"There's always next year" is a common refrain among Bills fans.
Usually, that phrase is uttered to cope with the disappointment of the present. A 17-year playoff drought will do that. Soon, though, it could take on a different meaning.
A recent ranking of the under-25 talent on every NFL roster put together by ESPN painted an optimistic future picture for the Bills, who ranked seventh in the league.
"The Bills have a few under-25 starters in significant roles this season," wrote Scott Kacsmar. "Sammy Watkins is the team's leading receiver and a quality playmaker when he's healthy, though his presence here matters less for his team than most of these young players because the Bills did not pick up his fifth-year option. Cornerback Ronald Darby charted much better in 2015 than he did last year, but he's starter material. Kevon Seymour charted well in limited opportunities as a sixth-round pick last year and should compete for the nickel corner job, vacated by Nickell Robey-Coelman. Right guard John Miller is important to Buffalo's run-heavy offense, and he finished second at his position in snaps per blown block. Linebacker Preston Brown struggles to stop the run, but has a surprising knack for big plays and led the NFL with 31 defeats in 2016."
Kacsmar added that the Bills should get a "reset" on their 2016 draft, while the rookies selected in 2017 should also contribute.
"Injuries robbed Reggie Ragland of his whole rookie year and slowed Shaq Lawson's development since he missed the first six games of the season," he wrote. "Ragland could start at middle linebacker, or share time with Brown. Lawson had 10 hurries in 237 snaps last year and is ready to start this season.
"This year's draft also helped boost the Bills to No. 7. First-round corner Tre'Davious White should slip right into a starting role to replace Stephon Gilmore. Zay Jones set an NCAA record with 399 career receptions, and should find some production in Buffalo for the departed Robert Woods. Second-round pick Dion Dawkins looks like a Week 1 starter at right tackle."
Our take: These rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. As Kacsmar himself points out, "last year's under-25 rankings had the Jaguars at No. 1 and the Patriots at 32. You'll find those teams much closer together in this year's rankings -- but it's the other elements of the team, not to mention coaching, that really provide the difference in on-field results for those franchises."
Nevertheless, to see the Bills ranked in the top seven should provide fans hope. There is a talent base in Buffalo for coach Sean McDermott to work with. Of course, it will be up to General Manager Brandon Beane to make sure it stays in place. Watkins and Brown are heading into the final year of their rookie contracts. Ragland, meanwhile, has a lot to prove after recently getting demoted to the third team.