5 Buffalo Bills players who will make biggest impact in 1st season with team

The Buffalo Bills’ season ended in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs again last season and fans are hoping some of the new faces general manager Brandon Beane has added to the roster will push the team farther into the playoffs.

At least 14 of the 22 starters on both sides of the ball from a year ago are returning this season. The cornerback no. 2 competition and the middle linebacker battle are two big ones to watch when training camp kicks off next week.

Which new Bills players are set to make the biggest impact? Here are five names and a few honorable mentions.

1. Dalton Kincaid, tight end

It’s been a hectic spring and early summer for Kincaid, who’s been hard at work trying to learn the Bills’ complicated playbook. The rookie plays tight end but it’s his skills as a pass catcher that intrigued Beane enough to trade up to get him in the first round in April.

He’ll likely play all over the formation for the Bills and turn into a matchup problem for opposing defensive coordinators. Kincaid is sure-handed and a fluid route runner. Kincaid’s upside is he can help reignite the Bills’ intermediate passing game and open up the middle of the field for quarterback Josh Allen.

2. Leonard Floyd, defensive end

Floyd posted 29 sacks in his last three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and he’ll step into a massive role for the Bills early in 2023 with Von Miller’s return date up in the air. Early returns on Greg Rousseau have been excellent for the Bills defense, but the young pass rusher is still developing.

Floyd is a proven pass rusher who can help supercharge Sean McDermott’s defensive line. When Miller returns, the Bills will have a nice collection of proven playmakers on their line. Floyd and Miller rushed together for one season in L.A. and it ended with a Super Bowl title for the Rams.

3. Connor McGovern, left guard

The Bills were quiet in the early days of free agency except for their aggressive move to ink 25-year-old offensive guard Connor McGovern to a three-year deal shortly after the legal tampering period opened on March 13.

Why?

Go back and watch some of the tape of Rodger Saffold in pass protection last season and it becomes abundantly clear why McGovern was a priority. Saffold allowed 42 pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and only five guards in the NFL allowed more. McGovern allowed just 23 on the season for the Dallas Cowboys and turned in his best performance of the season in the divisional round against the San Francisco 49ers. He didn’t allow a single pressure the entire game against the vaunted 49ers front.

McGovern likely slots in at left guard in between Pro Bowlers Dion Dawkins and Mitch Morse. McGovern brings youth and pass-blocking chops to help protect Allen.

4. Deonte Harty, wide receiver

Isaiah McKenzie was never able to take advantage of the opportunity to play slot receiver for the Bills last year when the team moved off Cole Beasley. So instead of running it back with McKenzie, the Bills paid a sneaky high amount of money for Harty. Beane gave Harty a two-year deal worth almost $10 million after two straight seasons of minimum deals for McKenzie.

Harty is a better separator and offers toughness after the catch. His best season came in 2021 in New Orleans when he caught 36 passes for 570 yards and three touchdowns. He’s struggled to stay healthy but if he’s available, he figures to become a popular target for Allen.

5. Damien Harris, running back

The Bills have been looking for a workhorse-style back that can carry the load in between the tackles for years. In Harris, the Bills may have found a perfect compliment to James Cook. Harris had a breakout season for the Patriots in 2021 when he rushed for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The emergence of Rhamondre Stevenson ate into his workload a year ago and New England moved on from the former third-round pick. In Buffalo, Harris should share carries with Cook and factor into the game plan when facing defenses with elite run-stopping ability.

Honorable mention:

Poona Ford, defensive tackle

Ford should probably be in the Top 5 of this list but he’s stuck behind two players that should out-snap him in Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones. No matter if he starts, Ford should be a force on the inside that allows others around him to have success. He’s great against the run and has proven in the past to be able to rush the quarterback.

Taylor Rapp, safety

Rapp is behind two All Pro safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, but the fifth-year pro has tons of starting experience. He’ll be the first man up if either of the older safeties gets banged up this season. Don’t count out the chance that McDermott finds away to use Rapp even when Poyer and Hyde are on the field.

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