The Buffalo Bills felt like they were close to competing in 2016. Fans have long held delusions of grandeur about the team’s chances, but this was one of those seasons where the offseason delusion almost felt real. A strong draft could have cemented a roster that seemed to hold an abundance of talent.
Of course, this being the Bills, the fantasy never materialized, and Murphy’s Law struck. The team’s first round pick, Shaq Lawson, was sidelined for part of the season with a shoulder injury that lingered from his collegiate career. Second-round linebacker Reggie Ragland, secured via trade-up with the Chicago Bears, tore his ACL in training camp. Sixth-round wide receiver Kolby Listenbee’s rookie year ended before it began, as he landed on injured reserve due to sports hernia surgery. Add in a developmental project at quarterback (fourth-round pick Cardale Jones) and a third-string running back (fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams), and the Bills essentially gained season-long contributions from only two draft picks last season: third-round defensive lineman Adolphus Washington and sixth-round corner Kevon Seymour.
NFL.com’s Conor Orr notes the lack of contributions from the class in his ranking of all AFC East teams’ 2016 drafts, calling Buffalo’s draft “painfully inefficient” before grading them at a “D.” Orr noted that Buffalo very well could receive an “incomplete” grade due to the lack of participation, but when a team is considered close to breaking through, it needs to have contributions from its rookie class. Buffalo underwhelmed, to put it nicely, in that regard this past season.
Grading draft classes after only one season drifts ever so slightly into “hot taek” territory, but it isn’t entirely without meaning. The Bills very well could see all seven of these players contribute significantly in 2017, and that would render the “D” grade earned this season moot. However, when looking at the contributions of the unit during their rookie season, it’s easy to see where the negative grade makes sense.