The Buffalo Bills have exited the early stages of free agency, and only one significant target remains unsigned. With that in mind, it’s time to assess the roster with an eye towards the NFL draft. Here’s how Buffalo’s defense stacks up.
Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerel Worthy, Adolphus Washington, Deandre Coleman
Some of the useful role players appear to be moving on, including Corbin Bryant and Leger Douzable. But a shift toward Sean McDermott’s 4-3 styled attack helps ease depth concerns for Buffalo’s defensive line. Williams and Dareus are known quantities. Worthy, Washington, and Coleman all flashed at different times.
Which is all good, because this is not a great draft class to need an interior defensive lineman. UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes and Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson might interest Buffalo with their pedigree - Vanderdoes as a former five star prospect, and Tomlinson as a four-star who played for Nick Saban.
Perceived need: Low
Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Lorenzo Alexander, Ryan Davis, Max Valles
This position group actually feels a bit flimsy despite carrying 20.5 sacks between these four players’ 2016 seasons. Hughes earned a major payday with two straight 10 sack seasons, but while he came close to finishing the play on a number of occasions, he hasn’t eclipsed six sacks in the last two years. Alexander earned more sacks in 2016 than in his previous nine years combined, and there’s no guarantee he produces as a pass rusher this year. Lawson was well-regarded as a draft prospect, but lost time to a shoulder surgery and only picked up two sacks as a rookie. Davis has been a decent backup in his time in the league so far, and Valles is an athletic project player.
This is considered a very strong edge rusher class. From traditional “Bills-type” SEC picks like Carl Lawson and Tim Williams, to small school players like Derek Rivers (who reportedly has a visit lined up with Buffalo) and Trey Hendrickson, there are talented pass rushers and great athletes scattered throughout the rookie group.
Perceived need: Medium
Preston Brown, Reggie Ragland, Ramon Humber
Yeah, you’re reading that correctly. Unless you count Alexander as an off-the-ball linebacker, the Bills only have three of those on the roster. And one of them missed last season with a torn ACL.
Brown has played decently as a starter for Buffalo the last three seasons. He’s not the fastest linebacker and he sometimes struggles to take on blocks, but he holds his own in the middle of the field. Ragland looked like a prodigal NFL linebacker in college, albeit with his own questions about speed. Humber was reliable on special teams for the Bills last season.
There is a massive question mark here, which concerns Zach Brown. At one point he seemed destined for greener pastures, but he recently changed agents and paid a visit to Buffalo. He would provide Buffalo a necessary speed infusion, and on a long term deal, would allow the team to feel comfortable promoting Ragland and moving on from Preston Brown next year.
If he doesn’t make his way back to Buffalo, the team has a few options in the draft. Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster combined with Ragland in one of college football’s best pairings, and is considered a potential top ten pick. Haason Reddick, who played defensive end most recently, showed off such extraordinary athleticism that teams expect the Temple defender to make the switch to linebacker. Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan is another name who has fit Buffalo’s profile in the past. The big question will reside with Sean McDermott - does he think he can get a Luke Kuechly in this draft, or even a Thomas Davis?
Perceived need: High (Medium with Zach Brown signing)
Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Colt Anderson, Jonathan Dowling, Shamiel Gary, Joe Powell
This is not an inspiring list, even if you think that Hyde will start at safety (the team may choose to slot him as a cornerback most of the time). Poyer is being paid starter money, with only ten career starts in four seasons to this point. Anderson’s reputation is on special teams, not as a defender. The other three are project types.
The Bills could use an infusion of talent at the position. Luckily, this rookie safety class is absolutely stacked.
Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams are the top two. Hooker hasn’t been able to work out for teams as he recovers from labrum surgery, but his elite range and ball skills has teams envisioning Earl Thomas. Adams isn’t an elite athlete, but his combination of range, tackling, intelligence, and leadership is reminiscent of Brian Dawkins.
Beyond them is a slew of talented names. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers is an inexperienced, athletic player who flashed potential on defense, offense, and special teams. Obi Melifonwu’s freaky athleticism comes in a 6’4” 220 pound package. Josh Jones and Marcus Williams are excellent athletes in their own right. Budda Baker’s playmaking abilities have earned him Tyrann Mathieu comparisons. The Bills should add at least one safety in this draft.
Perceived need: High
Ronald Darby, Micah Hyde, Kevon Seymour, Leonard Johnson, Charles Gaines, Marcus Roberson
This is how badly Buffalo’s secondary depth has fallen. Either they’re asking an unproven project to start at safety, or last year’s sixth round pick Seymour will start at cornerback, depending on Hyde’s assignment. Hyde aside, Darby and Johnson are the only players to prove anything in the NFL at this stage. They don’t even have enough cornerbacks to field a full depth chart, heading into training camp.
This cornerback class is also exceptional, and the Bills should have luck finding a starter even in round three of the draft. The real question is which players will fit Buffalo’s profile now that they’re moving toward a zone-heavy Cover 3 system under McDermott. One player on their radar is Nate Hairston, a day three prospect from Temple. Desmond King, who was one of the best corners in the nation in 2015 but is lacking in speed, could be a second round choice. In the first round, Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore is the best player available, although he looked best in man coverage.
Perceived need: High