As the NFL.com’s Dan Parr and Chase Goodbread wrote, identifying the Buffalo Bills’ draft needs is challenging.
What do you give the team that seemingly has everything?
Franchise quarterback? Check. Star wide receiver? Check. Pro Bowl cornerback? Check. Young building blocks along both sides of the line? Check.
When it comes to the 2022 NFL draft, Buffalo is one of the few teams that can truly take the “best player available” approach.
If it were only that simple.
When Buffalo is on the clock in the first round, it’s very possible that players like Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum will still be available – two highly ranked players. But with Mitch Morse having a solid season at center and with two former first-round picks at defensive tackle – including Ed Oliver, the No. 9 pick in 2019 – those players would be considered a luxury in the first round. Plus, they offer little positional flexibility – Leal is best suited at Oliver’s 3-tech position, while Linderbaum is likely a center-only.
Instead, Buffalo has to be mindful of its current roster construction, including who will be a free agent at the end of this season and next.
That’s why these five players might be considered a bit of a reach for the round they’re drafted in, but their value would be high in Buffalo because of the team-specific roles they’d fill.
The question Pro Football Focus asked back in February about Buffalo’s secondary was this: Is Levi Wallace good enough to be the team’s No. 2 CB next to Tre’Davious White? From PFF’s Ben Linsey: “There is a decent argument to be made that the answer to this question is yes. Even if you remove a rookie 2018 season where Wallace picked up an 85.3 coverage grade, his 68.5 coverage grade over the past two years ranks among the top 50% of qualifying cornerbacks across the league.”
Apparently, Buffalo agreed and signed Wallace to a one-year contract. That means the 2018 undrafted free agent out of Alabama could sign elsewhere in the offseason
In this scenario, McCreary is one of the best players available, and he would fill a potential need.
In one of his biggest tests of the season, McCreary held his own against Arkansas’ Treylon Burks (also a consideration with Buffalo’s first pick). The 6-foot, 190-pound senior had 5 tackles and 3 PBUs in Auburn’s win. From Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network: “McCreary deflected a pass away from receiver Treylon Burks in the end zone as Arkansas was driving for the tying score late in the game. Best facing the action, McCreary is a physical corner with a great feel for coverage.”
Pauline, though, sees McCreary as a Day 2 selection. Either way, he likely wouldn’t be available late in the second round, where Buffalo would presumably pick.
Roger McCreary (Auburn CB) vs. Ja’Marr Chase (LSU WR) was one of the best battles of the 2019 college season.
Chase won his fair share of reps (as expected), but McCreary more than held his own against the Biletnikoff award winner. pic.twitter.com/eSp5xO5Rjw
— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) May 6, 2020
This pick comes down to supply and demand and the need to keep quarterback Josh Allen healthy.
Left tackle is likely set for the foreseeable future after Dion Dawkins signed a four-year, $60 million deal last year. But right tackle is more of a question mark, with third-round rookie Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa currently starting and playing relatively well.
So what happens if either Dawkins or Brown go down for any length of time with an injury?
That’s why Buffalo may look to add another tackle in the upcoming draft.
But, if Buffalo wants an OT who could potentially start as a rookie, then it needs to do draft one in the first or second round. Currently, there are five OTs in the top 50 of the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board (full disclosure: that’s my big board) and 10 in the top 100. This includes Kentucky’s Darrian Kinnard (51), Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland (52), Miami’s Zion Nelson (54), Penn State’s Rasheed Walker (57) and Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann (59).
That means you can expect a run on OTs, starting late in the first round and carrying through to the middle of the second. Therefore, it’s possible that none of those players are still available when Buffalo is on the clock in the second round. After Raimann, Cunningham (No. 103) and Arizona State’s Kellen Dietsch (114) are the next-highest ranked OTs, a sizeable gap.
However, the gap is even greater after those two. North Dakota’s Matt Waletzko, a 6-foot-7, 305-pound senior, is the next-highest rated OT at No. 177 overall, a 63-pick gap.
But it’s not like Cunningham would be a terrible consolation prize. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound senior has steadily improved over the years and has plenty of experience against top competition. (It should be noted, though, that the strip-sack he allowed in the Arkansas endzone against Auburn proved to be a pivotal play in the team’s loss.)
Lowest QB pressure % among OTs
🔸Larry Borom, Missouri – 0%
🔸Dylan Parham, Memphis – 0.7%
🔸Myron Cunningham, Arkansas – 1.2%
🔸Brady Christensen, BYU – 1.3% pic.twitter.com/xstb8bgtWG
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 22, 2020
You’re forgiven if you’ve already forgotten about the 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior.
However, if Pickens hadn’t suffered an ACL tear during Georgia’s fourth practice of the spring, then he might have been considered the top receiver in the 2022 draft. Pickens led Georgia with 49 receptions for 727 yards and 8 touchdowns as a freshman, then had 36 receptions for 513 yards and 6 TDs in eight games last season.
It’s possible Pickens will return sometime soon. Georgia coach Kirby Short stopped short of saying Pickens would play against Florida on Oct. 30, but the receiver is expected to make his return to the field sometime this season.
Does that make Pickens a boom-or-bust candidate? Absolutely. But taking him in the third round would lessen the blow if he doesn’t pan out. And if Pickens returns to form? Then Buffalo might have landed the steal of the draft.
It’s also possible that Pickens decides to stay in school rather than enter the draft, especially if he puts up pedestrian numbers upon his return. (There’s been recent speculation that Pickens would return.)
Either way, expect the team to address the position, as Emmanuel Sanders will be a free agent at the end of the season.
OH MY, GEORGE PICKENS 😱 pic.twitter.com/N4qo9X4HB4
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 7, 2019
Pauline of PFN said during a recent podcast that tight end was one of the strongest positions of the 2022 draft, and he’s not necessarily wrong. There are 10 TEs ranked among the top 105 prospects in the Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board.
Barry, though, falls just outside of the top 100, coming in at No. 134 overall. The 6-foot-6, 244-pound graduate transfer from Jacksonville State is having a solid, albeit unspectacular, year for Boston College, hauling in 16 passes for 255 yards (a 15.9-yard average) and 3 touchdowns. Pauline said during the podcast that he was a little disappointed with Barry’s play this season, adding that he’s likely more of a fifth-round prospect.
“… (W)hen you see this monster tight end stand out at Jacksonville State, you couldn’t help but notice him,” Pauline said. “… I would have hoped that his productivity elevated more this year, which really hasn’t happened. Now, whether that’s a product of the QB change at B.C., you don’t know.”
Barry would at least provide current starter Dawson Knox some competition. Knox has been a solid addition since becoming a third-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2019 with 73 receptions (and counting), 962 yards receiving and 10 TDs over 23 starts. He’s also well on his way to a career-high in receptions, as Dawson had 28 as a rookie and already has 21 this season. His 5 TDs are also a career high.
So a big season this year and next could mean a big payday for Knox when his contract runs out after the 2022 season. In other words, Buffalo may be looking to add another TE in the near future.
Phil Jurkovec ➡️ Trae Barry
“Plays faster than his 40 time and moves well about the field.”@TonyPauline on Boston College TE Trae Barry
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 4, 2021
Kentucky has produced a lot of NFL defensive backs in recent years, and Corker is the latest. The 6-foot, 197-pound senior was a preseason Phil Steele second-team All-SEC defender and has put up solid numbers this season with 40 tackles (and counting), 3 TFLs and 1 sack. While Corker hasn’t recorded an interception yet – he has three for his career – his seven pass breakups are a team-high. He also had a solid outing against Georgia with 4 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 PD. Corker has 199 tackles, 6 TFLs and 2 sacks for his career.
PFN's Chief Draft Analyst @TonyPauline highlighted Yusuf Corker as a player to watch in Kentucky vs. Georgia. Long, explosive safety who can cover a lot of ground and make plays at multiple ranges.pic.twitter.com/gOLXaZ3GEx
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) October 16, 2021