As we approach the 2017 NFL Draft, it’s apparent that the Buffalo Bills will have a lot of holes to fill on the roster, especially when it comes to depth positions. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, they only have six draft picks to work with, including the tenth pick overall.
Draft capital is one of the most important assets a team can have. The importance of proper draft pick use has only grown with the rising cost of free agency, as teams strive to make the most out of players who are on low-cost rookie deals.
Rotoword’s Rich Hribar made a chart earlier this month showing how each team has spent their draft picks over the last five drafts, which does a great job illustrating how each team allocates its resources across the roster and how each team compares to the rest of the league at each position.
So what have the Bills been doing with their draft picks over the last five seasons? Here’s a look at what the front office has been doing at leach position, along with a snapshot of where they place on the league-wide spectrum at each position.
The Bills have largely relied on the play of free agent acquisitions at quarterback since 2012, cycling through the likes of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Thad Lewis, and Kyle Orton before settling on Tyrod Taylor for the last two seasons. Undrafted free agent pickup Jeff Tuel also made a few appearances. Both of the quarterbacks the Bills have drafted since 2012, EJ Manuel and Cardale Jones, made appearances in the Bills’ season-ending 30-10 loss to the Jets, which should tell you everything you need to know about them.
For the early part of the time frame, the Bills were relying on the talents of 2006 UDFA pickup Fred Jackson and 2011 first-round pick C.J. Spiller. Over the last two seasons, they’ve relied on trade acquisition LeSean McCoy and practice squad signee Mike Gillislee. The two draft picks in that time were both fifth-rounders over the last two seasons: Karlos Williams in 2015 (currently with the Steelers) and Jonathan Williams in 2016.
Since 2012, the Bills have been all over the map when it comes to drafting wideouts. They’ve taken at least one in each of the last five drafts, selecting two in 2013. The picks have come as high as fourth overall (Sammy Watkins in 2014) and as low as 234th overall (Dez Lewis in 2015). Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a huge amount of production from the group, and both 2013 picks (Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin) are likely to be playing elsewhere in 2017. It’s a near certainty that the Bills will draft a wideout for the sixth consecutive year in this draft, possibly with the tenth overall pick.
Highest: 4 (Four teams)
Fewest: 0 (Saints)
The primary tight ends for the Bills since 2012 have both been free agent pickups. Scott Chandler had bounced around some practice squads before winding up in Buffalo, while Charles Clay was signed from the Dolphins after receiving the transition tag. The Bills have made a couple day three tight end picks in the last few years, selecting Chris Gragg in the seventh round of the 2013 Draft and Nick O’Leary in the sixth round of the 2015 Draft.
The primary starting offensive line for the Bills in 2016 included three players drafted by the team. Center Eric Wood was drafted in 2009, but in the last five drafts the team has found their primary left tackle (Cordy Glenn in 2012) and right guard (John Miller in 2015). They also selected Seantrel Henderson in 2014, who started 26 games in his first two seasons before Crohn’s Disease and series of drug-related suspensions held him off the field for most of 2016. The Bills also drafted Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round that year, a player who performed well in place of Glenn on the left side in 2016 but has struggled when asked to play on the right side of the line.
Highest: 8 (49ers)
Fewest: 1 (Bills, Bears)
Shaq Lawson, the 19th overall pick of the 2016 Draft, is the only defensive end the Bills have drafted in the last five seasons. Prior to Lawson, the last defensive end the Bills drafted was Alex Carrington, a third-round pick in 2011. While the flexibility of the team’s defenses has given the position some fluidity, the major players at the position have been free agent pickup Mario Williams and trade acquisition Jerry Hughes.
Highest: 9 (Seahawks)
Fewest: 1 (Four teams)
This is another position the Bills didn’t address through the draft until 2016, selecting Adolphus Washington in the third round. Unlike the end position, however, the Bills have been relying mostly on a couple pre-2012 draft picks in Kyle Williams (2006) and Marcell Dareus (2011). The team has also relied on free agent pickup Corbin Bryant as a primary depth piece for most of the last five years.
The Bills have selected at least one linebacker in each draft since 2006. In the last five drafts, the team has doubled up in 2012 (Nigel Bradham and Tank Carder) and 2014 (Preston Brown and Randell Johnson). Unfortunately, Brown has been one of the few consistent contributors from the group: Bradham played reasonably well before leaving for the Eagles in free agency prior to last season, and 2013 second rounder Kiko Alonso missed his sophomore season before being traded to the Eagles for LeSean McCoy. Last season, the Bills sent free agent pickups Lorenzo Alexander and Zach Brown to the Pro Bowl at the position.
Highest: 11 (49ers)
Fewest: 4 (Colts, Chargers)
You have to go back to 2010 to find the last draft where the Bills didn’t select a defensive back. The team selected two cornerbacks in 2012 (Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks) and two safeties in 2013 (Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks). Gilmore’s impending departure makes it likely that the Bills will up their streak to seven straight drafts as they look for someone to play alongside 2015 second rounder Ron Darby, although 2016 sixth-round pick Kevon Seymour showed some promise last year.
Highest: 3 (Lions)
Fewest: 0 (16 teams)
There have been nine kickers drafted in the last five seasons. The Bills are the only team to pick two, and neither 2012 seventh-round pick John Potter or 2013 sixth-round pick Dustin Hopkins ever scored a point for the Bills. There’s an outside chance that the Bills could pick their third kicker this season, given Dan Carpenter’s precarious hold on a roster spot, but it’s more likely that they’ll take the route more traveled and sign someone who isn’t drafted.