After two rounds and a lot of wheeling and dealing, the Buffalo Bills addressed three of their top needs in the NFL Draft Friday night.
Less than 24 hours after filling a major hole at cornerback with Tre'Davious White from LSU, the Bills picked highly productive wide receiver Zay Jones from East Carolina and offensive lineman Dion Dawkins from Temple in the second round.
While the Bills moved down in the first round for White, Friday was all about moving up.
For Jones, they made a deal with the Los Angeles Rams to jump from the 44th spot in the second round to 37th. The Bills also gave the Rams the 91st overall pick, in the third round, which they acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs to move down from 10th to 27th to grab White Thursday night. Buffalo also picked up the 149th overall selection, in Saturday's fifth round.
For Dawkins, the Bills traded with the Atlanta Falcons to move up from the 75th spot to 63rd in the second round by giving up the 149th and 156th choices in the fifth round.
The maneuvering left the Bills with no third- or fourth-round selections, but two fifths and a sixth remaining for Saturday.
"It is a long time" until the next pick "and we knew that; that was part of what you evaluate when you go and make this type of move," coach Sean McDermott said. "You have to understand that is the other end of the deal. Right that you are going to sit around a while. The same time the caliber of the player has to be enough that in our evaluation that we feel good about it. That was the case with Dion.
"These moves were if our player was there we were going to look to do something as opposed to sitting around. We were able to do some things with that first round pick where we gained some ammunition to be able to move some things around. We came into this draft a week ago, potentially, we were sitting here the last couple days before the draft with six picks. We accrued some picks and we’ve had to package some things to get some guys, but guys that we believe in."
Jones will be reunited with his former college position coach, Phil McGeoghan, who fills the same role with the Bills. McDermott said that was a factor in the decision to select Jones.
In 50 career games at East Carolina, Jones caught a staggering 399 passes for 4,279 yards (but averaged only 10.7 yards per catch) and 23 touchdowns.
"I don’t even know if I’ve caught that many in my life, right?" McDermott said. "I mean that’s a lot of balls. It’s a ton of balls in a college career, that’s very impressive. You can’t ignore it. You talk about fundamentals – throwing and catching. You guys have heard me talk about fundamentals before, that’s an important part.
"When that ball is thrown in his area, he’s catching it. So, we hope that that continues and so that gives you consistency. There’s not a whole lot to incompletions, right? I don’t like those. They don’t move the chains very often, so that’s important for us."
As with most of the Bills' free-agent and draft acquisitions so far, Jones offers versatility.
"When you look at his position flexibility, he can move inside, he can play outside and that was also a big part of it as well," McDermott said. "You're not just talking about a guy that can play one position, so he does have position flex. That said, as a young player, we've got to progress him at the right pace. So he's going to come in and learn the system and go from there."
Jones' father, Robert, played linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys from 1992 to 2001 and won three Super Bowls. His uncle, Jeff Blake, played quarterback in the NFL from 1992 to 2005, and was a Pro Bowler with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"You look at Zay's history and the tradition of his family of playing in the NFL, that's obviously a good part and a good person, again, off the field in being able to do things right really through the history of his entire college career," McDermott said. "And then on the field, the production he had at the receiver position on the field, consistency in the hands and just being that consistent performer.
"So I feel good about this pick. He's going to add to the mix of what we already have at the wide receiver position and continue to earn the right just like the rest of the players, so I feel good about it."
Jones has started since the middle of his freshman year. Scouts rave about the quality of his hands. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He's able to use his size (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) to his advantage, especially when matched up against smaller defensive backs.
"I would say I am a natural football player," Jones said during a conference call with media covering the Bills. "I have natural instincts for the game, I have the best hands in this draft class. I am a pass-catcher, and I can get open quick, separation and go score.
"And, besides, that I am great teammate, a great teammate. I play for my team. All-around hard worker."
The 6-foot-4, 314-pound Dawkins can play guard or tackle and on both sides of the line. He started at left tackle for the Owls last season. He was a four-year starter, but missed most of his freshman year with a foot injury. A defensive tackle in high school, Dawkins is known for his physical and nasty style of play.
Dawkins is expected to compete with Jordan Mills and others for the starting spot at right tackle.
"I want to see him come in, get comfortable, learn the system, learn Rick Dennison’s system and then" offensive line "coach" Juan "Castillo’s techniques up front and get himself comfortable and acclimated to the NFL and be himself so we get the best player and the player that we saw in college."
After stressing high character through their free-agent signings and first two draft picks, the Bills appeared to veer off of that track with Dawkins, who was arrested in 2015 for assault outside of a Philadelphia nightclub.
McDermott said he was confident in the Bills' research and comfortable with Dawkins' character grade.
"Well, the homework that we do, you look at things all different ways in terms of the homework and drilling down on things," the coach said. "I’m just going to tell you, we spent a lot of time looking at this situation and drilling down on this thing. That’s an important part of it. And to say if we weren’t comfortable with it, we wouldn’t have gone in this direction. That said, I don’t take those situations lightly at all. At all."
Said Dawkins, "All that stuff is behind me now. I’m on another stage and all that stuff is far, far behind me so I’m just planning on taking one step forward at a time."