It’s going to be hard for the Buffalo Bills to pass up a WR in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft
As the recent blowout win over New England shows, Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of glaring needs.
That’s what makes predicting which direction the Bills go in the upcoming draft more difficult.
However, if you go by “best player available” and take a look at how the first-round may unfold – see below screenshot – then it appears Buffalo may draft a prospect who plays a position that’s already a strength for the team: wide receiver.
Start with the Buffalo defense. It already has a fairly young defensive core, especially along the line.
- Defensive ends Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. But the Bills have invested heavily in the position in recent years with second-round backups A.J. Epenesa (2020) and rookie Boogie Basham and first-round rookie starter Greg Rousseau.
- Cornerback Levi Wallace will also be an UFA. Wallace, who had an interception against the Patriots, has played 994 snaps on defense, second-most on the team. However, All Pro Tre’Davious White should eventually return from the ACL tear he suffered on Thanksgiving, and young corners Taron Johnson and Dane Jackson have played in 878 and 484 snaps on defense, respectively.
- Safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are both over 30, but the two tied for fourth in the league with 5 interceptions each. Hyde played the most snaps (1,024) on the defense, while Poyer (994) was third on the team. Therefore, it’s not a given that even a high draft pick would supplant either one in the starting lineup.
- The linebacker trio of Matt Milano (69.2 PFF grade), Tremaine Edmunds (49.5) and A.J. Klein (49.3) are all under contract through at least one more season. Milano and Edmunds took the majority of the snaps, as Buffalo played out of a lot of 2-linebacker sets. Therefore, any linebacker the team drafts would be scratching for playing time against Milano – who recently signed a four-year, $44 million contract – or Edmunds, a 2018 first-rounder. It’s conceivable that a rookie could overtake Klein’s snaps next season – he’s played just 26 percent of the team’s snaps so far this season – but a player like that can easily be found on days 2 or 3 of the draft.
Instead, the focus on defense might be at tackle. Ed Oliver, a 2019 first-rounder, is signed through 2024, but the other starting tackle, Harrison Phillips, along with backup Vernon Butler will be unrestricted.
Although that might be Buffalo’s biggest need on defense, there’s only one 1-tech ranked among the top-50 prospects in Georgia’s Jordan Davis, and he could be gone by the time Buffalo picks. Plus, you can find starting-worthy, run-stuffing tackles on days 2 or 3.
Likewise, the Bills are in good shape on offense, starting with a quarterback who is going to be an MVP candidate for years to come. After QB Josh Allen, Buffalo is stacked with mostly young talent elsewhere, including:
- The running back duo of Devin Singletary (2019-third round) and Zack Moss (2020-third round) has combined for 1,215 yards and 11 TDs.
- Third-year tight end Dawson Knox has career-highs in receptions (49), yards (587) and touchdowns (9), and the receiver trio of Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley has combined for 227 receptions, 2,544 yards and 15 TDs this season. While Sanders will be an UFA at the end of the season, 2020 fourth-rounder Gabriel Davis has been remarkably consistent his first two years, with a line of 35-599-7 as a rookie and a line of 35-549-6 so far this season.
- Left tackle Dion Dawkins has been fairly steady, and third-round rookie Spencer Brown likely enters next season as the starting RT, as his 67.4 PFF grade ranks him sixth among rookie OTs with at least 100 snaps.
The guard spot, though, is a bit more troublesome, especially with the Ike Boettger injury. Boettger will be an unrestricted free agent, and Ryan Bates will be a RFA. Bates hasn’t given up a sack in 294 offensive snaps played, according to Pro Football Focus, despite moving to left guard.
So, could Buffalo use a new starting rookie guard or defensive tackle? Or how about some youth at safety?
Of course, but as the above mock shows, there is a lack of depth at those two positions, making it less likely that a prospect like Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green is still available. If he is, then Green could be the pick for Buffalo in the first round, as the 6-foot-4, 325-pound junior can play tackle or guard. The same goes for cornerback, where Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. could be a possibility.
Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal could be available, too, but the hybrid 3-tech/strong side defensive end isn’t a great scheme-fit for the Bills.
Either way, the longer Buffalo lasts in the playoffs, the less likely one of those players is still available in the draft. Case in point: In the latest Dane Brugler mock draft from The Athletic, only Leal was still available when Buffalo drafted in the first round.
That’s why receiver makes sense for Buffalo on Day 1. Consider some of the names who could be available late in the first round:
- Alabama’s Jameson Williams, who is recovering from an ACL tear, and USC’s Drake London, who is recovering from a fractured right ankle. Those two might have gone much higher had it not been for their respective injuries, and Buffalo could conceivably give either one a “redshirt” year, if needed, especially if the team re-signs Sanders.
- Other receivers include Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks and Ohio State’s Chris Olave. All would push for immediate playing time, if not walk in as starters.
Keep this in mind, too: Although Diggs remains in his prime and Davis is set to take the next step in his development, Sanders (almost 35) and Beasley (almost 33) are on the wrong side of 30, while Diggs will be 29 by the end of next season.
All this adds up to Buffalo taking a receiver in the first round.