Rookies giving Bills a big boost

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
5:00
AM ET
When three rookies trot out as opening-day starters for an NFL team, the reactions can vary wildly.

Anything from "Wow, look at all that young talent!" to "Yikes, they didn't have anyone else, huh?" might capture the situation accurately.

So when ESPN Insider Mike Sando tweeted earlier this week that Buffalo Bills' 2013 draft picks have played more snaps through two games than those of any other team, it was worth pondering where the Bills fell on that spectrum.

After all, the Bills, with 440 snaps played by rookie draft selections, were trailed by four teams (the Jets, Jaguars, Rams and Redskins) with a combined record of 2-6 through the first two weeks. In other words, if the 1-1 Bills are going to have those teams as company, they'd better be the class of the party.

And I think they are.

Of those league-leading 440 snaps, the vast majority has gone to three players, who were also the team's top three selections in April's draft: quarterback EJ Manuel, receiver Robert Woods and linebacker Kiko Alonso.

It's true that the Bills entered the draft with holes at all three of those positions, so entering training camp, the top three picks were all favored to start or at least see significant time.

Even so, this much has been clear: All have earned their jobs. Manuel would have won the starting job with or without Kevin Kolb suffering a season-ending concussion. Woods outplayed T.J. Graham throughout the preseason. And the task of manning the middle of the Bills' defense never seemed too big for Alonso.

Only four teams had younger rosters entering Week 1 than Buffalo, who had an average age of 25.45: the Jaguars, Rams, Browns and Seahawks. That last one stands out as an example of a team that isn't just young; Seattle is pretty good, too.

It's easy to forget that the Seahawks came into last season coming off four consecutive losing campaigns. Things can turn around quickly, and the feeling here is that the Bills are better positioned than Jacksonville, St. Louis, or Cleveland to follow the Seahawks' lead.

As a parting shot, here's a glance at the Bills' rookies and their participation through the first two weeks:

QB EJ Manuel (first round)
Starts: 2 of 2 games
Offensive snaps: 138 of 138

WR Robert Woods (second round)
Offensive snaps: 132 of 138
Special-teams snaps: 10 of 64

LB Kiko Alonso (second round)
Defensive snaps: 170 of 170
Special-teams snaps: 11 of 64

WR Marquise Goodwin (third round)
Offensive snaps: 9 of 138
Special-teams snaps: 6 of 64
Did not play Week 2 (fractured hand)

S Duke Williams (fourth round)
Defensive snaps: 6 of 170
Special-teams snaps: 36 of 64

S Jonathan Meeks (fifth round)
Defensive snaps: 0 of 170
Special teams snaps: 34 of 64

K Dustin Hopkins (sixth round)
Has not played (right groin strain)

TE Chris Gragg (seventh round)
Healthy inactive Weeks 1 and 2

CB Nickell Robey (undrafted)
Defensive snaps: 110 of 170
Special-teams snaps: 2 of 64

QB Jeff Tuel (undrafted)
Active but has not played

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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