Here are my thoughts on the Bills’ draft after Day Two:
> There’s plenty to like about what the Bills have done the past two nights. I’m especially impressed with how they were laser-focused on improving the area of the team that kept them out the playoffs last season: a defense that could barely get a whiff of the quarterback. Rex Ryan’s pride and joy needed an overhaul, and he went into this draft determined to make it happen with players who could provide some speed and muscle and aggressiveness to the front seven. Mission accomplished! First-rounder Shaq Lawson figures to be the difference-making edge rusher the Bills didn’t get last year from one of their former ends, Mario Williams, or from current outside linebacker Jerry Hughes for that matter. The linebacking corps needed a substantive replacement for Nigel Bradham, whom the Bills let walk in free agency, and now they have one in second-rounder Reggie Ragland. If the draft stopped there, it could very well be deemed a success on paper … which is where all drafts are deemed successes or failures right now. The Bills entered the draft with a roster, thanks mainly to last year’s heavy spending, that is supposed to deliver a postseason appearance. With Lawson and Ragland, the chances of that actually happening just might have gotten a little bit better.
> Numerous draft pundits projected Reggie Ragland as a first-round pick. General Manager Doug Whaley said the Bills would have had no problem selecting him with the 19th overall pick if Lawson hadn’t been available. Former NFL GM Phil Savage had a first-round grade on Ragland as well, and he has fairly deep insight on him as the radio analyst for the Alabama football team. Savage expects Ragland to have a successful pro career, but cautions that he could face some challenges in transitioning from the college game. “It took him some time to get on the field at Alabama, but once he did get out there, he was very good,” Savage told me. “He won’t have the luxury this time around, because he’s going to be expected to play immediately. I’d say this about Reggie: he’s got more range than short-area quickness, so if you’re going to try to match him up out in the open space with a running back, that’s not going to be his game. But if you’re going to drop him from the middle and let him go back in a zone and read out routes, he can do that all day long. I think there’s a little bit of a misnomer out there that he’s limited or whatever in pass coverage. I wouldn’t go that far, especially at the ‘Mike’ linebacker. I think he can play three downs.” Savage believes Ragland was more of a “top-20 pick” than Rolando McClain, a former Alabama linebacker whom the Raiders made the eighth overall choice in 2010, “because he comes to the table with more character. Just, to me, he’s got more intangibles. I don’t know if he’ll be a Pro Bowl-level player, but I do think he’ll be a very good starter for a while.” McClain spent three seasons with Oakland, before spending one year with Baltimore and is currently with the Cowboys.
> Going with a defensive tackle in the third round was sensible. Whether Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington was the wise choice there is debatable. Most scouting assessments I’ve heard termed him as “just a guy” and that the Bills might have reached a bit for a player who would have been available in the fourth round and perhaps even lower. Never mind the character concerns created by his arrest for soliciting an undercover officer posing as a prostitute and subsequent suspension from the Fiesta Bowl. The guy hasn’t shown a whole lot as a player to convince multiple talent-evaluators that he has what it takes to make an impact in the NFL. Two of the biggest knocks against him are poor instincts, especially when it comes to reacting to misdirection plays, and inconsistent effort. He’s plenty big (6-3 and 301 pounds) and strong, but doesn’t always show the necessary awareness of what’s happening around him. As a result, he can be taken out of plays, which would figure to happen more often in the NFL. But new Bills defensive line coach John Blake loves Washington and, by most accounts, managed to sell the decision-makers on him. Should they have been as eager as they apparently were to give in? A third-round choice is not a throwaway. The Bills needed some good defensive line depth, but whether Washington can provide it as a big question mark.