The Buffalo Bills could have as many as eight new starters when the NFL season opens. Here’s a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Tyrod Taylor): Coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have been impressed with Taylor’s work ethic behind the scenes, but this is a critical year for him to take a step forward on the field and become a consistent difference maker under center.
Running back (LeSean McCoy): Now 29, McCoy has the NFL’s fourth-most career rushing attempts among active backs, but believes his shifty style of play has helped him avoid hits and will keep him from slowing down.
Fullback (Patrick DiMarco): The Bills signed DiMarco to a four-year deal this offseason. He will replace Jerome Felton as the lead blocker out of the backfield in a run-heavy offensive scheme.
Wide receiver (Sammy Watkins): This could be Watkins’ fourth and final season in Buffalo after the Bills declined his fifth-year option for 2018 this spring; health is his top priority.
Wide receiver (Zay Jones): Training camp will reveal whether Jones (the No. 37 overall pick in April’s draft) or Andre Holmes (a veteran free-agent addition) starts opposite Watkins and get more targets from Taylor.
Tight end (Charles Clay): McDermott said in the spring that the Bills are “concerned” with the health of Clay’s often-problematic knee, and will manage his workload accordingly; without much depth behind him, the Bills need Clay to stay healthy.
Left tackle (Cordy Glenn): He missed all spring practices because of offseason ankle surgery. This season, he must prove he’s worth the $12 million-per-year deal he signed last year.
Left guard (Richie Incognito): Now 34 and almost four years removed from a bullying scandal, Incognito has settled back into the NFL and has ranked among the top guards in the league. The question is whether the Bills keep the aging blocker in 2018 at a ballooned $7.5 million cap number.
Center (Eric Wood): The Bills’ second-longest-tenured player enters the final season of his contract with his future somewhat in question. Will he return to Buffalo for a 10th season in 2018?
Right guard (John Miller): A third-round pick in 2015 who has started every game that he has played the past two seasons, Miller was demoted to the second team for some spring practices in what McDermott termed a competition with veteran free-agent signing Vladimir Ducasse.
Right tackle (Jordan Mills): He’s the incumbent starter at right tackle, but will be pushed this training camp by 2017 second-round pick Dion Dawkins. Dawkins practiced at first-team left tackle this spring in place of Glenn.
Defensive end (Jerry Hughes): McDermott saw some pop out of Hughes this spring coming off the edge, which was often missing the past two seasons in a Rex Ryan scheme that saw Hughes consistently dropping into coverage. He will be the Bills’ top pass-rusher.
Defensive end (Shaq Lawson): The road is paved for Lawson, the Bills’ first-round pick in 2016, to begin to settle into the NFL after his rookie campaign was delayed by offseason shoulder surgery. Buffalo needs Lawson to emerge, given the team lacks virtually any pass-rushing depth behind him.
Defensive tackle (Marcell Dareus): As long Dareus stays healthy, remains motivated and stays out of trouble off the field, he’s widely considered among the NFL’s best at his position. There were no apparent issues with him this offseason.
Defensive tackle (Kyle Williams): Williams, entering his 12th season with the Bills, contemplated retiring this offseason, but McDermott convinced him to return by making it clear that Buffalo was looking to win this coming season. Williams is a model of consistency, and a likely future member of the team’s wall of fame.
Outside linebacker (Lorenzo Alexander): Another grounded veteran presence in the locker room, Alexander is coming off the best season of his career (12.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception), but will be playing in space on early downs rather than rushing the passer in McDermott’s defensive scheme.
Middle linebacker (Preston Brown): He held down his spot in the first-team defense before and after 2016 second-round pick Reggie Ragland returned to full strength following a torn ACL. There figures to be stiff competition at this spot in August.
Outside linebacker (Ramon Humber): The Bills do not currently view Brown or Ragland as candidates for this spot, likely because of their lack of athleticism compared to Humber.
Cornerback (Tre’Davious White): This year’s first-round pick stood out to nearly everyone who watched practices this spring, snagging two interceptions off Taylor in the final four sessions open to reporters. He looks to have vaulted to the top of the depth chart at cornerback, and his progress this offseason seems to have the Bills very encouraged about his future potential.
Cornerback (Ronald Darby): In spring practices open to reporters, he spent all his time with the first-team defense playing opposite either White or Seymour. His starting spot is not guaranteed, but it seems likely he will keep it.
Safety (Micah Hyde): A jack-of-all-trades in Green Bay, the Bills’ top free-agent signing this offseason played exclusively at safety this spring. There is not much depth behind him, so he’ll have to stay healthy.
Safety (Jordan Poyer): Like Hyde, there is not much competition behind Poyer for his starting spot. He signed this offseason after missing most of last season in Cleveland with a lacerated kidney.
Kicker (Steven Hauschka): There is some speculation that undrafted rookie Austin Rehkow could emerge as the Bills’ kicker after attempting the most field goals in practices that reporters attended.
Punter (Colton Schmidt): Rehkow is a dual kicker and punter, so he’s also competing with Schmidt at this position.
Long snapper (Reid Ferguson): He enters his first season in this role after Garrison Sanborn, the Bills’ long snapper since 2009, was released this offseason.