With the 2018 NFL Draft approaching, there’s no shortage of thoughts on what each team can/will/should do. For the Buffalo Bills, much of the speculation involves trading up for a quarterback with a predicted treasure trove of draft picks. And yes, the anticipated cost cannot be overlooked. When combined with the high volume of needs on the team, it has spurred a good many pundits and fans to say the Bills should hang back and use the draft to fill needs. Let this straw man argue that they shouldn’t sit back unless they’re forced to.
Let’s start our conversation on team needs. For this exercise, it might be helpful to take a look at Rumbling’s projected depth chart. While there have been minor tweaks (welcome back Kaelin Clay), this still serves as an excellent starting point.
Let’s examine where we need players I’d consider starter quality:
- Defensive Backs: 1-2 players. The Bills really like nickel and need a starter in the slot. One more depth player of starter quality should be a priority.
- Linebacker: 2 players. I’m higher on Lorenzo Alexander at SAM than many, but they still need to replace Preston Brown. Heavy use of rotation means we need one more guy beyond that.
- Defensive Line: Our front four is established. The ends have decent depth and Adolphus Washington can help rest both Kyle Williams and Star Lotulelei. No starter quality player needed (though I’d like one).
- Offensive Line: 1-2 players. Arguably we have a few spots to upgrade. However, the Bills’ moves so far suggests their plan here is already in motion. I anticipate fewer additions here than what most of us think is prudent. The Richie Incognito thing threw a bit of a wrench in here. Note: I think the 1-2 undersells it, so this group is heavily influenced by what I believe the Bills are thinking.
- Running back: In a perfect world we upgrade the depth. However, besides LeSean McCoy most players will need a decent scheme to flourish. Brian Daboll panning out is more important than adding a starter quality player here.
- Tight End: Charles Clay and Nick O’Leary are a good pair, and Logan Thomas isn’t bad depth. It’d be great to add a star, but bigger fish should be fried first.
- Quarterback: 0-1 player. It’s not the five interceptions that scared me, it’s what Nathan Peterman showed in the process that did. AJ McCarron should be a good quarterback, but so was Tyrod Taylor. Therefore, we need a guy here or we’re stuck in the same limbo we’ve been in where the rest of the team needs to be phenomenal. The zero here reflects that one of the draft strategies discussed below would indicate the Bills believe this group is workable “as is.”
- Wide receiver: 2 players. The worst group on the team. Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones are pretty much it. I think Jones has high upside. It’s dangerous to bank on it though, particularly with as large a jump as he’ll likely need to make.
All told, we’re looking at 6-9 players needed that are starter quality.
Using the Draft
We’ll need some guess work on how far to go up and what to trade. Let’s use the unofficial trade that Buffalo Rumblings did with Big Blue View. As a quick refresher, for this trade the Bills gave up both first round picks, one of their two picks in each of the second and third rounds, and a second round pick next year to move up to the number two spot. This leaves the Bills with one pick in each of the first six rounds, which would be a pretty ordinary draft.
If we examine a few recent drafts (since 2014), the Bills have found about 3 players that were immediately starter quality each year. All of these drafts had either six or seven selections for the Bills. Rounding up, this leaves us with about half of each draft class being starter quality.
Don’t Trade Up
Assuming the Bills current picks stay “as is” that would project to four and a half starters. Let’s round up to five to continue making our estimate conservative.
This scenario still leaves 1-4 holes as noted above. Even worse, judging off the usual odds, it decreases the chance that one of those immediate starters is at quarterback. By waiting and settling for whoever falls, the Bills are hooking the team to the McCarron wagon.
The easy tendency is to see three draft picks heading to the Giants and envision three starters fly out the window. Again, using history as our guide that’s not realistic. If we use the same model as above, the Bills would be left with six picks which would have an expectation of three starters this year.
Flipping the script from above, it also should mean a higher chance that a new quarterback is one of those three starters.
Comparing the Options
For this author at least, there really is no comparison. The team needs cannot be expected to be met using the draft alone. Comparing the two options above leaves us with an expected difference of two starter quality players. While that’s not insignificant, it’s also not a death knell for a team.
When seen this way, the anticipated cost to trade is about two players. That cost buys you a guarantee at a top tier quarterback prospect. A cost the Bills shouldn’t think twice about.