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Bills add O.J. Howard, Zay Jones in Rotoworld mock draft

Can the team afford to wait on addressing their defensive back weaknesses?

As NFL draft season winds along, it’s always fun to see what happens when someone who’s very plugged into the draft scene, but not necessarily into your own team, lays out a draft plan for them. Rotoworld’s Josh Norris is one of the best sources of information out there, and as part of his annual offseason work, he has combined with Evan Silva to define the biggest needs of each team and run through a mock draft.

Norris brings a unique perspective to this exercise, as someone who primarily watches the Carolina Panthers during the regular season. He has a good understanding of new head coach Sean McDermott’s personnel preferences.

Silva ranked the team’s top three needs thusly: Wide receiver, followed by linebacker, then quarterback. At receiver, he makes the well-refrained point that Watkins is Buffalo’s only outside target, and one with multiple surgeries in his past to boot. He considers Buffalo’s free agent additions to be fourth receivers at best. Silva notes that McDermott’s defenses emphasized speed at the linebacker position. Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are a very different type of player from the 6’1” 250 pound Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland duo. With Taylor’s shortened contract, and no solid backups behind him, Silva considers QB a low-key major need for this team. He also had cornerback, right tackle, and defensive line in the discussion.

When it came to Norris’s mock draft, the first pick was a selection that has been en vogue for the Bills of late: Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Norris has made clear his dislike of the fat contract awarded to Charles Clay, and he believes Howard’s skill and talent as a blocker and a receiver would allow him to have an impact in year one, then allow the team to cut Clay afterward to save some money.

In the second round, Norris had the Bills taking ECU receiver Zay Jones - another popular selection for the team, thanks to Jones’s athletic ability, on-field production, and his connections with new Bills receiver coach Phil McGeoghan. Both picks would instantly upgrade the reliability of Buffalo’s offense.

In round three, he had the team go with the speedy linebacker from Florida, Jarrad Davis. Davis has been rehabbing an ankle injury, but his coverage range was clear while he was on the field.

I asked Norris why he had the Bills waiting until round five to address the secondary, given that the team is looking at either starting Kevon Seymour or Colt Anderson in the defensive backfield right now. His response was that he sees the Bills running with three linebackers on the field more than most other teams, based on McDermott’s Carolina tendencies. While that may be true, even if the Bills ran a base 4-3, they don’t even have two proven starting safeties and two proven starting cornerbacks right now. Still, if the plan is to use three linebackers, they can’t count on the 34-year-old Lorenzo Alexander to drop back into coverage, either. Through their free agent strategy, the Bills have backed themselves into a corner this year. Either they fill the holes on their defense, or they improve the offense while leaving coverage gaps. It’s hard to see how they can effectively manage to address both issues in the draft.