The Buffalo Bills have predictably been bystanders for most of free agency.
With precious little space under the salary cap, it’s been apparent for months that the draft will be the team’s primary way of strengthening the roster for the 2016 season. The question, then, becomes will General Manager Doug Whaley change his favored approach to the selection process, which is to take the best player available?
With coach Rex Ryan admitting recently that the team lacks depth, and some fairly obvious holes in the front seven of the defense, can the Bills afford to select a player at a position they feel has a solid starter in place?
That’s a question Whaley will have to wrestle with. The good news for the Bills is that this year’s draft is thought to contain excellent depth along the defensive line, which is a need for the Bills after the departure of Mario Williams. With the draft now less than a month away, here is a look at how The Buffalo News sees the first round unfolding on April 28 in Chicago.
1. Tennessee Titans. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss. With their franchise quarterback in place, the Titans would be wise to listen to trade-down offers in an effort to acquire more picks, but for now, we’ll give them some protection for Marcus Mariota.
2. Cleveland Browns. Jared Goff, QB, California. New head coach Hue Jackson has a track record of working well with quarterbacks, and shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to groom a rookie, despite the addition of Robert Griffin III.
3. San Diego Chargers. Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State. Ramsey is arguably the best player in the draft, and the Chargers would be getting a motivated player if he is passed over by his hometown Titans as the No. 1 choice overall.
4. Dallas Cowboys. Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State. You can count on Jerry Jones to make a splash somehow, some way, and taking a quarterback this high with Tony Romo still on the roster would certainly qualify.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. Lining Bosa up on the end opposite from 2015 first-round draft pick Dante Fowler Jr. – who missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL – should transform Jacksonville’s pass rush.
6. Baltimore Ravens. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. Kelechi Osemele departed in free agency, so the Ravens could use a replacement at left tackle, especially with quarterback Joe Flacco coming back from a torn ACL.
7. San Francisco 49ers. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon. Chip Kelly continues his habit of collecting former Ducks despite the switch to the West Coast by adding Buckner, a disruptive interior pass rusher who was highly productive at Oregon.
8. Philadelphia Eagles. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State. A former walk-on, Conklin worked his way into the Spartans’ starting lineup and was a first-team All-Big 10 selection in 2015. His game against Buckner and the Ducks showed his ability.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA. A knee injury ended his 2015 season early, but Jack showed during his time with the Bruins that he can be used in a variety of ways, thanks to his superior athleticism.
10. New York Giants. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. Elliott wasn’t shy about his desire to join Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. in New York, saying recently he thinks the Giants “could go win a Super Bowl pretty early.”
11. Chicago Bears. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida. The offensive line could be a consideration here, but with three of them off the board so early, Hargreaves would give coach John Fox a defensive playmaker.
12. New Orleans Saints. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson. Lawson is a better athlete than some give him credit for. He has only one full season as a starter, but made the most of it with 12.5 sacks and was a consensus All-American.
13. Miami Dolphins. William Jackson III, CB, Houston. When you play in a division with Tom Brady, you can never have enough cornerbacks. Outside of Byron Maxwell, Miami doesn’t have much at the position.
14. Los Angeles Rams (projected trade with Oakland). Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis. Lynch needs some seasoning, but Los Angeles would be wise to trade up and take him, and then let him learn on the job.
15. Oakland Raiders (projected trade with Los Angeles). Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss. He’s got serious off-the-field concerns, but that’s not likely to scare away the Raiders. There’s no doubt about his talent.
16. Detroit Lions. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor. The just-turned 21-year-old led the Bears with 15 tackles for loss and is one of the most powerful players in the draft, holding the Texas high school record in power-lifting.
17. Atlanta Falcons. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State. A popular mock selection for the Bills goes two spots ahead of Buffalo here. Lee, who ran a 4.3 40 at the Combine, has drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David.
18. Indianapolis Colts. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State. There is almost universal agreement that the Colts need to upgrade their offensive line, which makes sense after watching the beating quarterback Andrew Luck took last season.
19. Buffalo Bills. Noah Spence, DE, Eastern Kentucky. The Bills’ willingness to give players a second chance has been well documented. Spence is in need of that after having been booted out of the Big Ten for failed drug tests. He seems to have gotten his life together during one season at Eastern Kentucky, during which he racked up 22.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks, earning All-American honors. The Bills need to add some more punch to their pass rush opposite Jerry Hughes, and Spence can really bring the heat off the edge. He’s also not a pushover in the run game. The NFL is all about rushing the opposing passer, and Spence is one of the best playmakers in the draft in that regard.
20. New York Jets. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia. He needs to put on weight, but Floyd should give the Jets an immediate boost coming off the edge.
21. Washington Redskins. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama. General Manager Scot McCloughan addressed the offensive line in the first round in 2015, and turns his attention to the defensive side this year.
22. Houston Texans. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss. Treadmill’s straight-line speed isn’t elite, but he put up big numbers. He would give the Texans a promising 1-2 punch at wide receiver with DeAndre Hopkins.
23. Minnesota Vikings. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame. The Vikings cut Mike Wallace in to save salary-cap space, and Fuller can step in right away to replace him as a deep threat.
24. Cincinnati Bengals. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville. A wide receiver would be an obvious consideration here after losing two players, but with Treadwell and Fuller gone, the Bengals instead add Rankins to their defensive line.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson. He played just two seasons at Clemson and had no interceptions. The Steelers will have to decide if that’s because teams were hesitant to test him.
26. Seattle Seahawks. Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M. The Seahawks lost Russell Okung in free agency to the Denver Broncos. Ifedi has experience at both guard and tackle and will help.
27. Green Bay Packers. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama. He might be only a two-down player in the NFL, but Ragland is a hard-hitting leader who helped the Crimson Tide to a national championship.
28. Kansas City Chiefs. Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama. Reed came out of the game on obvious passing downs while playing for the Crimson Tide, but is one of the elite run defenders available this year.
29. Arizona Cardinals. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State. Apple has ideal size at 6-foot-1, 199 pounds and plays an aggressive style that might have to be dialed back to avoid penalties in the NFL.
30. Carolina Panthers. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson. Charles Johnson’s career is winding down as he’ll turn 30 this summer, and Dodd would be a good replacement for him in the lineup.
31. Denver Broncos. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State. The defending Super Bowl champions can’t really go into the season with Mark Sanchez as a possible starter, can they?
Note: The New England Patriots’ first-round draft pick is forfeited as punishment for their role in the “Deflategate” scandal.