during his rookie campaign and posted just 10 receptions for 161 yards during the regular season. However, he stood out more during the playoffs, putting up five catches for 91 yards in two postseason games. According to data analyst Arjun Menon, no rookie receiver got open against man coverage at a higher rate than Shakir last season.
Linebacker | Tyrel Dodson vs. Terrel Bernard
The Bills’ most significant loss of free agency was unquestionable two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who joined the Chicago Bears on a four-year, $72 million contract. Given how pressed Buffalo is for cap space and how invested they already are in fellow linebacker Matt Milano, Edmunds never seemed like a realistic candidate to return.
But who will replace Edmunds on the Bills’ depth chart? While veteran A.J. Klein or third-round rookie Dorian Williams could potentially factor into the equation, this battle looks like a two-horse race between Tyrel Dodson and Terrel Bernard.
Buffalo invested a third-round pick on Bernard in last year’s draft, so he should have the upper hand early on. Bernard played middle LB at Baylor, and the Bills likely want him to win the competition, especially given that he’s under contract for three more seasons while Dodson is in a contract year.
Nevertheless, Bernard won’t be handed the job. Last season, Dodson replaced Edmunds at middle linebacker when Edmunds was sidelined for three games, so he has the most recent experience in the center of Buffalo’s defense. With defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier gone, head coach and new play-caller Sean McDermott may prefer to go with the veteran in the middle.