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Buffalo Bills top 2017 NFL Draft needs

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The NFL Draft begins tonight. What positions do the Bills really need to address?

The 2017 NFL Draft kicks off tonight, with the Cleveland Browns going on the clock around 8 PM. The Buffalo Bills, assuming they avoid trading up, will be picking roughly 90 to 120 minutes later.

For that pick, and the other six picks they’ll be making over the course of the weekend, they should be looking to address a few key areas on the depth chart.

What are those? Glad you asked.

Defensive Back

Whether it’s a cornerback or a safety, the Bills need to beef up the secondary, preferably at the top of the draft. As it stands right now, the only returning starter from last season is top cornerback Ronald Darby, who moves up a spot on the depth chart given Stephon Gilmore’s departure. Alongside him right now is second-year man Kevon Seymour, who played well for a sixth-round pick last season but didn’t do anything worthy of anointing him the starter just yet.

At safety, the Bills replaced the tandem of Aaron Williams and Corey Graham with free-agent pickups Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. Both players, especially Hyde, are versatile defenders who can play any position in the secondary. Of course, that brings to mind the old cliché, “jack of all trades, master of none”. It’s also worth noting that if they actually need to use that versatility, they’ll need someone to back-fill their safety position.

The top three defensive backs in the draft - LSU safety Jamal Adams and Ohio State teammates Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore - are all potential targets for the Bills at 10, if they make it that far. Both positions are very deep, so even if they miss out on that trio, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they manage to land a Week 1 starter on the second day of the draft.

Wide Receiver

Sammy Watkins is a tremendous talent who could be one of the better receivers in the league. The problem is that it’s hard to tell, given that he has so much trouble staying on the field. He’s missed 11 games over the last two seasons, including an eight-week stint on injured reserve last year with a lingering foot injury that was addressed with surgery this offseason.

On top of that, the Bills have seen their top two wideouts from last season leave for California in free agency, as Robert Woods went home to sign with the Los Angeles Rams while Marquise Goodwin signed a deal with the San Francisco 49ers. To replace them, the Bills brought in Andre Holmes from the Oakland Raiders and Corey “Philly” Brown from the Carolina Panthers. Both players are solid depth pieces, but neither screams “number two receiver”.

Aside from the trio of defensive backs, two big targets for the Bills could be at the position in Clemson’s Mike Williams and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. Williams does more to come down with the ball, while Davis is better once the ball is in his hands, but both are incredibly talented and could turn out to be number one receivers in the NFL. Of course, this is another deep position where a starter could be found on Friday, as well.

Tight End

I feel like I’m a bigger Charles Clay fan than most people are. When you consider him outside of the context of his contract, a pact that was signed to prevent the Miami Dolphins from being able to match it, he’s done exactly what he was brought in to Buffalo to do. He’s one of the top blocking tight ends in the NFL, and he even led the team with 57 receptions last season after a monster run in December. He’s never going to be Rob Gronkowski, but he doesn’t need to be.

That said, there’s always room for more, especially in Rick Dennison’s offense. Nick O’Leary (the only skill position player to appear in all 16 games for the Bills last year) is a fine player with a talented grandfather, but for a guy who’s been cut before (and nearly was again) there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The top tight end in the draft by a mile, Alabama’s O.J. Howard, is a guy who has been linked to the Bills throughout much of the pre-draft process. He excels at both blocking and receiving, and is considered an eventual top-3 tight end in the NFL. There are a few candidates for the later rounds as well, but it’s a position the Bills might skip over if they feel O’Leary is developing into the player they’re looking for.

Right Tackle

The Bills’ offensive line was outstanding last season, but the right tackle spot was a glaring weakness. The presumptive starter going into the season, Seantrel Henderson, has been dealing with Crohn’s Disease and the consequences of using marijuana as pain management. The primary starter for most of last year, Jordan Mills, was one of the worst tackles in the NFL. He was re-signed this offseason, but by no means should he be inked in as a starter going forward.

The top names in the draft at the tackle position are Utah’s Garrett Bolles and Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk. Neither player is considered a lock to go in the top ten, and it wouldn’t be a huge shock if neither went in the first round. If the Bills decide (and are able) to trade back to the latter half of the first round, one of those players could be in play. If they last until the Bills’ second round pick (44th overall), they’re also a possibility there.

Linebacker

A lot of people consider this a much larger need for the Bills. Some consider it their biggest need. I really don’t.

I agree that the current stable of linebackers isn’t ideal for a 4-3 scheme. They lack the range and coverage ability that are necessary to keep up with tight ends and running backs hitting the outside, especially given the questions in the secondary. I see why it’s a high priority for some. That said, there is plenty of talent on the roster right now, and I value that over scheme fit. I feel much better about Lorenzo Alexander lining up as a weak-side linebacker or Reggie Ragland in the middle than I do about Seymour as the number two cornerback or Holmes as the number two receiver behind an oft-injured Watkins.

If Sean McDermott disagrees, though, there’s plenty of talent in the draft at this position as well. The top two linebackers in the draft are Alabama’s Reuben Foster and Temple’s Haason Reddick. Both are potential targets for the Bills at ten. Considering the last time the team failed to draft a linebacker was 2005, it’s safe to assume that they’ll be looking at potential targets in each round.