Bills mailbag: Pre-vacation edition

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
4:00
PM ET
As the Buffalo Bills wrapped up their final minicamp practice Thursday, moving trucks were already lining up in the parking lot to transfer the weight room to St. John Fisher College.

The Bills will get an early start on training camp, with players reporting July 18, so they have less than a month of time off before they'll be back in the fold.

Before we step away on a couple weeks of vacation of our own, let's answer some of your questions from Twitter:
@mikerodak: I don't think that there will be one standard set, as the Bills have several options at the position. But if we look at it from a snap count perspective, I think that Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Mike Williams will finish as the top three, barring injuries.

What I wrote about Williams last week caught fire but I want to make it clear that I don't think Williams' roster spot is in imminent jeopardy or that he had disappointed the coaching staff.

Instead, from watching Williams in three weeks of organized team activities, I didn't see anything in his game that stood out head-and-shoulders above his competition at receiver. For example, when you watch Watkins, you see a lanky receiver with a huge catch radius and sure hands. When you watch Woods, you see him get open and rarely drop a pass. And when you watch T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin, you see blazing speed. Williams has some size, but he's still dwarfed by half of the Bills' depth chart at wide receiver.

That may have just been a case of me expecting too much out of Williams coming into OTAs, which is my fault. He told reporters Thursday that he was still limited by a hamstring injury, and when Williams is healthy in training camp, he'll likely catch my eye more than he did this spring.

Still, I don't think Williams is automatically awarded the No. 3 receiver job. Chris Hogan and Goodwin both received reps with EJ Manuel this spring and I would expect Graham, once he's healthy, to be added to that group. As with anything else in the NFL, it will be a competition.

What concerned me about Williams' roster spot is that he isn't likely to contribute on special teams. Goodwin and Graham both offer upside as kick returners, while Hogan finished third on the team with nine special teams tackles last season. And that's not even considering Marcus Easley, a wide receiver by trade who far and away led the Bills with 21 special teams tackles in 2013.

Special teams contributions often play a significant role in forming a 53-man roster (and especially a 46-man gameday roster), which is why I believe the Bills will give consideration to keeping both Hogan and Easley again this season. Add in Watkins, Woods, Williams, Goodwin, and Graham, and there is a numbers squeeze where something will have to give.

As for any of this discussion being "premature," clearly it is. Nobody, coaches and players included, knows what will happen two months from now when the 53-man roster is formed. There is no "right" or "wrong." Part of providing year-round coverage and analysis of an NFL team is running through the various what-if scenarios and injecting our observations and opinions when facts can only be determined by time.

Our goal always has been to provide a forum where fans can be informed about the Bills and also discuss, predict, and speculate about the team, the same way they would in line at the supermarket or in the chair at the barber's. From questions about Manuel to Williams to Jon Bon Jovi, we'll continue to do that.

And on that note, let's continue our Twitter mailbag: @mikerodak: As with any other player who hits the open market, the team will do its due diligence on Jason Babin. General manager Doug Whaley said after the draft that the Bills could use more depth at defensive end and if the right player hits the market. It wouldn't shock me if they went after him. Babin is 34, so we're looking at an older player here. I'm not sure if that fits the Bills' mold. They have one of the NFL's younger rosters and have only four players on their 90-man roster who are 30 years or older. If they want to see what they have in two of their younger players at defensive end -- Jacquies Smith and Ikponmwosa Igbinosun -- then adding another veteran will only take away from their reps. Babin still brings something to the table as a pass-rusher, but I think the Bills want to see how they fare with Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes, and Manny Lawson as their top trio before looking elsewhere. @mikerodak: Better than last season is the starting point. How much better? Obviously, Manuel doesn't need to be Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers to lead the Bills to the playoffs. The Bills have a defense capable of winning games, just as they did last season, when Nickell Robey's interception and Mario Williams' strip-sack were driving factors in their win over the Miami Dolphins in October. What the Bills need out of Manuel is less "meltdown" type games, as we saw in Pittsburgh and Tampa last season. But most importantly, they need him to stay healthy. Starting Jeff Tuel against the Kansas City Chiefs or Thad Lewis on the road against the New Orleans Saints wasn't a recipe for victory. If Manuel can stay on the field and keep the Bills in the game by avoiding errors, that's all they need out of him this year. If he can do that, I don't think nine or 10 wins is unattainable. But realistically I would peg the Bills between six and eight wins this season. 

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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