Now that the free agency frenzy has subsided, Last Word on Pro Football will be breaking down the top three positional needs for each team heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. Here, the Buffalo Bills are the focus. Buffalo picks tenth in the first round with the team having a total of six selections overall.
New head coach Sean McDermott certainly wants his tenure to get off to a good start with a standout inaugural draft class. And the pressure is on general manager Doug Whaley, who’s been under fire at times from the fanbase, to deliver the goods. The Bills are far from a rebuilding team at this point. Add in a few key pieces and they’re in position to erase a playoff drought now into its 17th season.
Buffalo Bills 2017 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
The Buffalo Bills receiving corps dealt with myriad injury issues in 2016. Feature receiver Sammy Watkins made just eight appearances due to a recurrent foot injury. And even Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin dealt with their share of knocks which kept them out of action. All in all, those three played in just 36 out of a possible 48 games last year. That total ranked second worst in the league among wideouts who finished top three on their team in receiving yards.
What also necessitates addressing this position is the multiple free agency departures. Woods and Goodwin both moved out west, signing with the Rams and 49ers respectively. Though the Bills added Andre Holmes, Corey Brown and Jeremy Butler, this unit isn’t particularly deep as currently constructed. In particular, Buffalo needs a number two option to take the pressure off Watkins and potentially become the lead man if his durability issues resurface.
Two players are potential options in the first round: Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Clemson’s Mike Williams. Davis finished as the Broncos all-time leader in career receiving yards (5,278) and touchdown catches (52). He’s a competitor, runs crisp routes, has phenomenal ball skills and is a surefire vertical threat. In Williams, the Bills would be getting a proven winner with a prototypical build. He also possesses a wide catch radius and the ability to make would be tacklers miss after the catch.
With the uncertainty over Tyrod Taylor‘s contract situation a thing of the past, quarterback becomes less of a pressing need. That said, it won’t be much of a surprise if the Bills draft one at some point. Still, this year’s crop of tight end prospects is full of potential game changers at the next level and the Bills should take advantage.
This is especially true considering the team’s current situation at the position. Buffalo currently lacks a true vertical threat inside the numbers. Case in point: current starter Charles Clay ranked 25th among tight ends with 9.7 yards per catch last season. Though his ability as a run blocker helped the Bills lead the league in rushing offense, having a more well-rounded pass catching option to compliment his skill set will help.
Alabama’s O.J. Howard is a viable option at ten. He’s clearly the top tight end prospect in this year’s draft and has all the makings of an instant impact playmaker. The question is will he be available when the Bills make their pick in the first round. If not, there are certainly potential gems available later on. Evan Engram out of Ole Miss possesses plus athleticism, has great hands and can do damage in all three levels of the defense. Finally, pay attention to Adam Shaheen out of Division II Ashland. He’s a 6’6″, 278 pound athletic specimen who tested extremely well at the Combine and has middle round sleeper written all over him.
The Bills biggest loss in free agency was undoubtedly cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Patriots. Slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman is another free agency departure, having joined the Rams. Buffalo’s secondary as a whole will look a lot different in 2017 with safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer coming in from the Packers and Browns respectively.
But the biggest task the Bills face is finding a suitable replacement for Gilmore. Both him and Ronald Darby formed a formidable tandem of cover corners, especially in 2015. The two combined for five interceptions and 39 pass breakups that year. And they featured among Pro Football Focus’ highest rated players at the position.
Now Darby needs a new partner. Marshon Lattimore and Marlon Humphrey are first round possibilities. Both have the makings of future studs with exceptional ball skills, fluid hips and the ability to shut receivers down in man coverage. But Lattimore will likely be off the board when the Bills pick and Humphrey could be a reach as a top ten selection.
Given the aforementioned needs on offense, it’s more likely the Bills address this later on. In the second round, players such as Washington’s Kevin King, and USC’s Adoree Jackson are plausible options. Jackson in particular is intriguing. He’s a versatile corner who played in a variety of schemes with the Trojans. His burst to the ball in zone is phenomenal and he can win contested situations while also contributing on special teams as a returner.