The 2015 NFL Draft begins tonight, and while the Buffalo Bills are not scheduled to pick until tomorrow thanks to their draft-day trade for Sammy Watkins a year ago, we can still talk about their most pressing needs entering draft weekend.
Buffalo has had a very busy offseason, overhauling their coaching staff (again) and making some big moves via trade and free agency to improve their already-solid roster. As such, the Bills fancy themselves a team with enough talent to make the playoffs in 2015, despite key question marks, and they only have a few spots on their squad where a rookie could conceivably come in and contribute from day one.
That, by the way, is the easiest and most practical way to approach the Bills' draft needs this year: figure out where they could use a player that can be on the field from day one, and then sort out the future considerations from there. With this approach, you'll come to see that the Bills have a ton of options on draft weekend - and that's a pretty good situation to be in from a roster-building perspective.
There are three positions at which the Bills could plug a rookie into a significant role. As it stands today, they only have two picks - No. 50 overall, a second-round selection, and No. 81 overall, in the third round - where it is reasonable to expect a pick to push for playing time immediately. That's why it would make so much sense for GM Doug Whaley to pursue a trade down; if he can finagle a third second-day pick, or even an early fourth-round pick, the team would have a much better chance at addressing their small list of pressing needs.
Those three needs, by the way, are as follows (and in order of priority)...
- Offensive line: On a team building an offense for a hopefully-not-terrible quarterback, rather than around a great one, it is imperative that the Bills improve the foundation of everything they plan to do in this phase. Outside of two locked-in starters, the Bills can upgrade at both guard positions, and even right tackle - and it's entirely possible that an early-pick lineman, whether a guard or a tackle, could become a full-time starter this season.
- Defensive line: The Bills have things pretty well taken care of defensively, where they are expected to field one of the NFL's best units, but they do lack a run-stuffing defensive tackle to play two gaps and clog running lanes in their base defense. That player could reach the 50 percent threshold in terms of snaps played in 2015, and given the talent the Bills have up front, it's entirely possible he could excel, as well.
- Tight end: Greg Roman inherits a Bills offense that used multiple-tight end formations routinely last season, and he will likely only expand on those plans, given his history. Buffalo spent big money to land a starting tight end in free agency, but depth is a major issue, and an early- or mid-round pick here would very likely land a prominent playing-time gig as a rookie, even if it's only as a one-dimensional player (whether pass-catcher or blocker).
The Bills are not so flush with talent that they're in a position to completely ignore any area of their roster this weekend, but aside from those three groups listed above, it's unlikely that a rookie can come in and walk into a prominent role this season. Which turns the rest of the team's positional needs into down-the-line concerns.
When you can lump most of the positions on your roster into this category, you prioritize them not by how urgently you need a player at that position, necessarily, but by how valuable that position is. That's how I'm doing it here.
- Quarterback: Naturally. If the Bills do end up picking a quarterback this year, that player should not come close to factoring into the starting competition. Ideally, that player would sit and learn the system, like Colin Kaepernick did for a year-plus under Roman in San Francisco.
- Pass rusher: The Bills have big money tied up in Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, but they can't play every snap, and there is little to nothing in the way of edge-rushing depth. A rookie could see limited snaps in this role.
- Cornerback: This is a position where the Bills are seemingly always dealing with injuries. Leodis McKelvin and Corey Graham will both be 30 by the time the regular season starts. Buffalo has good players here, but like every NFL team, they could stand to add more.
- Wide receiver: Percy Harvin only signed a one-year deal, and the Bills still lack a receiver with distinguishable length on their roster. A tall, lanky developmental receiver with sufficient deep speed could be a wise investment.
- Linebacker: Depth is a pretty major concern here, and the fact that Nigel Bradham is entering a contract year bears watching, as well. If they can find a prospect that's athletic enough to capably back up the inside guys, but long enough to set the edge on occasion, that player could be extremely valuable.
- Safety: They don't need a starter, and they have some interesting young projects that they'll continue to try to develop this summer, but depth is a concern - and finding a guy that can play some dime snaps would be nice, too.
- Running back: Buffalo has a highly veteran running back corps, which could eventually prove to be problematic. This position has been devalued, regardless of what the Bills are currently spending there, but while important, it's not an area that the Bills need to plan too far ahead with. They're fine for 2015.
If I were Whaley, and in charge of running the Bills' war room this weekend, I'd have this list handy. Priority one, especially at No. 50 overall, would be to trade down to try to pick up a third pick (and thereby a third rookie contributor). Priority two would be to fill as many of the immediate-contributor needs as possible on the second day of the draft. But that issue shouldn't be forced, either; if, at any pick, the Bills don't see an immediate contributor on the board, they should find a prospect they like down the line on the future considerations list (or on the shorter list, where more projects wouldn't be a bad thing, either).
But that's just my opinion on how the Bills 2015 draft needs shake out, and how they should approach the event this weekend. How does yours differ?