Buffalo Bills 53-man roster prediction: Offensive tackles

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 9: Dion Dawkins #73 of the Buffalo Bills defends against Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 9: Dion Dawkins #73 of the Buffalo Bills defends against Terrell Suggs #55 of the Baltimore Ravens in the second quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Who will the Buffalo Bills take into 2019 as their left and right tackles, and how many will there be on the roster?

Following a season in which the Buffalo Bills allowed 41 sacks, general manager Brandon Beane made revamping the offensive tackle depth chart a priority in the off-season. Both in free agency and the 2019 NFL Draft, the Bills spent considerable capital to rebuild the position group. The culmination of those efforts is an offensive tackle unit that features one former Bill, as shown below.

Left: (1) Dion Dawkins (2) La’Adrian Waddle (switch)

Right: (1) Cody Ford (2) Ty Nsekhe (switch)

*switch denotes that they can play both positions.

Third-year pro Dion Dawkins should be the only former starting Bill returning to the offensive line. It just so happens that he plays arguably the most crucial blocking position in football. Through two years of play, he’s shown enough to warrant another year as the starter.

A second-round pick out of Temple in 2017, Dawkins was a standout rookie. He finished his inaugural pro season with 16 games played and 11 starts. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked as the NFL’s eighth-best tackle with an 80.4 grade and a 78.7 as a run-blocker. For all intents and purposes, his rookie year showed the Bills he’s the future at the position.

But Dawkins slid a bit as a sophomore. Though he was still useful and started all 16 games, he earned 13 penalties — the fourth-highest mark for all NFL offensive tackles. According to PFF, he allowed seven sacks, while his run-blocking grade took a dip down to 58.9. Nonetheless, he’s shown far more throughout his career than most expect out a young tackle and will start come 2019. If he can get back to his rookie form, the LT position should be locked up for the future.

The right-side job is Cody Ford’s to lose. A rookie hailing from Oklahoma and a second-round pick, Ford joined the starters as the right tackle during Spring practices.

Many view Ford as a pro-ready guard rather than a right-side tackle. But playing him at the latter position is justifiable. Though he started at right tackle for just one full season as a Sooner, he was dominant. In 2018, via PFF, he allowed only one sack, no QB hits, six hurries, 231.5 snaps per inside pressure, 462 snaps per bullrush pressure, 99.1 pass-block efficiency, and a 91.1% run-block success rate.

Despite being a tad undersized for the position (6-foot-3, 329-pounds), Ford is a physically imposing blocker that plays with a particular sort of tenacity all coaches can rave about. He’s proficient in switching against stunts and double-teams in pass protection, and can carve open lanes in rush-blocking via quick footwork and mauling ability. However, to be effective at right tackle, Ford will need to clean up his kick slide and hand usage.

Dawkins and Ford can create one of the NFL’s best, young, tackle combinations. Though each needs to show development, both possess excellent building blocks for the position.

Behind the two aforementioned is a pairing of veterans; Ty Nsekhe and La’Adrian Waddle. Both have played all over offensive lines in the past and should do the same coming off the bench in emergency roles. However, Nsekhe is slated as the backup right tackle while Waddle takes the left.

Nsekhe has found his most NFL success working from the right side. The 33-year-old, 6-foot-8, 325-pound tackle found a role in Washington’s offensive line as a swiss-army-knife. He played across their line, with the majority of his snaps at right tackle. In 2018, Nsekhe finished with a 67.8 PFF grade — good for 43rd in the NFL  — and allowed just one sack.

If Ford doesn’t win the right tackle job, Nsekhe should be the first option to do so. If not, the veteran will be his backup and will fill in across the board if an inevitable injury strikes. As for Waddle, the former Patriot offers experience as a substitute left tackle.

Waddle started his career in Detroit, then found himself playing with New England in a backup capacity. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound tackle started seven games for the Pats, all coming in the past two seasons. In 2018, he started three but struggled mightily doing so. Per PFF, he finished the season allowed three sacks and graded at a lowly 51.9.

Next. Buffalo Bills 53-man roster prediction: Tight ends. dark

The Bills shouldn’t rely on Waddle heavily and could take another route here by way of a younger player. But he’s experienced and should be considered as the fourth tackle on the depth chart. Last year, he might’ve been closer to the top-two. Now, however, the Bills aren’t possessing a reeling offensive tackle unit; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.