Coming off a seemingly-disappointing 8-8 season in 2015, the Buffalo Bills are looking to improve and possibly end the league’s longest playoff drought of 16 years. After last year’s draft without a first round pick, Buffalo holds the 19th pick in this year’s draft and hope to find an immediate playmaker among this year’s extremely talented draft class. Buffalo’s below-average defense last season was the main point of concern for the coaching staff, especially after having one of the top defensive units in 2014. So where do the Bills go from here? Along with the 19th overall, Buffalo has seven picks, two being compensatory, meaning they cannot be traded. Follow along and see what moves the Buffalo Bills make as the draft progresses:
Team Needs: Inside Linebacker, Defensive End, Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle
Round 1 (19): Shaq Lawson | DE | Clemson
The Bills chose to address their lack of pass rushing as they selected the defensive end from Clemson, Shaq Lawson, with the 19th overall pick. Lawson, being one of the most highly-anticipated defensive ends in the draft, will give Buffalo well-needed depth, and maybe even acquire a starting spot at the defensive end position. Don’t be surprised if Rex Ryan uses Lawson’s athleticism at the outside linebacker position, just like he did with Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson last year. With Ryan paying frequent visits to Clemson to watch his son play, Lawson and Ryan established an early relationship, so it seemed fitting that Rex would go with Lawson among other possible defensive assets.
GM Doug Whaley hinted at the fact that Lawson may have already established a starting position playing opposite of Jerry Hughes. Lawson is a rare talent because of his capability to play both linebacker and defensive end. Whaley also noted that Lawson could possibly be a three-down player due to his versatility throughout the front seven.
Round 2 (41): Reggie Ragland | ILB | Alabama
The Bills worked their magic in the second round of the draft when they acquired the 41st pick from the Chicago Bears. Buffalo traded their fourth-round pick of this year and their fourth-rounder of next year to the Bears in order to land Ragland. The 2015 SEC Player of the Year found himself slip past the first round right into the hands of GM Doug Whaley and the Bills.
“We’ll have two guys that are defensive players that play football well,” Whaley said on Friday. “I think we’ve got two physical linebackers that fit our defensive scheme. And that’s tough, physical players.” Ragland being one of those, and the third-year player Preston Brown being the second. Just like Brown, Ragland possesses the ideal frame for an inside linebacker; he’s a great overall athlete who can shed blockers, has incredible strength at the point of attack, and is an extremely good tackler. Whaley said Ragland would start along side Brown at the inside linebacker position.
A minor downside to Ragland came about at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, where medical examiners found Ragland to have an enlarged aorta. Whaley commented on this and said that the Bills medical staff officially cleared him and has no concerns of Ragland’s health.
Round 3 (80): Adolphus Washington | DT | Ohio State
Along with the first two picks made by the Bills, they addressed a positional need with talent. Washington is versatile and is capable of playing defensive tackle, nose guard, and can slide to defensive end. Buffalo added depth at this position and sees lots of potential in Washington; he will be learning under four-time Pro Bowler and 11-year veteran DT Kyle Williams and DT Marcell Darius. Doug Whaley added that Buffalo’s defense “improved tremendously,” as a result of their pick.
Washington was arrested in December for solicitation outside of a Columbus, Ohio motel, which resulted in his suspension by Ohio State for the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. Washington pleaded guilty to the charge, completed a “John school,” program, and eventually had the charges dropped in February. Whaley commented on the issue by saying Washington “made an unfortunate mistake,” but added that he owned up to his mistake and is already taking steps in the right direction.
Round 4 (139): Cardale Jones | QB | Ohio State
The Bills went to another Buckeye as they drafted just their fifth quarterback since Jim Kelly’s retirement in 1996. As Tyrod Taylor enters the last year of his contract and an extension being far from likely, it was widely expected that Buffalo would go after a quarterback in this year’s draft. Jones was undoubtedly the best quarterback left in the draft since Dak Prescott was taken by the Dallas Cowboys at number 135.
Buffalo continued their successful draft as they selected a player with potential that is through the roof. Jones brings loads of raw talent and has a lot to learn, and his mixture of power and physique (6’5″, 250 lbs) is certainly an upside only if he continues to develop.
Round 5 (156): Jonathan Williams | RB | Arkansas
At this point in the draft, players being drafted does not entirely mean they will make the final 53-man roster come opening day. Especially since the running back position is basically solidified in Buffalo with Lesean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and the emergence of Mike Gillislee toward the end of 2015, the running back from Arkansas will have to prove himself in the off season if he is planning on logging minutes for Buffalo.
Also, Williams hasn’t participated in a live game in a while; he sat out all of Arkansas’ 2015 season with ligament damage in his foot. If not for his injury, some experts say he could have been a third or fourth rounder and a quality back up. It seems like Buffalo is taking a chance here with drafting Williams, instead of addressing their lack of depth at the wide-receiver position.
Round 6 (192): Kolby Listenbee | WR | TCU
Just like Jonathan Williams, Listenbee is far from a lock in the 53-man roster. What differentiates the two is the lack of depth at wide receiver. The loss of unrestricted free-agent Chris Hogan to New England, an extra spot has opened up on the depth chart and Listenbee hopes to be the one to fill it. Wide receivers Marquise Goodwin, Leonard Hankerson, Jarrett Boykin, Greg Salas, Dezmin Lewis, and Greg Little are all competing for a spot on the roster, but the competition remains unpredictable.
Listenbee has very high expectations for himself; he stated on a conference call shorty after being drafted that he can be the fastest player in the entire NFL. Olympic athlete and now teammate Marquise Goodwin may have something to say about that.
Round 6 (218): Kevon Seymour | CB | Southern Cal
Seymour and Listenbee both ran a 4.39-secon 40-yard dash at the combine, which was the eighth best time among all 2016 combine players. The Souther Cal cornerback will be added to the mix of competing veterans, so the best shot to make the final roster will be as a fourth or fifth string back-up who makes a name for himself on special teams.