Tonight the Buffalo Bills will kick off the selection of their 2019 rookie class. With ten draft picks, including the ninth overall pick, the team has ammunition to significantly upgrade the talent on their roster. Brandon Beane stormed through free agency with more than 15 veteran signings, plugging the holes on the roster and giving the team the flexibility to address any position in the draft.
An exercise I like to do every year is to evaluate the top 30 pre-draft visitors to One Bills Drive and find their potential connections to Buffalo’s draft strategy. It’s a fun way to try and think like the GM, and understand why the team might like certain players. It’s an inexact science, but then so is the NFL Draft.
A broad set of positions
In past years, when I’ve seen the Bills conduct their pre-draft visits, there’s usually a major focus on roughly three key positions. Not this year. Among the visitors, we have five edge rushers, three defensive tackles, four wide receivers, three offensive tackles, three tight ends, four cornerbacks... they’re looking at everything. Even positions you’d think are set, like linebacker and safety, still had at least one visitor.
I think that tells us that Brandon Beane isn’t lying when he says the Bills plan to take the best player available—they’ve looked at basically every option for their team.
That makes this exercise extremely difficult this year. There’s no easy trend to pick out, in terms of positions where the Bills have a unique focus.
The connection rules
When tracking pre-draft visitor trends, I pay attention to three rules. First is that the first-round pick comes from the pre-draft visitor list. While every regime is a little different, since the year 2010, I know of only one instance where the team drafted a first-rounder who didn’t visit the team: defensive end Shaq Lawson. Tre’Davious White may also fit into this bucket, but we only know 14 of Buffalo’s visitors from last year, and we do know that he was a pre-draft visitor with the Carolina Panthers, whom Buffalo was essentially cribbing off.
Second is that if a player visits, his teammates are on the list. In 2017 the Bills brought in Haason Reddick and Nate Hairston for a visit and drafted their teammate Dawkins. In 2013, when the Bills drafted Kiko Alonso, a team official mentioned that they used their pre-draft visit with Oregon pass rusher Dion Jordan to get some insight into his teammate. In 2016, the Bills brought a slew of Ohio State players in for a group visit, and eventually drafted two of them.
Third is that if a team is targeting specific positions, other players of note at the position may be on the radar—either we don’t know of their visits, or the team was talking with them through other means.
It’s been a challenge keeping up with the new regime, both because of staff changes and the team’s predilection for trading up and down the board. From 2014 to 2016, this exercise was good for picking 3-5 players from each draft class. In 2017, it would’ve been more effective to run this method against the Carolina Panthers visitors than the known Buffalo Bills visitors.
In 2018, only one member of the pre-draft connections was drafted: quarterback Josh Allen. However, three others joined the Bills as undrafted free agents: Levi Wallace, Robert Foster, and Corey Thompson.
Most of the clear round-one players to visit the Bills might not even be available at pick 9: Ed Oliver, Quinnen Williams, Jawaan Taylor, and Josh Allen. A non-visitor, Jonah Williams, is Quinnen’s teammate and should be under consideration. I also think T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are wildcards. We don’t know which teams met with Hockenson (and the Bills could be one), and the team privately worked out Fant (though he didn’t visit the facilities). I imagine the Bills would really like either Oliver or Quinnen Williams to be available for the pick. Otherwise, they’ve done homework on a number of later round one players.
If the team misses out on a top defensive tackle, I think Rennell Wren and Khalen Saunders are two of the best candidates on day two.
A couple candidates at offensive tackle, who did not visit with the team, are Dalton Risner and Kaleb McGary. Though they didn’t visit, I think both are carbon copies of the “Process” type player that the Bills love to have.
If the team wants a wideout, I think it has to come in the first two rounds. A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel are both versatile targets who would give the team an underneath threat. N’Keal Harry and D.K. Metcalf are big play machines. The connected players don’t feature many other wideouts.
Tight end is another story. I mentioned the Iowa tight ends, but the team did plenty of work on day two and three options at the position. I expect them to come away with one.
Buffalo now has three potential starters at running back, but they might target a big-play rookie anyway. Darrell Henderson and Miles Sanders, along with players who didn’t visit like Damien Harris and Trayveon Williams, should be potential choices.
2019 Pre Draft Visitor connections (V - Visit, T - Teammate visit, P - position visit)
|1||Jawaan Taylor||OT||Florida||V, T|
|1||Devin Bush||LB||Michigan||T, P|
|1||Jonah Williams||OT||Alabama||T, P|
|1||Andre Dillard||OT||Washington State||P|
|1-2||N'Keal Harry||WR||Arizona State||V|
|1-2||Montez Sweat||DE||Mississippi State||V, T|
|1-2||DK Metcalf||WR||Ole Miss||V, T|
|1-2||AJ Brown||WR||Ole Miss||V, T|
|1-2||Greg Little||OT||Ole Miss||V, T|
|1-2||Jeffery Simmons||DT||Mississippi State||T, P|
|1-2||Jonathan Abram||S||Mississippi State||T, P|
|1-2||Chris Lindstrom||OG||Boston College||T, P|
|1-2||Chase Winovich||DE||Michigan||T, P|
|1-2||Josh Jacobs||RB||Alabama||T, P|
|1-2||Irv Smith||TE||Alabama||T, P|
|1-2||Dalton Risner||OT||Kansas State||P|
|1-3||Amani Oruwariye||CB||Penn State||V, T|
|2-3||Deebo Samuel||WR||South Carolina||V|
|2-3||Erik McCoy||OC||Texas A&M||T, P|
|2-3||Yodny Cajuste||OT||West Virginia||T, P|
|2-4||Maxx Crosby||DE||Eastern Michigan||V|
|2-4||Jace Sternberger||TE||Texas A&M||V|
|2-4||Khalen Saunders||DT||Western Illinois||V|
|2-4||Jaylon Ferguson||DE||Louisiana Tech||V|
|2-4||Tytus Howard||OT||Alabama State||V|
|2-4||Elgton Jenkins||OC||Mississippi State||V, T|
|2-4||Miles Sanders||RB||Penn State||V, T|
|2-4||Sean Bunting||CB||Central Michigan||V|
|2-4||Dawson Knox||TE||Ole Miss||V, T|
|2-4||Isaiah Johnson||CB||Houston||T, P|
|2-4||Daylon Mack||DT||Texas A&M||T, P|
|2-4||Connor McGovern||OG||Penn State||T, P|
|2-4||Jachai Polite||DE||Florida||T, P|
|2-4||Rennell Wren||DT||Arizona State||T, P|
|2-4||Lonnie Johnson||CB||Kentucky||T, P|
|2-4||Zach Allen||DE||Boston College||T, P|
|2-4||Will Harris||S||Boston College||T, P|
|2-4||David Long||CB||Michigan||T, P|
|2-4||Deionte Thompson||S||Alabama||T, P|
|2-4||Christian Miller||DE||Alabama||T, P|
|2-4||Mack Wilson||LB||Alabama||T, P|
|2-4||Damien Harris||RB||Alabama||T, P|
|3-5||Vosean Joseph||LB||Florida||V, T|
|3-5||Trevon Wesco||TE||West Virginia||V|
|3-5||Emeke Egbule||LB||Houston||T, P|
|3-5||Kingsley Keke||DE||Texas A&M||T, P|
|3-5||Shaq Calhoun||OG||Mississippi State||T, P|
|3-5||Mike Edwards||S||Kentucky||T, P|
|3-5||Wyatt Ray||DE||Boston College||T, P|
|3-5||David Long||LB||West Virginia||T, P|
|3-5||Gary Jennings||WR||West Virginia||T, P|
|3-5||David Sills||WR||West Virginia||T, P|
|3-6||Trayveon Williams||RB||Texas A&M||T, P|
|3-6||Damarkus Lodge||WR||Ole Miss||T, P|
|3-6||CJ Conrad||TE||Kentucky||T, P|
|3-6||Lukas Denis||S||Boston College||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Jordan Scarlett||RB||Florida||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Cece Jefferson||DE||Florida||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Javon Patterson||OC||Ole Miss||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Derrick Baity||CB||Kentucky||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Saivion Smith||CB||Alabama||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Isaiah Buggs||DT||Alabama||T, P|
|4-UDFA||Dennis Daley||OT||South Carolina||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Hamp Cheevers||CB||Boston College||V|
|5-UDFA||Shareef Miller||DE||Penn State||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Martez Ivey||OG||Florida||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Fred Johnson||OG||Florida||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Olamide Zaccheaus||WR||Virginia||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Bunchy Stallings||OG||Kentucky||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Tommy Sweeney||TE||Boston College||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Karan Higdon||RB||Michigan||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Ross Pierschbacher||OC||Alabama||T, P|
|5-UDFA||Donnell Greene||OT||Minnesota||T, P|