Buffalo Bills roster analysis: The Best 53 Survived

General manager Brandon Beane said they had to leave themselves light at some positions to ensure the strongest team.
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In a perfect world, the Buffalo Bills would have kept three tight ends and perhaps an extra cornerback.

But in the process of trying to keep their best 53 players heading toward their season opener on Sept. 12 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, that wasn't possible, general manager Brandon Beane explained Wednesday.

"We really tried to keep the best 53 and not say, `we're going to keep, you know, x number of running backs, x number of receivers, tight ends,' " Beane said.

In balancing special-teams needs with the limited number of players allowed to be activated for games, Beane and coach Sean McDermott knew they were pushing the envelope by keeping 11 defensive linemen. But the expanded practice squads of up to 16 players allowed by the NFL since the pandemic began will enable them to adjust easier as the season wears on.

Brandon Beane was disappointed the NFL cut prospect interviews at the Combine down from 60 to 45 minutes.

Bills GM Brandon Beane has built a powerful roster.

Either way, the Bills might have assembled the strongest roster in team history this summer. It certainly it is their deepest of the free agency era, which began in 1993, the last season they made it to the Super Bowl.

Yet as great a job as everyone has done getting to this point, there are no guarantees, as Beane knows from experience both in Buffalo and Carolina, where he worked from 1998 through 2016.

"Sometimes you can be a better team," he said, "but the way you dealt with injuries in the season, a tough run of a schedule, whatever it is, I mean, everybody's prognosticating how good teams are going to be, but teams are so different every year if you look in November to the way they were in September for various reasons.

"So we might look like a tough matchup with someone in November, but we might not be playing our best football then or we may be dealing with some injuries. So there's been many seasons in my career where I was like, `man, we actually were pretty good. It just didn't work out, record- wise.' "

That works in reverse too, such as in McDermott's first year as coach in 2017.

"I go back to our first season," Beane said. "Sean and his coaches did a heck of a job getting us to 9-7. I mean, that was not the most talented roster. We were starting this process here.

"So we have a lot of expectations. I can't tell you what that's going to result in wins and losses. Every year will have its ups and downs, but hopefully we have not only the talent but the right people in our building to help deal with the adversity."

Although the Bills are carrying just two quarterbacks, Josh Allen and Mitchell Trubisky, on the active roster, they brought back both Jake Fromm and Davis Webb for the practice squad and would feel comfortable with any of the four in a regular-season game.

Beane and McDermott believe in both lines and know that even without an elite tight end they have surrounded Allen with enough weapons to give him a good chance to improve on last year's breakout season and contend for a Super Bowl.

They're loaded at receiver with Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Emmanuel Sanders, Isaiah McKenzie and Jake Kumerow and have quality running backs.

They believe their defense can get back to the way it was before 2020 because they'll be stronger up front with the return of Star Lotulelei, the additions of Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham and Efe Obada and the giant leap forward expected from A.J. Epenesa.

They like their special teams and the pure speed of new full-time returner McKenzie.

They have perhaps just the right blend of youth and experience.

"We feel good about our core and, I'd say, overall," Beane said. "I don't feel like most of the core guys that we built this around have plateaued."

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.