Former Bills General Manager Doug Whaley once famously – or infamously – said his team would have three rookie starters “right off the bus.”
That was in 2016, when Whaley drafted Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland and Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington in the first three rounds. Here’s how many starts those three made with the Bills: Lawson 17, Ragland 0, Washington 21.
The lesson, as always, is that there are no guarantees in the draft. Don’t expect current Bills GM Brandon Beane to make a similar statement about this year’s class. The Bills don’t have a first-round draft pick, having traded it to the Minnesota Vikings this offseason as part of a package to acquire receiver Stefon Diggs. The Bills also don’t have nearly the same number of holes as that 2016 team did, which speaks to the depth Beane has built.
That means the focus for this year’s draft is to find players who can fill reserve roles in 2020, with the potential to turn into starters in future seasons. To do that, The Buffalo News ran the mock draft machine at The Draft Network’s website (thedraftnetwork.com). Here is a seven-round projection for the Bills, with a look at the top-ranked players available at the time our pick was made, our reasoning behind the pick and the player’s scouting report from nfl.com:
Round 2, Pick 54: J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State.
Top-ranked players on the board (prospect ranking in parentheses): Dobbins (22), Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (39), Southern Illinois S Jeremy Chinn (47), LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (49).
The reasoning: If I’m Brandon Beane, my goal on the second day of the draft is to get more help for quarterback Josh Allen. The bulk of the Bills’ activity in free agency has focused on adding to an already strong defense. The move to acquire wide receiver Diggs was a good start, but more needs to be done to improve an offense that ranked 24th in yards and tied for 23rd in points last season. Dobbins does that.
A second-team All-American and the Big Ten Running Back of the Year, he was one of just three FBS running backs with at least 2,000 rushing yards (301 carries, 2,003 yards, 6.7 yards per rush). He finished with 21 rushing touchdowns while contributing 23 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game. Adding Dobbins to a backfield with Devin Singletary has got to put a smile on offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s face.
Dobbins’ scouting report: “Good football player who bounced back from a sub-par 2018. Proved he could shoulder a heavy load and rise to the occasion against the best his schedule had to offer. He can make a sudden tackler miss and fits as a one-cut runner, but his running style is more battle axe than buzzsaw as a lunch-pail runner with the fortitude and toughness to wear down defenses. Dobbins isn't going to be that creative back with the wiggle and juice to create something out of nothing, but he has the efficiency, production and third-down value teams covet. Dobbins could land a shared-carries role quickly and has the potential to become a solid NFL starter.
Round 3, Pick 86: Jonathan Greenard, EDGE, Florida.
Top-ranked players on the board: Washington QB Jacob Eason (80), Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts (82), Greenard (86), Appalachian State LB Akeem Davis-Gaither (89), UCLA CB Darnay Holmes (90).
The reasoning: The board didn’t fall in my favor here. A pair of offensive tackles – UConn’s Matt Peart and Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho went at No. 83 and No. 85, respectively. With both of them gone, I’d consider trading down. That’s not allowed in this scenario, though, so instead Greenard provides some much-needed youth along the defensive line. He was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection after finishing with 9.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 12 starts. He also forced three fumbles and intercepted one pass. Greenard transferred to Florida after suffering a season-ending wrist injury in the 2018 season opener for Louisville. Greenard’s draft stock could dip slightly if NFL teams have concerns about that injury. Greenard could be brought along slowly in Buffalo behind Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Trent Murphy.
Greenard’s scouting report: “Athletic, intelligent edge defender with enticing flashes as both a run defender and pass rusher. Greenard's plus get-off and ability to bend and corner the edge are predictive traits for success as an NFL rusher but he'll need a more reliable go-to counter as a pro. He's tough and aware at the point of attack and plays with consistent leverage and motor. Edge defenders need forceful hands to set edges and open doors as a pass rusher and his hesitation to unleash his right hand after suffering a major wrist injury in 2018 is a concern. If his hesitation is more mental than physical, he should become an eventual starter in either an odd or even front.”
Round 4, Pick 128: John Simpson, G, Clemson (142).
Top-ranked players on the board: Texas S Brandon Jones (118), Iowa CB Michael Ojemudia (121), Maryland RB Anthony McFarland (124), UCF WR Gabriel Davis (127), Syracuse Edge Alton Robinson (129).
The reasoning: Getting a potential starter on the offensive line should be one of Beane’s goals in this year’s draft. It’s unlikely that happens at tackle outside of round two. It could be a different story on the interior, though. The Bills re-signed Quinton Spain to a three-year deal at fringe-starter money, while right guard Jon Feliciano is coming off a major injury and is entering the final year of his contract. Simpson started 29 of a possible 30 games at left guard over his junior and senior seasons (15 in 2018, 14 in 2019). He was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick as a senior and a second-team All-American. Simpson also was a state champion wrestler in high school. Perhaps we should have started there.
Simpson’s scouting report: “Broad, well-built snowplow of a guard with the traits and power to turn a crease into a full-fledged running lane. Teams looking to add physicality up front will covet Simpson, but keep in mind he was plenty effective with scoop blocks, pulls, second-level climbs and even screen blocking, which shows the big man can move. Tardiness coming out of his stance and issues changing direction in pass protection are concerns that may not be easily fixed and could lead to match up-based inconsistencies. However, he plays with good technique and has the tools to become an early starter and a good NFL guard.”
Round 5, Pick 167: Antonio Gandy-Golden, WR, Liberty (175).
Top-ranked players on the board: Florida RB Lamical Perine (154), Utah S Julian Blackmon (157), Georgia S J.R. Reed (163), Auburn OT Jack Driscoll (165), Florida Atlantic TE Harrison Bryant (168).
The reasoning: The addition of Diggs shouldn’t take the Bills out of what might be a historically good class of wide receivers. Gandy-Golden was one of the most productive receivers in college football in 2019, finishing with 79 receptions for 1,396 yards (ranked in the top five nationally) with 10 touchdowns in 13 starts. His 17.7 yards per catch ranked in the top 10 in the FBS among receivers with 60 or more receptions. At 6-foot-4, Gandy-Golden would bring a size element to the Bills’ receiver room. He’s also a specialist at making contested catches – a good trait for Allen’s targets.
Gandy-Golden’s scouting report: “Very intriguing height-weight-speed prospect who showed noticeable improvements in a number of important areas in 2019. While his hands were superior in ’19, it's possible that focus drops could return with bigger, better players beating on his routes from snap to whistle. When he does catch it, he has an innate ability to add yardage after the catch with his size and agility. Gandy-Golden's route-running is still a work in progress, but his build-up speed, length and ball skills could allow him to develop into a dangerous third-level threat on the next level.”
Round 6, Pick 188: Tanner Muse, S, Clemson.
Top-ranked players on the board: Muse (178), Wake Forest OT Justin Herron (179), TCU RB Sewo Olonilua (182), Rhode Island WR Isaiah Coulter (183), Miami Edge Jonathan Garvin (186).
The reasoning: Muse played safety for the Tigers, earning third-team All-American honors after making 74 tackles and intercepting a team-leading four passes. At 6-2 and 227 pounds, he might transition to linebacker at the NFL. That makes him an intriguing option to fill the ‘Buffalo nickel’ role in Sean McDermott’s defense. Like any player taken in the sixth round, Muse’s best chance at cracking the roster might come on special teams.
Muse’s scouting report: “Slow-footed safety with hybrid linebacker tendencies. Muse plays with tight, restricted movement that lacks necessary fluidity to handle coverage duties as an NFL safety and he'll likely be asked to slide into a full-time linebacker role. He already has linebacker size and his frame should be able to handle additional weight if needed. His field agility and short-area athleticism aren't anything special despite moving over from safety. Muse's ability to cover tight ends and handle four-phase special teams duties improve his chances of making the backend of a roster.”
Round 6, Pick 201: Dane Jackson, CB, Pitt (201).
Top-ranked players on the board: Olonilua (182), Coulter (183), Arkansas State WR Omar Bayless (189), Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings (192), UCLA RB Joshua Kelley (193).
The reasoning: It’s a good idea to draft at least one cornerback every year. The Bills signed veteran Josh Norman this offseason, but he’s on a one-year deal. Jackson had good production in 2019, starting 13 games and making 43 tackles, one interception and a team-leading 12 passes defensed. He was a second-team All-ACC pick.
Jackson’s scouting report: “Unheralded recruit who became three-year starter with consistent ball production in the ACC. He's a route crowder who plays with some good physicality and hand fighting around the field. His instincts and ball skills should help him in man or zone, but some scouts question his ability to stick with NFL release quickness and recover deep if beaten. He plays a confident, competitive brand of football and could become a solid NFL backup.”
Round 7, Pick 239: Raequan Williams, DT, Michigan State.
Top-ranked players on the board: Washington State WR Dezmon Patton (214), Texas A&M WR Kendrick Rogers (216), Williams (221) , Michigan CB Lavert Hill (228), LSU TE Stephen Sullivan (229).
The reasoning: Williams was a third-team All-Big 10 pick in 2019 after finishing with 48 tackles, five sacks and two passes defensed. He’d be a decent fit on the practice squad.
Williams’ scouting report: “Williams is long-legged and plays with below-average bend and twitch. He struggles to hold the point versus angle blocks but shows an ability to get skinny and disrupt in the backfield. He's not as long as he looks but has versatility to play in odd or even fronts at a variety of spots. His bull rush generates pocket push and might translate, but he needs to keep adding strength and counters to diversify his rush plan. He's a backup-caliber interior defender worthy of a Day 3 selection.”
Overview: There may not be a lot of starters “off the bus,” but this draft still accomplishes several goals. It fills one of the biggest remaining needs (running back), it adds youth where it’s needed most (defensive end) and it adds competition where there is room for improvement (offensive line).