Successful NFL teams rarely rely on their first-year players to make positive impacts on the field. Due to a recent spate of trades, cuts, and retirements, however, the Buffalo Bills will likely be dependent on a handful of rookies to step up and immediately play a significant amount of snaps. Other rookies may simply be tasked with competing for playing time against nominal starters. Still, others should count themselves lucky if they make the final roster. What follows is an attempt to rank Buffalo’s eight draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, along with a few select undrafted free agents, by their expected impact on the field their rookie year.
1. Tremaine Edmunds, MLB
Edmunds has assumed the starting middle linebacker role in Sean McDermott’s defense, taking it early on in OTAs and maintaining the role through mandatory minicamp in June. By all accounts, he has acquitted himself very well. The athleticism that led him to be drafted 16th overall has been self-evident. Barring a disastrous training camp, Edmunds will enter the season as the sole starter among the rookies and, hopefully, will find himself a candidate for Rookie of the Year.
2. Josh Allen, QB
3. Harrison Phillips, DT
4. Taron Johnson, CB
I’m of the opinion that Allen will see the field sooner rather than later, perhaps as early as Week 7 or 8. That means the rookie quarterback may take 50% of snaps or more. Although unlikely to claim a starting position, Phillips will likely claim a backup defensive tackle role. The backups last year saw between 35% and 45% of snaps, and I would expect Phillips to see a similar amount. Gauging Taron Johnson’s impact likely depends on whether you think he can claim the nickel cornerback spot over veteran Phillip Gaines. Early accounts have Gaines struggling, so I think it’s safe to assume Johnson comes out on top.
5. Siran Neal, SS
6. Wyatt Teller, OG
It’s looking like Teller will have to unseat one of Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Groy, or John Miller to see the field, and that may be too much to ask for the rookie to do this season. His time could be next year. The Bills have two Pro Bowl-caliber safeties who saw close to 100% of the defensive snaps last season. Barring injury, Neal’s value will be as a special-teamer unless he carves out a role as the “big nickel” defender this offseason, something he has been struggling with.
Back of the roster/Practice Squad
7. Ray-Ray McCloud, WR
8. Austin Proehl, WR
9. Robert Foster, WR
10. Levi Wallace, CB
11. Corey Thompson, LB
12. Mike Love, DE
Despite most of the wide receiver roles being up for grabs, McCloud, Proehl, and Foster have a lot of competition for a limited number of slots. They could all make the team, or none could prove themselves deserving. Wallace was a walk-on at Alabama, so you don’t want to bet against him. He could end up being another Nickell Robey-Coleman. This defense wants linebackers with speed and coverage ability, and Thompson has both. He could make the team just based on those traits. On tape, Mike Love has the look of a developmental prospect that is worth a spot on the practice squad.