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Can the Buffalo Bills find answers in the 2017 NFL Draft?

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Except for quarterback, the upcoming rookie class looks primed to address Buffalo’s weaknesses.

Welcome to Week 14 of the regular season, or as we say in Buffalo, “%&*#ing time to start talking about the offseason again.” Buffalo’s loss to the Oakland Raiders breaks the seal on the first of many discussions about the future direction of the Bills. Coaching decisions, player contracts, and free agents will all enter the message before long. Today, let’s peek at the upcoming crop of collegiate athletes.

Safety

The Bills are growing desperate for a solution at safety. You can argue that the need for a top-ten quarterback trumps all else, but the Bills can safely keep an average-to-below average starter and a project with raw talent on the roster just by maintaining the status quo this offseason. In contrast, the upcoming safety news looks like an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen. Consider:

Aaron Williams suffered another major neck injury and should seriously consider retirement for the sake of his long-term health.

Corey Graham will be 32 at the start of next season, and his decreased range is beginning to show up.

No one else is signed beyond 2016 at this position. The team has started throwing out converted cornerbacks and James Ihedigbo, who was signed two weeks ago, because Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks were that disappointing.

Fortunately for Buffalo, this year could potentially have an excellent group of safeties.

  • Budda Baker needs a lot of work on his tackling technique, but he has the range and instincts to be a playmaking free safety.
  • Jabrill Peppers is a man between positions. The 6’1” 207 pounder plays like a linebacker but doesn’t have the size for it. He’s a serious playmaker as a punt returner and wildcat quarterback. Could he find a home in Rex Ryan’s defense?
  • It feels like Eddie Jackson has been at Alabama for ages, with extensive action in his freshman season of 2013. He has nine career interceptions, and experience playing both cornerback and safety. The Bills have certainly not shied away from picking out of the Crimson Tide before.
  • Jamal Adams fits the definition of all-around safety: with 16.5 tackles for loss and 14 passes defended in three seasons, he’s as dangerous against the run as he is versus the pass.
  • And that’s not to mention perhaps the most impressive safety, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker. Hooker has six interceptions this season, but recently said he’s 100 percent committed to returning for his senior season.

Cornerback

Stephon Gilmore’s 2016 season didn’t go according to plan, to put it mildly. While he’s tightened up his play a bit in the last couple of weeks, it’s hard to justify giving him a big-money extension next year. If he departs, the Bills would probably be elevating Kevon Seymour to a starting position, given that Corey White is also a free agent.

Like the safety class, though, the cornerback class is loaded - perhaps even moreso.

  • Florida has a pair of great talents at cornerback: Jalen “Teez” Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Tabor has four interceptions on the season to Wilson’s three. Word on the street is that Wilson is the players teams try to avoid throwing to, in a situation similar to Florida State’s 2014 season (where Ronald Darby was the quiet threat opposite PJ Williams).
  • Adoree Jackson may be a familiar name if you were paying attention to Marquise Goodwin’s Olympic trials, because he was competing for a spot in the same event. A world-class athlete, Jackson has eight combined punt and kick return touchdowns, six receiving touchdowns on 38 career receptions, and five interceptions to his name. He may be the top all-around playmaker in the draft.
  • The Washington Huskies have a seriously talented roster this season, and that includes one Sidney Jones. He has excellent ball skills and a knack for mirroring receivers.
  • Desmond King was an absolute lockdown cornerback in 2015, but teams have avoided throwing his direction this season, negatively impacting his stats. Trust me when I say: He’s the best zone corner in the draft.
  • While I was watching Mackensie Alexander pre-draft last year, Cordrea Tankersly stood out to me on the other side of the field. He has great size and recovery speed, and plays the ball well, evidenced by his eight interceptions and 19 passes defended in the last two seasons.

Wide receiver

The Bills also have a crying need for competent receiving talent. Sammy Watkins is only effective as much as he can stay on the field, and the Bills have a slew of upcoming free agents. The receiver class is better than some are giving credit for, and if Buffalo is serious about addressing the position, they can find an upgrade on days one and two.

  • Corey Davis has been a major catalyst for undefeated Western Michigan’s dream season. The 6’3” 215 pounder owns the FBS career receiving record with 5,213 yards. He has size, he has speed, and he’s dangerous after the catch.
  • The name Cooper Kupp may sound more like a Randolph Scott role than a football player, but if you’ve been following the Draft (or college football beyond the top division), you know this name, because he’s the one who’s 21 yards away from breaking the collegiate career receiving record, with 6,156 yards in the last four seasons. The Eastern Washington receiver reminds me so much of Julian Edelman, with his polished route running, outstanding catching technique, and the gritty way he earns extra yards after the catch.
  • Do you want the tall receiver capable of winning contested catches? Clemson’s Mike Williams is your man. The 6’3” 225 pound receiver doesn’t have the best routes, but he’ll catch whatever you throw his way, defenders be damned.
  • John Ross is DeSean Jackson 2.0, or Will Fuller with good catching technique. Ignore the fact that he’s 5’10”. While you were contemplating how important size is, he just juked past another defender for a 50 yard reception. If the Bills were serious about having a speed element to their passing game, Ross and Watkins would be one of the NFL’s top tandems.

Quarterback

We already discussed Buffalo’s quarterback situation above, and while they would be “set” with a minimum of Tyrod Taylor and Cardale Jones, they should aim for a new face in the mix. With that in mind, let’s look at some of the quarterbacks who could feasibly be available this year:

  • After last year’s National Championship, you’d think there was no chance of Deshaun Watson being available for Buffalo. But the quarterback slumped at times this season, and he hasn’t flashed the same crazy talent he showed in 2015. Could a Geno Smith-like drop be possible?
  • The 6’5” 230 pound Davis Webb started two seasons at Texas Tech, then transferred to Cal and took over from Jared Goff this season. He has size and statistics on his side, but will need to show the mental acumen and polished mechanics to shake off the Air Raid stigma.
  • DeShone Kizer has had an up-and-down season along with the rest of Notre Dame. At his best, he can weave some beautiful passes between defenders. At his worst, he can toss up some boneheaded interceptions. Think of him as a less polished Jameis Winston. As a redshirt sophomore, he may not enter the draft.
  • JT Barrett - Just kidding. I don’t want to hit Cardale with that situation all over again.