After a disappointing showing by the Buffalo Bills defense in 2015, Rex Ryan, Doug Whaley and company doubled-down on Ryan’s system, drafting and signing multiple players who fit the kind of player Rex wanted on the defensive side of the ball. Of the team’s seven draft picks, four were spent on defensive players. Two of those players (first round pick Shaq Lawson and second rounder Reggie Ragland) were expected to be immediate contributors to the 2016 team.
That was the plan, anyhow.
After offseason shoulder surgery caused Lawson to miss the first six games of his rookie season and Ragland tore his ACL in training camp, that plan has mostly gone for naught. Add in the fact that two other 2016 Bills draftees (quarterback Cardale Jones and receiver Kolby Listenbee) have yet to play a regular-season snap, and the pickings are quite slim with regard to in-game performance by Bills’ rookies.
The following is a completely unscientific ranking of Buffalo rookies in terms of impact during the first half of their rookie campaign.
RB Jonathan Williams (round 5, overall pick 156)
Williams has been almost a total non-factor on offense, though that’s not exactly a surprise. His roster spot is essentially a gift from Karlos Williams, whose weight gain and suspension led to his release back in training camp. The latest Williams to suit up for the Bills has carried the ball 13 times for 35 yards, including a garbage-time touchdown versus New England. Williams was also officially credited for a passing attempt after spiking the ball during the debacle that ended the first half of Buffalo’s Monday Night loss against Seattle. With LeSean McCoy accounting for 133 of the Bills’ 201 carries by running backs (66% of the carries) even with his missed time due to injury, little is left for the other three members of the Bills’ backfield. Williams is currently a solid fourth on the depth chart, totaling only 35 offensive snaps in his 4 games.
CB Kevon Seymour (round 6, overall pick 218)
Seymour is another player who has shown solid athleticism, but is buried behind other players on the depth chart. Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Corey White are all ahead of the former USC Trojan, although he has appeared in every game but the opener. Overall, Seymour has 5 tackles and no interceptions in his limited action. He has totaled 95 snaps on special teams, good for tenth on the team, to go with his 77 defensive snaps.
ER Shaq Lawson (round 1, overall pick 19)
This ranking is really more about circumstance than it is about overall talent and career potential. If Lawson continues on the pace he has established thus far, he will certainly end the year as the team’s most valuable rookie; however, due to time missed as a result of injury, he falls into second place on this list. Lawson did not make his season debut until Week 7 in Miami, but he has registered on the stat sheet in all three of his career games. He had his first tackle against the Dolphins, and notched his first career sack against Tom Brady the following week. He added a sack of Russell Wilson last Monday night, as well. He has totaled 5 tackles and 2 sacks through his first three NFL games. His 64 snaps include two games where he was used sparingly (Miami and Seattle) and one in which he played the majority of the game (37 of his snaps came against the Patriots). This has less to do with him than it does the play of Lorenzo Alexander, who missed most of the game against New England with a hamstring injury.
DT Adolphus Washington (round 3, overall pick 80)
Nobody saw this one coming. Washington has started a majority of Buffalo’s games this season (6, to be exact) due mostly to injuries (Marcell Dareus and Corbin Bryant) and suspension (Dareus). His performance, however, has been a bright spot on a defense that has continued to struggle. Chris Trapasso’s efficiency score model has Washington as the defense’s third best player overall. He is third in overall grade among Bills defensive linemen, and has played on just under 40% of the team’s defensive snaps throughout the season. Originally thought to be a depth piece behind Kyle Williams, Dareus, and Bryant, Washington has made the most of his opportunity to play. He currently ranks third among Buffalo’s defensive linemen in total tackles (9) and second in sacks (2); Kyle Williams leads in both categories, and only Leger Douzable sits between Washington and Williams in tackles (Douzable has 10).
That’s all in terms of checking up on the current rookie class. With Kolby Listenbee, Reggie Ragland, and Cardale Jones all essentially taking redshirt years, it is difficult to call the 2016 rookie class an immediate success; with Washington and Lawson looking like immediate impact players, and Kevon Seymour making important contributions to the special teams unit, it’s hard to call it a failure, as well. We’ll check back in with Buffalo’s rookies at the end of the season to see which players continued to grow, and who hit “the wall.”