Receiver or the field? Analyzing what positions the Buffalo Bills will focus on in Round 1
If Buffalo fans weren’t familiar with those names before, they undoubtedly are now as it’s hard to find a mock draft that doesn’t have the Bills taking one of the top receivers in the first round of the upcoming draft.
It’s easy to understand why.
Emmanuel Sanders will soon turn 35 years old and is an unrestricted free agent. Cole Beasley will be 33 by the time next season starts, and he was recently granted the OK to seek out a trade, according to ESPN.
But the continued development of Gabriel Davis and the depth of the receiving class are reasons to believe Buffalo will look elsewhere with the No. 25 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
Coach Sean McDermott sang Davis’ praises during the recently completed Combine, calling the third-year player “our type of guy.” From McDermott, via the ABC affiliate Channel 7 WKBW: “He has tremendous DNA. He’s a winner. He’s a player that in Year 2, really in Year 1, our backup in Year 1 had a good season and came back and followed it up in Year 2, which is not easy to do. And then he continues to get better and better. And that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing when he comes back in Year 3 now this offseason. He’s quickly becoming one of our leaders in our locker room at such a young age, which is unique to say for a young player.”
Davis, a 2020 fourth-round pick out of Central Florida, finished the season with 35 receptions for 549 yards and 6 touchdowns – remarkably similar to his rookie numbers of 35-599-7. But it was his play in the playoff loss to Kansas City that turned heads after Davis caught 8 passes for 201 yards and 4 TDs.
Draft analysts say as many as six receivers could go in the first round – and it’s possible all will be gone before Buffalo is on the clock.
That doesn’t mean Buffalo will ignore the position altogether, as it’s considered a deep class with incredible speed. Looking for a starter on Day 2? There are 15 receivers ranked among the top 100 prospects in the latest Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board and 31 ranked among the top 264 players. Looking for speed burner? Nine ran a sub-4.4 40 at the Combine, led by Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton, who ran a blazing 4.28 40. Overall, 18 receivers ran a sub-4.5 40.
Therefore, if Buffalo doesn’t take a receiver on Day 1, the team could still potentially find a starter on Day 2 or even Day 3, ala Davis from a few seasons ago.
Here’s a look at three other positions the Bills are reportedly considering with their first-round pick:
The top three CBs should be long gone by pick No. 25, as there’s a bit of a dropoff after Washington’s Trent McDuffie (No. 7), Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardner (No. 8) and LSU’s Derek Stingley (No. 9). However, eight CBs are ranked in the top 56 – Buffalo picks at No. 57 overall in the second round – and 12 are ranked in the second- to early-third round range. And, like the receivers, it’s an incredibly fast group, with 10 who ran a sub-4.4 40 and 19 who ran a sub-4.5. Baylor’s Kalon Barnes’ 4.23 40 was the second-fastest time ever recorded at the Combine.
Why it’s a need
Levi Wallace is an unrestricted free agent and All-Pro Tre’Davious White went down with a torn ACL on Thanksgiving.
Why the team might pass on CB in Round 1
There’s not a huge talent gap among the second-tier group of CBs, meaning, the team could just as easily find a starting cornerback in the second round as it could among the available corners late in the first round.
If UTSA’s Tariq Woolen played for Alabama or Ohio State, then we might be talking about him as a top-10 player, as the 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior had one of the best Combine’s of any player at any position. His 4.26-second was the second-fastest and was tied for the fourth-fastest ever at the event. He also had an incredible 42-inch vertical jump and his arms were measured at 33 5/8-inches. From Pro Football Network: “He’s like a ‘create-a-cornerback’ who can’t possibly be real.”
That's FAST for a guy his size.
It’s not a great year for defensive linemen, as none are ranked among the top 25 prospects in the Rigdon big board. Georgia’s Devonte Wyatt (No. 28) and Jordan Davis (No. 37) are the top two, and both turned heads at the Combine. However, the 6-foot-3, 304-pound Wyatt will be 24 by the time the draft starts, making him one of the oldest prospects, and the 6-foot-6, 341-pound Davis needed constant help in keeping his weight below 350 while at Georgia. Overall, there are five DL ranked among the top 64 players – six if you count Houston’s Logan Hall – but Davis is the only 1-tech, the position Buffalo might need.
Why it’s a need
Buffalo is probably set at the position if 2018 third-round pick Harrison Phillips re-signs – but that’s no guarantee, as Phillips is coming off a career year with 51 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.
Why the team might pass on DL in Round 1
It might not matter what Buffalo wants: Wyatt and Davis could be gone by pick No. 25 due to the lack of top prospects at the position. Davis in particular had a great Combine, as his 4.78 40 is believed to be one of the fastest times ever recorded at the Combine for a player that size.
Buffalo has started to stockpile big defensive ends who can fill in at 3-tech in 2020 second-rounder A.J. Epenesa and 2021 second-rounder Boogie Basham. Why not add Houston’s Logan Hall to the mix? The 6-foot-6, 283-pound senior likely wouldn’t get any snaps at 1-tech but could pair with former Houston Cougar Ed Oliver at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs. Keep in mind, too, that Oliver will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Jordan Davis just ran a 4.8 40.
He’s 6’6, 341 pounds.pic.twitter.com/Plu22wQBqn
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) March 5, 2022
It’s about an average year to draft a linebacker, as there are only two who are ranked among the top-32 and five ranked in the top 50. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad year for the position – you can still find potential starters in the late third- to mid-fourth round range. Overall, 30 LBs are ranked in the top 264.
Why it’s a need
Two potential reasons why linebacker might be a sneaky need:
1) The Bills lack speed on defense, and McDermott says he wants to change that.
2) Two of the three starting linebackers will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, including Tremaine Edmunds, who led the team in tackles last season with 108, and A.J. Klein.
Why the team might pass on a LB in Round 1
There just aren’t many ranked among the top 32: Utah’s Devin Lloyd (No. 21) and Georgia’s Nakobe Dean (No. 25) are the highest-rated. Of the two, Dean fits the bill of the modern-day LB: a speedy hybrid linebacker/safety-type who can cover and play some nickel. He would be an immediate upgrade over Klein, too, but Klein only received 25.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. Would Dean get more than 400? If the answer is “no,” then it’s hard to envision the team taking Dean or any other LB in Round 1.
LSU LB Damone Clark is a fast-riser after his Combine performance with good size at 6-foot-2, 239-pounds. His 4.57-second 40 was just slightly slower than Edmunds’ 4.54 Combine time in 2018, which would give the Bills plenty of speed at the position.
I have ZERO doubt based off just watching the tape that Damone Clark is a film junkie
Constantly pointing out formations, alignments, getting others aligned – and anticipating action! Every down presnap communication and signaling – like every QB of the defense should be doing! pic.twitter.com/9niBttROfR
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 6, 2022
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