Given that the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft is less than a month away, there is an increasing amount of speculation around who the Buffalo Bills might select, as well as whether or not they might make a move out of the tenth spot in the order.
Instead of looking ahead, though, I’m going to take a look back at the last few years. Doug Whaley has been running the show in Buffalo for the last four years (yes, I’m counting 2013), which is enough time to start looking through his draft history to see if there are any trends that might give us a hint as to who the team might select when they’re on the clock.
Today, I’m focusing on player’s schools. There are some noticeable trends when it comes to where the Bills’ draft picks have played college ball over the last few years, and they might give us a hint as to where the team might go this year.
In the SBNation Writers’ Mock Draft, we decided that the Bills should take Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis (since trading down was not an option). If the Bills were to actually make that move, it would be a huge departure from the previous drafts under Whaley. Since 2013, only three of the Bills’ 28 draft picks have come from the conferences which make up the Group of 5:
- Nevada S Duke Williams (Round 4, 2013)
- Florida Atlantic LB Randell Johnson (Round 7, 2015)
- Central Arkansas WR Dezmin Lewis (Round 7, 2014)
The last time the Bills went outside of the power conferences for their first pick was in 2008, when they selected Troy CB Leodis McKelvin eleventh overall. The last time they used a top ten pick on such a player was way back in 1968, in the second-ever AFL-NFL common draft, when they used the ninth overall pick on San Diego State wideout Haven Moses.
In the last four drafts, the Bills have taken multiple prospects from seven schools. Two have provided more than two draftees, one of which held two of the three first round picks the Bills have made in the last four drafts. It just so happens that a top player at a position of need for the Bills is a product of that same school.
My point? Even though Sean McDermott seems to think the team’s number two receiver is on the roster right now, don’t be surprised if Clemson’s Mike Williams ends up in Buffalo next season.
How about the rest of the picks? Well, if you watch college football you’ve probably seen them play. In addition to his preference for major college players, Whaley’s drafts have largely stuck to the East Coast. Over half (16) of his picks have come from the Eastern Time Zone, and only four have come from the Pacific.
As I mentioned earlier, Whaley has shown an affinity for a few schools. In addition to Clemson, he’s made multiple picks from Florida State (five), Alabama, Arkansas, Louisville, Ohio State, and USC (two each). In addition to the five Seminoles, he’s also taken players from Florida Atlantic (Johnson) and Miami (Seantrel Henderson), although in 2016 the Bills skipped over the state of Florida for the first time in his tenure.
Given the events of the last few months, it’s likely that McDermott is going to have some influence in where the Bills go in the draft. McDermott broke into the NFL as a scout with the Philadelphia Eagles, and in his 12 years with the team under Andy Reid the Eagles largely stuck to the same game plan. None of their ten first rounders came from outside of the Power 5 conferences in that time frame, although they did take a few in round two. They were also open to dipping into the FCS pool, something Whaley has never done but the Eagles did three times in the third round while McDermott was there (including using a third rounder on Villanova RB Brian Westbrook in 2002).
While McDermott has been heavily influenced by Andy Reid as a coach, it’s worth noting that the Carolina Panthers were willing to head into the lower levels of college football while he was there. In five of the last six drafts, the Panthers selected at least one player from either FCS or Division II football. Among the starters they drafted were Samford CB James Bradberry (second round, 2016), Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu (second round, 2012), and Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman (fifth round, 2012). Given that, it’s possible that the Bills might grab a player from off the grid for the first time in Whaley’s run as GM.
While it’s possible that coincidence was at play, it’s definitely noticeable that Whaley has preferred to stick to the major schools, particularly Clemson and Florida State, during his drafts. McDermott might influence him to look towards the minor schools a bit closer this year, and it’s entirely possible that the team could do so as early as the tenth overall pick with Davis. Whatever does end up happening could be telling when it comes to the future of the Whaley/McDermott working relationship.