Tre’Davious White wasn’t a household name when the Buffalo Bills tabbed him with the 27th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft out of LSU. But what White lacked in name recognition, he more than made up for with an outstanding effort during his first season in Western New York. And given the Bills’ relative recent ineptitude at finding instant contributors in the first round of the draft — which could easily help explain Buffalo’s 17-year absence from the NFL playoffs until the 2017 squad qualified — White put himself near the top of the list for most productive first-round selections in franchise history.
White led all NFL defensive rookies with 1,052 snaps in 2017, and his four interceptions were tied with New Orleans’ Marcus Williams for second-most behind Saints teammate Marshon Lattimore’s five interceptions. White ranked third among rookies in pass breakups, with 11, and Lattimore ranked fourth, with nine.
White compiled 69 tackles with 18 passes defensed during his rookie campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, White was the 21st-best player in the league and was named their Rookie of the Year after allowing just 50.6 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught in the regular season. His overall grade of 92.0 was the highest by a rookie cornerback since the 2006 season.
When it comes to recent first-round draft picks, White’s selection bucked the trend of reaches and unfulfilled potential of past Bills’ regimes.
Judge for yourself, but here is the list of the Bills first-round draft picks since 1997, covering the last 20 drafts. In this writer’s humble opinion, White joins Nate Clements, Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, Eric Wood, Marcell Dareus, and Sammy Watkins as the Buffalo rookies with the best rookie performances of the last 20 years.
1997: Antowain Smith, RB, Houston (selected 23rd overall): Rushed for 840 yards and eight touchdowns on 194 carries, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Added 28 receptions for 177 yards as Buffalo finished 6-10.
1998: No first-round pick (Bills traded the ninth overall pick traded to Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the infamous QB Rob Johnson).
1999: Antoine Winfield, DB, Ohio State (selected 23rd): appeared in all 16 games, making two starts with 38 tackles and two interceptions. It was the start of a successful four-year stint with the Bills, although Winfield was always better at stopping the run versus making interceptions.
2000: Erik Flowers, DE, Arizona State (selected 26th): the final first-round draft pick of John Butler’s tenure as general manager was a rookie bust. He appeared in all 16 games (zero starts), recording two sacks with 11 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble. It didn’t help that Flowers, a 3-4 pass rusher, was brought into Gregg Williams’ 4-3 defense.
2001: Nate Clements, DB, Ohio State (selected 21st): appeared in all 16 games (11 starts), recording three interceptions, including a 48-yard pick-six of Peyton Manning. A valuable return man, averaged 20.9 yards per kickoff return and returned a punt 66 yards for a TD against the Indianapolis Colts. Clements was one of the best ball-hawk defensive backs Buffalo has ever drafted.
2002: Mike Williams, OT, Texas (selected 4th): one of THE all-time biggest NFL draft busts. Came in with mega hype as one of the best tackles to come out of the college ranks, but fizzled, thanks in large part to missing all of the off-season mini-camps and showing up late for training camp after weighing in at over 400 pounds.
2003: Willis McGahee, RB, Miami FL (selected 23rd): McGahee was one of the bolder and smarter picks of the Tom Donahoe era. Despite suffering a horrific knee injury, and despite running back not being a position of need, McGahee was drafted and rewarded the Bills confidence by rushing for 1,128 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns in his “rookie season” of 2004. After three productive seasons (back-to-back years eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards) McGahee was dealt to Baltimore for three more draft picks.
2004: Lee Evans, WR, Wisconsin (selected 13th): The Bills needed a speedy receiver to complement Eric Moulds, and Evans certainly produced. His rookie season saw him haul in 48 receptions for 843 yards with a nine touchdowns (a career-best). Evans was exactly what Drew Bledsoe and the Bills needed: an immediate contributor, which is rare for rookie receivers. Evans is one of the few draft-day investments the Bills have made at the receiver position in the past two decades that actually panned out as planned.
2004: J.P. Losman, QB, Tulane (selected 22nd): In a quarterback-rich draft where Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger were all off the board before the Bills drafted, Buffalo parted ways with its 2005 first-round pick, along with a second- and fifth-round pick to jump back into the first round and select Losman. Losman appeared in four games and completed 3 of his 5 passes for 32 yards and an interception. Losman would enjoy one solid season in Buffalo, throwing for 3,051 yards with 19 TDs and 14 INTs in 2006, but the steep price the Bills paid for Losman certainly set this team back.
2005: No pick (traded pick No. 20 to the Dallas Cowboys in the Losman deal).
2006: Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State (selected 8th): A total over-reach by the Bills as Whitner never lived up to his lofty draft position. Before burning all bridges in Western New York by insulting Bills fans and players past and present (from Darryl Talley to Sammy Watkins), Whitner appeared in 15 games (14 starts) with one interception, five passes defensed, and 67 total tackles in his rookie season.
2006: John McCargo, DT, N.C. State (selected 26th): the second of Buffalo’s first-round picks was a standout for the Wolfpack, and Buffalo bought into the hype and reached for this defensive tackle. McCargo benefited from playing alongside Mario Williams and Manny Lawson in college (ironically all three would eventually play for the Bills, though not at the same time) . McCargo only appeared in five games his rookie season, making five tackles with one pass defensed. He posted 2.5 sacks in 16 games the following season...but those 2.5 sacks represented all of McCargo’s sacks with the Bills. Definitely a bust.
2007: Marshawn Lynch, RB, California (selected 12th): An instant contributor, Lynch rushed for 1,115 yards and seven TDs as a rookie, showing off the reasons behind his Beast Mode nickname while shrugging off would-be tacklers. But he had off-field issues and was traded after his productivity dipped in 2009 and 2010. The Bills were only able to recoup a 2011 fourth-round draft pick and a 2012 fifth-round draft pick that turned into tackle Chris Hairston and linebacker Tank Carder. Meanwhile, Lynch averaged 1,350 rushing yards, scored 40 TDs, and earned Pro Bowl honors in each of his first three seasons with Seattle.
2008: Leodis McKelvin, DB, Troy (selected 11th): Appeared in all 16 games (six starts) as a cornerback/return man. He scored two touchdowns his rookie season (a 98-yard kickoff return vs. the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football and a 64-yard interception return in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs) and finished with two interceptions, 25 tackles, five passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. A decent cover man, McKelvin never turned into the shutdown corner the Bills’ brass envisioned when they selected him as the first CB of the draft.
2009: Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State (selected 11th): When it comes to Buffalo’s biggest draft day busts of the the last 25 years, the conversation usually boils down to Mike Williams or Aaron Maybin. Maybin, renowned for his pass-rushing skills at Penn State, never had a sack in his two seasons with the Bills. He made nine tackles in 16 games as a rookie, and his only big-time play was a forced fumble on special teams. After being released, Maybin flashed some of that pass-rushing ability when he had six sacks in 13 games for the New York Jets in 2011.
2009: Eric Wood, C, Louisville (selected 28th): One of Buffalo’s best first-round draft picks came towards the end of the round, as Wood was the sixth offensive lineman and second center selected in the opening round. Wood has been the anchor on Buffalo’s offensive line for the last nine seasons, starting at guard as a rookie before taking over center duties in 2011.
2010: C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson (selected 9th): When Spiller was drafted, the selection was seen as a luxury pick since the Bills already had former first-round draft pick Marshawn Lynch and fan-favorite Fred Jackson in the backfield. Spiller, an explosive runner at Clemson, carried 74 times for 283 yards and added 24 receptions for 157 yards in his rookie season, and added 1,189 return yards on 56 kickoff and punt return opportunities in 14 games. Finally put it all together in 2012, when he earned a Pro Bowl nod after rushing for 1,244 yards (averaging 6.0 yards per carry) with six TDs and added 43 receptions for 459 yards and two TDs. He nearly posted another 1,000-yard season in 2013 (933 rushing yards and two TDs while averaging 4.6 yards per carry) before breaking his collarbone in a Week 7 win over Minnesota in 2014. Spiller signed with the New Orleans Saints that offseason and has bounced between the Saints, Seattle Seahwaks, New York Jets, and Kansas City Chiefs.
2011: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama (selected 3rd): After Cam Newton and Von Miller were the first two picks of the draft, the Bills seemed to have found a talented run stuffer in Dareus. He showed promise during his rookie season, compiling 5.5 sacks with 32 total tackles and one fumble recovery in 16 games (15 starts). Dareus’ career in Orchard Park started off in dominant fashion as he logged 28.5 sacks through his first four seasons, including a 10-sack 2014 season that earned him First-Team All-Pro honors from the NFL. But Dareus got into off-field trouble and was suspended for the 2015 season opener, the first four games of the 2016 season, and was sent home before a 2017 preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens for violating team rules. The Bills eventually tired of Dareus’ antics and shipped him off to Jacksonville for a fifth-round draft pick in the 2018 draft.
2012: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina (selected 10th): Gilmore was drafted as the second cornerback in the draft, and he started all 16 games his rookie season. Gilmore had one interception, broke up 16 passes, forced two fumbles, and made 51 tackles his first year in Western New York, showing glimpses of his potential. But for every time Gilmore had a big play, he would just as easily get burned by an opposing wide receiver, and it seemed like he often gave up on plays before wearing out his welcome in Buffalo. After coming down with 14 interceptions (five in 2016) during his Bills career, Gilmore eventually signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the New England Patriots.
2013: EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State (selected 16th): Bills reached big-time for Manuel, who wound up starting 10 games his rookie season. Manuel was decent as a starter, throwing for 1,972 yards with 11 TDs and nine INTs while completing 59 percent of his passes. Thrust into the starting role after Kevin Kolb suffered a preseason concussion that ended his career, Manuel performed admirably in his first few starts, including a two-TD, zero-INT effort in a close season-opening loss to the New England Patriots. Followed that up by throwing for 296 yards and the go-ahead touchdown to Stevie Johnson in a 24-23, come-from-behind win over the Carolina Panthers. But head coach Doug Marrone never fully trusted Manuel to run the offense, and Manuel struggled to run it. After compiling a 4-6 record his rookie season, Manuel would only start seven games at QB over the next three seasons and was not brought back when his rookie contract expired.
2014: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (selected 4th): In one of the biggest draft-day deals in franchise history, Bills paid a steep price to trade up for Watkins, surrendering the ninth overall pick in 2014 along with their first- and fourth-round selections in 2015 to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the fourth overall pick. The talent was always there for Watkins, who caught 65 passes for 982 yards and six TDs his rookie season, then followed up with 60 receptions for 1,047 yards (averaging 17.5 yards per catch) with nine TDs in 2015. But he fought through various ailments during his three-year Bills career and was traded to the Los Angeles Rams along with a 2018 sixth-round pick for cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick.
2015: No pick (dealt to Cleveland Browns to acquire the rights to Watkins).
2016: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson (selected 19th): The jury is still out on Lawson, who was drafted as an outside linebacker despite lingering concerns over an injured shoulder. Lawson underwent shoulder surgery in May of 2016 after aggravating his shoulder injury in a non-contact drill, setting an ominous tone for his Buffalo career. He returned and appeared in 10 games (one start) with two sacks, seven tackles, one pass defensed, and one forced fumble in his rookie season. He showed glimpses of his potential with four sacks in 11 games (10 starts) in 2017 before suffering an ankle injury that landed him on the season-ending injured reserve list in Week 13.
2017: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU (selected 27th after Bills traded the 10th pick to the Kansas City Chiefs, who selected QB Patrick Mahomes). White was an invaluable member of Buffalo’s secondary as a rookie, making impact plays from Day one while giving the Bills a stout, lock-down cornerback who should only get better in pass coverage. He has an outstanding work ethic and is already showing great leadership skills in the locker room.