It’s finally here.
After months of buildup, the first round of the NFL draft gets started at 8 p.m. Thursday in Nashville. The Buffalo Bills have the ninth overall pick – barring a trade – and several different directions they can go.
That means it’s time for a draft edition of the mailbag. Let’s get to it.
Joseph Spinelli asks: If the choice was yours, who do you pick at No. 9?
Jay: Might as well start with the million-dollar question. This is such a simple question, but there is no simple answer. Obviously, we have to consider who is likely to be off the board by the time the Bills’ pick comes up. Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa or Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams would be excellent fits in Sean McDermott’s defense, but they are universally thought to be going in the top five picks. That would require a trade up. While that shouldn’t be ruled out, it’s not something we’re considering for this question. After months of thinking about this, I’ve settled on three players as being prime targets for the Bills at No. 9 – Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams and Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. It’s possible some, or even all of them, could be gone by the ninth pick, but if I had to bet, I’d say at least one of them will be there. If I had my choice of all three, I’d take Hockenson. A do-it-all tight end is a luxury for an offense. While the Bills could get by with Tyler Kroft as their starter in 2019, Hockenson is in a different class as a player. His blocking is unmatched in this class, which should be a huge help to the Bills’ run game, and he’s a weapon in the passing game, too. This offseason has been all about supporting quarterback Josh Allen, and Hockenson would do just that.
Adam Janik asks: The defensive line talent is deep, but edge is not. If Brian Burns or Montez Sweat is there at No. 9, do the Bills pick one of them over Ed Oliver?
Jay: The odds of that look less likely now that it’s being reported some teams have removed Sweat from their draft boards because of a medical red flag raised by a heart condition. If Sweat had no health issues, I could see the Bills taking him over Oliver. Burns is interesting. He had a solid season at Florida State, one of the few Seminoles to do so, and is a pure edge rusher who some scouts think has the best first step of anyone in this class. Even so, I don’t think the Bills will take him over Oliver. With Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson and Trent Murphy under contract next season, Burns plays a position that is less of a need than three-technique defensive tackle. McDermott referred to interior pressure on quarterbacks as “critical,” and Oliver has the chance to make a big impact in that regard. My only question with Oliver is whether he passed the Bills’ “character test.” There was the silly issue with his coach at Houston over wearing a coat on the sidelines during a game he wasn’t playing in, and then recent reports have suggested he complained during his pro day about doing drills. Taken on their own, those seem like minor issues, but factoring all of them in could become something more.
Devon asks: Is there an off-the-radar/surprise pick the Bills could make?
Jay: Sure. Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins hasn’t been widely viewed as a target by the Bills at ninth overall, which is confusing. He started 45 games for one of the best programs in the country, and is widely respected for his leadership. That sounds like an ideal Kyle Williams replacement. He fits the “off-the-radar” category.
Because the Bills have so many needs, it’s hard to come up with a player in the first round that would qualify as a huge surprise. I find it easier to project a “surprise” pick in the second round. The Bills had top safeties Chauncey Gardner-Johnson of Florida and Juan Thornhill of Virginia in for pre-draft visits. With starters Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer under contract for at least the next two seasons, I’d be very surprised if the team took a safety in the first two days of the draft. The visits with Gardner-Johnson and Thornhill at least make me think it’s possible.
My Name asks: What's the Bills' plan for left tackle and right tackle? I talked to some educated Washington fans that said Ty Nsekhe is a below-average right tackle, but a good left tackle. Seems strange to pay him what they did to be a backup left tackle.
Jay: Of course the draft could change it, but as of now the plan looks like Dion Dawkins at left tackle and Ty Nsekhe on the right side, with LaAdrian Waddle serving as the swing tackle. If the team’s first-round draft pick is a left tackle, that player would compete with Dawkins – and be expected to win the job in short order. In that case, it raises an interesting question about what to do with Dawkins. Perhaps the Bills move him to the right side to compete with Nsekhe. The other option is a move to guard, although that would be a drastic shift. By signing six offensive linemen in free agency, Beane has given the coaching staff plenty of options.
TNFP69 asks: I’m totally pleased with the way they didn’t overspend and give out contracts for many years to come. My question is, do we go O-line because of longevity of a stud, or do best available no matter what position?
Jay: Best available no matter what. That’s what Beane wanted to accomplish in free agency. It looks like he’s done that. There isn’t a position on the roster where you can say the Bills absolutely have to add a player – like there was last year at quarterback and middle linebacker. If Beane’s top-rated player is an offensive lineman, that’s more protection for Josh Allen. If it’s a tight end, it’s another weapon for the offense. If it’s a defensive tackle, that’s Williams’ replacement. The Bills are in a situation where they don’t have to reach to fill a need.
Mark Martin asks: A number of people suggest the Bills use a late-round pick on a quarterback, which would be understandable if the team had a competition for the second or third spots. Do you think the Bills want to do anything to upset the combination of a young, potential-franchise quarterback, solid veteran backup and solid veteran mentor? I can see, maybe, taking a hometown player like Jake Dolegala (more than Tyree Jackson), with a late-round pick, but still have to wonder if it makes any sense to use a draft pick this year on a position for which the team actually has depth? An additional arm for training camp can come from an undrafted signing.
In my opinion, all draft picks are valuable. Sixth- and seventh-round picks are trade capital and often, at best, long-range shots to make a roster or the practice squad. Do you think it is wiser to use late-round picks to move up in the draft for better available talent or to take a depth/long-term development view on a player?
Jay: I’ll disagree with the first part of the first question. I haven’t seen many people pushing for the Bills to take a quarterback in this draft, even with a late-round selection. That’s because, as Mark lays out, they have an established depth chart there. In the past, I’ve suggested teams should draft at least one quarterback every year, but that isn’t realistic. It would be much more of an option if the team’s third quarterback job was open, but in Buffalo’s case, Derek Anderson serves a valuable purpose as a mentor to Allen. As for Tyree Jackson, there’s little doubt he’s getting drafted, so I don’t see that as being an option. Dolegala would be a great addition as a priority free agent – and I don’t say that only because he’s a Hamburg kid who went to St. Francis. It would be interesting to see how he develops at the NFL level. Unfortunately for the Bills, I think Dolegala will be drafted at some point Saturday. If the Bills want to sign a quarterback after the draft to be a camp arm, go for it, but I wouldn’t use a draft pick on the position.
As for the second question, I’m totally in favor of packaging some of those picks to move up in the draft. I don’t believe 10 drafted rookies are making the roster in 2019. Keep in mind, though, that the Bills’ two seventh-round picks aren’t going to be worth much in a trade. However, if they wanted to package their two fourth-round picks to get into the third, or their two fifth-round picks to get into the fourth, that would be logical.
Eli Padilla asks: Where to bet the over/under for the Bills, because I am betting the over!
Jay: Head out on the first Southwest direct flight to Vegas. The lines I’ve seen are over/under six or 6.5 wins. I’d take the over on both. To cash, the Bills would only have to improve their win total by one game from last year. With all the moves they’ve made, 10 draft picks coming up and the expected growth by Allen, that seems likely. If it doesn’t happen, there will be some serious questions about what went wrong.
Thanks for the questions, and enjoy the draft!
Story topics: Brandon Beane/ Dion Dawkins/ Jake Dolegala/ Jerry Hughes/ Jordan Poyer/ Josh Allen/ Kyle Williams/ LaAdrian Waddle/ Micah Hyde/ Sean McDermott/ Shaq Lawson/ Trent Murphy/ Ty Nsekhe/ Tyree Jackson