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Buffalo Bills 2015 NFL Draft needs: re-tooling the offensive line

Fixing the offensive line in the draft is easier said than done, but the Buffalo Bills need to look long and hard at doing so, anyway.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the two years that the Buffalo Bills worked under new Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line coach Doug Marrone, the team saw a steady decline in the potency of their running game, and their offensive output in general. The common denominator: a significant regression in the efficiency of the offensive line.

Marrone, of course, was not exclusively to blame for those line issues. The team lost a good veteran guard in Andy Levitre to free agency, and their efforts to develop young players in-house and on the fly have, thus far, mostly proven fruitless. The cheap veterans on the roster have not fared well when in the lineup, either.

As it stands today, less than a week before the start of the 2015 NFL Draft, the Bills have two offensive linemen that can credibly be called starting-caliber (and a third in that ballpark if he keeps himself in line off the field), a couple of backup-caliber veterans that might be forced to start, and a trio of young, talented project linemen who may not be ready for prime time.

Many fans are hoping that that outlook can be changed next weekend in Chicago, but that might not be in the cards.

Is there an instant contributor?

There very well could be - just not at center, where Eric Wood has the best job security of any offensive lineman on the team. (Cordy Glenn is in good shape at left tackle, too. As is guard Richie Incognito, if he's able to capitalize on his last shot in a NFL locker room.)

Buffalo has talented prospects on the team that are worthwhile projects - and one or two of them may end up starting - but there's a distinct possibility that a rookie guard or tackle, available in the second or third round, is already more polished than the Bills' current group of prospects. If someone like that is available, and clearly a better option than either Kraig Urbik or Chris Williams, then yes, he could absolutely walk into Buffalo's starting lineup from day one.

Where does a project fit in?

Right alongside three second-year players that the Bills drafted a year ago: tackles Seantrel Henderson and Cyrus Kouandjio, and guard Cyril Richardson.

Henderson played every snap as a rookie last season, and although he mostly struggled, he is still highly talented, and currently has an inside track at retaining the starting right tackle job. If the Bills draft a tackle early, that player would conceivably be competing with Henderson and last year's second-round pick, Kouandjio, for playing time. But a rookie might also be at a disadvantage in that competition, with both Henderson and Kouandjio benefitting from a full offseason in a NFL training regimen.

Similarly, a rookie guard might not be ready to make a more serious challenge for a starting gig than Richardson (scouting report), who appeared in six games as a rookie and flashed potential in the run game. Like the two tackles, he'll need to be in better shape, plus make dramatic improvements as a pass protector, to lock down a starting job, but he has the potential to be a starter in the NFL.

Is it a need in 2015? 2016?

You're not in the best shape as a team when three of your five offensive line slots are unsettled, but the Bills do, at least, have some interesting prospects and experienced vets on the roster to patch in - if they can't find a new starter at guard or tackle in the draft, that is.

Rookie linemen are not always ready to play, even those drafted early; the Bills found that out a year ago with Kouandjio. Unless the Bills can find an instant starter at No. 50 overall - perhaps a highly-seasoned, big-conference player like A.J. Cann, or a similarly-experienced tackle that falls - they might need to rely on their current competitive mix of projects and cheap veterans to fill out their lineup come training camp. One way or the other, though, this is a major area of concern for the Bills heading into the 2015 season.