Monday's 2016 NFL mock draft was by no means the first draft projection for the Buffalo Bills this year, and there are many, many more to come. To preview what you'll see the Bills doing in mock drafts everywhere for the next third-year of your life, here's a (probably not exhaustive) rundown of the top positions and players you should expect to see popping up in these mock drafts, especially for first-round pick consideration.
Unless the Bills re-sign Cordy Glenn, this is by far the team's biggest need, for reasons covered in full here. Even with Glenn back in the fold, the right tackle position will remain a question mark if one of Seantrel Henderson or Cyrus Kouandjio can't establish a consistently strong level of play.
Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State: The 6'8" left tackle is strong and experienced, starting 42 games for the Buckeyes (14 at right tackle). As a tall player, he does struggle with pad level, and his footwork isn't always clean, but if he irons out his technique, he has plenty of potential to be a bulldozing player on either side of the line.
Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State: He's the 6'6", 325-pound blindside protector for Connor Cook, and he plays with a strong anchor and solid hands. As a junior with an unsatisfying finish to the year, he may wish to return for another season, and his NFL intentions are still unknown.
Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn: This tackle is in some ways a lite version of his predecessor, Greg Robinson. He's a powerful player who drives to the whistle on his blocks, and can put players on their backs. But playing in a simplified run option offense, he may have similar struggles adjusting to Greg Roman's complicated offense and picking up proper technique.
The first season of Rex Ryan's defense illustrated a big weakness with his scheme: it's complicated, and asks a lot of its linebackers. Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown often weren't up to the task, and Bradham is a free agent. While Ryan may elect to bring in a veteran like Demario Davis, this is a talented linebacker class that will be pointed at Buffalo again and again by mock drafters.
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA: This super-talented player was a two-way star at linebacker and running back for the team. A torn meniscus kept him out of a large part of his junior season, and he declared for the draft weeks ago. He's athletic, reads plays well, and hits hard - all things Ryan would love to see on his roster.
Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama: If there's a perfect fit for linebacker in Ryan's scheme, it's this 6'2", 252-pound All- . Much like Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley, Ragland is strong, sifts through traffic, fights off blocks, reads plays well, and explodes into the ballcarrier to make tackles.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame: Considered a Top 10 pick by many analysts before suffering a torn ACL and MCL against Ohio State, Smith is more of a weakside linebacker. He has tremendous range and fluidity for the position and is a great form tackler. He can struggle when engaged with linemen, but would do an excellent job fixing Buffalo's woes defending swing passes and screens. The question is if he chooses to enter the draft this year, hoping that he is still selected in the first round, or if he uses the next year to rehab and prepare for a 2017 entry.
Mario Williams' days in Buffalo appear numbered, and with his expected departure, the Bills will look to adjust their defensive line, adding a nose tackle or five-technique defensive end to free up Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus in their system.
DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon: If Ragland is the ideal linebacker for Ryan's system, Buckner might be the ideal defensive end. The 6'7", 290-pounder plays with outstanding strength and fluidity for someone his size. He'll sometimes struggle with pad level (as any tall guy would), but as a playmaker who can take on multiple blockers and set the edge, he would be plug-and-play in Buffalo.
Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Mississippi: He might represent the biggest risk and largest upside of any potential Bills pick. The former No. 1 overall high school recruit was a dominant 6'4", 300-pound defensive lineman in college, playing like a quicker version of last year's sixth overall pick, Leonard Williams. However, he has had several off-field incidents in his career, and was suspended from the Sugar Bowl after a bizarre situation in which he fell out of a fourth-story window (reportedly while high on synthetic marijuana), and was arrested for marijuana possession.
Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama: Reed plays nose tackle on Alabama's talented defensive line, but has the size to play anywhere along the line. He often occupies multiple blockers in his scheme, but still comes free to make his fair share of plays, showing some pass-rushing savvy in his game.
Right now, Jerry Hughes is Buffalo's only reliable pass rusher on the edge. The Bills would love to add depth there, as Manny Lawson just doesn't threaten the passer, and IK Enemkpali is a reserve at best.
Shall Lawson, ER, Clemson: As the above mock draft discussed, Lawson could be in Buffalo's plans, but I see him as more of a strong-side edge rusher than a five-technique. He plays with great power, and would be very disruptive unless double teamed.
Carl Lawson, ER, Auburn: No relation to Shaq, this sophomore is rumored to be declaring for the draft. He's had multiple long-term injuries in his career to this point, but his pass rush repertoire is surprisingly refined, and he's an athletic freak. This guy beat Laremy Tunsil multiple times this year, and that will make NFL scouts sit up and take notice.
Noah Spence, ER, Eastern Kentucky: A former Ohio State edge rusher, Spence was kicked off their team as a sophomore due to ongoing issues with drug addiction. To put his life back together, he cut off communication with his former social group, transferred, and went to rehab. Now he's reportedly clean, and he hasn't lost a step on the football field. He terrorized EKU's opponents in 2015, and that includes FBS teams like North Carolina State. Spence is one of the best rushers in this draft class when it comes to turning the corner around a tackle, and is a fantastic athlete who will be on Buffalo's radar this year.
Sammy Watkins is a clear No. 1 receiver, and possibly the best player on the Bills' roster. Some will argue, though, that the team could seek an upgrade over Robert Woods on the other side, especially in the continuing search for a tall, physical receiver that can high-point the football.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi: He may be the best receiver in this class, and the 6'2", 210-pounder is almost certainly the best run blocker. He has excellent body control in all phases of the catch, and is an angry runner after the catch. He embodies the "physical" receiver prototype, and would be an ideal player opposite Watkins in Roman's offense.
Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: Doctson was injured in November, but still managed to put up an eye-popping 78 receptions for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first nine games of the season. At 6'3" and 200 pounds, he has the speed to separate downfield, paired with excellent body control. His route-running shows savvy, but is also underdeveloped, partially due to TCU's simplified offense, which had him running almost exclusively go routes, slants, and deep ins from the right sideline.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh: He was Pitt's biggest offensive dynamo after James Conner went down with an injury at the start of the season. The Bills had success working a versatile receiver like Percy Harvin into their offense at the start of the year, and the 6'2", 200-pound Boyd is in the same mold. He ran for 346 yards this season, and though his overall receiving yardage dropped below 1,000 for the first time in his career, it came on a new high of 91 catches as the team found new ways to feed him the ball.
The Bills ran into trouble when Aaron Williams suffered his season-ending neck injury, as they had to platoon Bacarri Rambo and Duke Williams to replace him, and both gave up their fair share of big plays - even as Rambo developed into a smarter, more confident player as the new starter. Williams may end up retiring from his injury, and there's not much depth remaining even if he returns.
Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson: This 6'5", 220-pound defender has received plenty of hype for his Kam Chancellor-esque build and NFL bloodlines. Personally, I see a hesitant player who doesn't have great instincts, and I'm unconvinced from the tape I've seen.
Jeremy Cash, S, Duke: He played safety for Duke, but it was actually more of a linebacker role, as he routinely came up close to the line and blitzed into the backfield. You can't blame him for his usage, though, because he was extremely effective at it, recording 18 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, three fumbles forced, and eight hurries in his senior season. He does an excellent job sifting through players to make a tackle, but the question is if he can backpedal and play coverage in a more traditional defensive scheme.
Su'a Cravens, S, USC: A linebacker-safety hybrid, Cravens was a great utility player for the Trojans. He plays the run very well, and has the range to handle coverage responsibilities as a linebacker. He could be an ideal in-the-box safety for Buffalo.
While the Bills have a clear starter at quarterback this offseason, the situation is by no means settled. The contracts for both Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel expire after next season. Doug Whaley mentioned a desire to build competition at the position, even as he claimed Manuel was in the "top quarter" of the league's backup quarterbacks. Don't expect the Bills to draft a quarterback in the first or even second round of the draft, but keep a few of these names in mind.
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: He started three seasons for the Bulldogs, and owns 38 school records. The dual-threat quarterback has a thick build, a good arm, and solid accuracy, but needs to tighten his mechanics and read the field faster.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, North Carolina State: In viewing Brissett's film, I see the player Manuel was supposed to be. The 6'4", 235-pounder has excellent escapability in the pocket, shrugging off defenders like Ben Roethlisberger. He has good arm talent, and plays in a pro-style offense with the same coach who worked with Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon. There's inconsistency to his accuracy and his level of play, but he flashes good potential, especially when it comes to extending otherwise broken plays.
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State: Continuing the theme of athletic quarterbacks with the ability to run and throw, we have this polarizing, famous prospect. No, Jones isn't ready for the NFL. But he wasn't seeing any benefit from playing in Urban Meyer's simplified college offense - one which wasn't tailored to his strengths to begin with - and the pocket presence, arm talent, and movement he flashed at the end of the 2014 season is worth developing as a project.