This year, the cliché “we took the best player available” actually was an accurate summary of the Buffalo Bills’ draft.
To be more specific, as Bills Director of Player Personnel Jim Monos said, “The best Florida State player on the board,” a reference to the fact the Bills selected three former Seminoles.
Still, the Bills weren’t heavily need-driven in any of their picks.
The closest they came on that front was with third-round choice John Miller, an offensive guard from Louisville, although he’s expected to compete for a starting job. The farthest was fifth-round running back Karlos Williams, a Florida State product who joins a crowded position group headed by the Bills’ most prominent offseason acquisition, LeSean McCoy.
In general, the Bills’ six picks from Friday night’s second round through Saturday’s seventh were guided by the grading of the player-personnel department.
“We factor position in, but highest guy on our board,” Monos said of Williams. “I know you” reporters “laugh when I say it, but he was.”
So was second-rounder Ronald Darby, a former Seminoles cornerback. Like Jones, he will compete, but likely end up as a reserve, at least as a rookie, as Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore fill the starting jobs.
“Those first two picks, we think they’re going to contribute early,” General Manager Doug Whaley said. “If they don’t start, they’ll start in the near future, within the next year or two. Karlos Williams gives us an option in the backfield that also brings a tremendous option on special teams. And that’s value.”
Here’s some quick-hits analysis of all of the Bills’ picks:
Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State, 2nd round (50th overall): The Bills love him for his tremendous speed and press-coverage skills. … Ultimately, they expect him to be an asset in the single coverage coach Rex Ryan prefers to play because of frequent blitzing. … The Bills have an abundance of cornerbacks but followed the basic football theory that you can never have too many players at the position. … Having been on the roster of a team that reached the national championship game in 2013, Darby is used to big-time competition, which should help with his transition to the NFL, especially at such a highly scrutinized position as cornerback. … He intercepted only two passes in his three seasons at Florida State, but that was largely because he was rarely targeted. That challenged him to stay focused in games, and he says he was able to cope with that by making plays in practice.
John Miller, OG, Louisville, 3rd round (81st): At 6-2, he doesn’t have ideal height to be an NFL offensive lineman, even one playing inside. … The Bills believe he can overcome his lack of height with his tenacity and highly aggressive style of play. … Biggest challenge he figures to face is being a consistently effective run-blocker, because that usually takes considerable size and power. … The Bills couldn’t find a dependable starter at left guard with the three players who were there last season. Kraig Urbik had the most extended stint, starting the final nine games, but Ryan would like him to serve as a backup. … It would be hard to imagine Miller being worse than the first two starters at the position, Chris Williams and Cyril Richardson. However, as a rookie, it’s conceivable he will fall into the developmental category.
Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State, 5th round (155th): This was the definition of a luxury pick. The Bills seemingly didn’t need a running back. Besides McCoy, they also have Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, and fullbacks Jerome Felton and Corey Knox. … Williams’ best chance to make the roster is on special teams; he does a solid job in kick coverage. … Williams has a checkered past, and although he has never been formally charged, he was involved in an investigation into a domestic violence incident and a drug-related robbery. … Williams could make the team at Brown’s expense. After all, Ryan has openly criticized Brown for his fumbling issues. … Monos: “Big, physical back, downhill all the way. He’s not a real nifty guy. He’s straight ahead, he’s physical. He used to play linebacker, safety coming out of high school, special-teams guy. We’re excited.”
Tony Steward, LB, Clemson, 6th round (188th): The guy played on a pair of torn ACLs, yet the Bills determined that he was healthy enough to draft. … He was a college teammate of Ryan’s son, Seth, so the coach’s familiarity with him was a clear factor in the pick. … In 2014, he had a team-high 13 quarterback pressures, which was impressive considering one of his teammates was Vic Beasley, who had 33 career sacks on the way to becoming a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons. … He could provide needed depth at inside linebacker, but for now, it seems as if he would have a tough time making the final roster unless he is sensational on special teams. … Monos: “He was awesome at the” Clemson “Pro Day. He’s 240 pounds and runs 4.64” in the 40-yard dash. Loves football. Tough, productive. We’re excited about him.”
Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State, 6th round (194th): Although he won the 2014 John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end, he slipped all the way to the next-to-last round because he lacks ideal size (6-foot-3, 247 pounds) and speed. … Florida State’s all-time leader among tight ends with 114 receptions for 1,591 yards and 18 touchdowns. … O’Leary does seem like a decent fit for the Bills’ new offensive scheme that emphasizes the tight end and calls for the player to be an effective short-area receiver. That’s the forte of Charles Clay, one of the Bills’ top free-agent signings, in addition to his short-area receiving. … Greg Roman’s offense also wants strong blocking by the tight end, and that isn’t exactly O’Leary’s strength. As Monos pointed out, “he’s more of a wall-off position-type blocker who gives you all the effort.”
Dezmin Lewis, WR, Central Arkansas, 7th round (234th): In 48 career games, he caught 197 passes for 2,618 yards and 24 touchdowns. … At 6-4 and 212 pounds, he has good size and is known for excelling at catching the ball at its high point. “He gives us a dimension of size in that wide receiver room, and we don’t have that,” Whaley said. … Needs to work on being more physical in his play. … At a crowded position with Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Percy Harvin at the top of the depth chart, Lewis most likely will end up on the practice squad. “Percy Harvin is one of my favorite receivers,” Lewis said. “And Sammy Watkins, to me, is one of the best young receivers in the NFL. They have a lot of playmakers. I’m just thankful to be a part of it now.”
Buffalo Seminoles?: The three former Florida State players the Bills drafted give the team a total of six. Quarterback EJ Manuel, linebacker Nigel Bradham, and long-snapper Garrison Sanborn are the others. “We were laughing,” Monos said of selecting three players from the same school. “It doesn’t seem to happen that way. I mean, we don’t plan that at all. I mean, there is a reason they’re winning. You see these guys and they all love football, they’re passionate about it and they have the makeup to win. That’s all they know. They don’t know how to lose, and that’s a big quality. That’s contagious.”
After joking that the team needed to save money after the Pegulas’ $1.4-billion purchase price by scouting only Florida State and Penn State (Terry Pegula’s alma mater), Whaley added: “They’ve lost one game in two years. There’s talent there.”… Eight of the 15 players the Bills selected in the last two drafts are from the Atlantic Coast Conference, of which the Seminoles are a member, and six in a row counting former Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson taken at the end of last year’s draft. The Bills picked at least one ACC player in the last five drafts.
Quarterback consideration: Whaley said the Bills gave “tremendous consideration” to drafting a quarterback. “Obviously, we talked to some guys,” Whaley said. “We went to see” Baylor quarterback “Bryce Petty,” whom the New York Jets made a fourth-round draft pick. “It just didn’t fall the way we wanted it to and then we were a little hamstrung without some of the picks with the ammo to be able to move around to get some guys or have some guys fall to us compared to the value we put on them.”
That doesn’t mean the Bills are closing the door on acquiring a quarterback. “If there’s somebody out there we think can help us, we’ll definitely pursue,” Whaley said.