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Vic Carucci's analysis: Bills use draft to fill needs, still have work to do

Best player available?


If, when it was the Buffalo Bills' turn to pick during the NFL Draft, the "best player available" filled a need, they were going to choose him. And they did exactly that with all eight selections.

This draft was all about addressing the many areas requiring attention, beginning with Thursday's first-round trade-up acquisitions of quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.

This draft was all about the continued reshaping of the roster, pushing it another step closer to what coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane envisioned a year ago.

If you want to talk "process," the very definition of it is what the Bills did in the past three days with the picks they began piling up last August.

Get the franchise quarterback. Get the stud linebacker. Get another big defensive tackle. Get help at wide receiver. Get an offensive lineman. Get depth for the secondary.

Get it right and you're looking at a team that can, in fact, meet their stated goal of consistently being better than an eight- or nine-win club.

Although Beane reiterated moments after the draft ended Saturday that the Bills were sticking to the way they had the talent ranked on their board, he acknowledged that the attack plan was all about filling the many holes that couldn't be overshadowed by last season's fluky playoff appearance.

"It was no secret, if the right quarterback fell to us or it was close where we could get to, we were going to try to do that," Beane said. "We didn't really hide that. And then linebacker was a huge hole with Preston (Brown's) loss (in free agency), and we said that. But I had no expectation that we would be able to do that, plus a quarterback, because we knew Tremaine was probably going to go pretty quick in the first round, so that worked out.

"As it went later in the draft, we did start looking (harder at specific needs) because you don't want to draft guys that aren't going to make your team. So you start looking, 'We do have a hole here and here.' "

No, Beane and McDermott weren't simply sitting in the draft room throwing darts and seeing where they landed. They were doing some very specific targeting.

That was true in the third round, where the Bills grabbed defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who figures to fully replace Kyle Williams no later than next season and at least partially supplant him this year. And in the fourth, where they landed Taron Johnson, who has a solid shot of replacing Leonard Johnson in the virtual starting role of nickel back.

That was true in the fifth round, where the Bills selected Siran Neal to provide depth at safety, and guard Wyatt Teller to help an offensive line rocked by the sudden retirement of Richie Incognito. And in the sixth and seventh, where they picked up receivers Ray-Ray McCloud and Austin Proehl, who should have ample opportunity to contribute.

The Bills are going to look significantly different than they did last season, but the larger point is that McDermott and Beane will have more of their own pieces in place. Unlike what this franchise had done before, grabbing at star power with little regard for how the bigger picture, Beane and McDermott are being methodical in the way they're putting things together.

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Last year's draft provided a profile of the types of players they believe can create sustainable success. Cornerback Tre'Davious White, offensive tackle Dion Dawkins and linebacker Matt Milano stepped up as immediate or eventual starters, because: a) they were talented enough to do so, and b) they had the makeup to understand what it means to be a pro. They showed a level of maturity and accountability that meant every bit as much as their physical skills.

They were classic McDermott types.

"The longer you're at it, the more continuity you have one year to the next," the coach said. "What we want is the harder it is to make our roster, so the more we're adding good football players from one year to the next, developing young football players the way we should be developing football players as coaches, drafting well and from our personnel department, acquiring the right types of players through free agency, the waiver wire, so on and so forth, the harder and more difficult and more challenging it should be to make our roster if we're doing things the right way.

"So my hope is that this year we find even more competition, a higher level of competition throughout rookie minicamp and then all the way through spring and through training camp and then you'll see a better product on the field. But that part comes in terms of putting a team together through different personalities, building a team and shaping a team."

There is much more building and shaping to do. What McDermott and Beane are overseeing is too large to accomplish in a couple of drafts (and the first with Beane as GM).

"That's where a lot of work yet has to be done," McDermott said. "I know Brandon has said this before: we're not finished in terms of trying to add good football players. We still have some areas of concern, so a long way to go and a lot of work to do at this point."

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