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Wide receiver vs defensive line: What should the Bills do with their first-round pick?

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Possibly the two biggest needs on the team right now, what direction should the Bills go?

Just two years prior, the Buffalo Bills might have had one of the worst receiving rooms in the league, with their top-end receivers being Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, and Andre Holmes. Last offseason, major upgrades were needed and made by general manager Brandon Beane, bringing in John Brown and Cole Beasley—even Duke Williams made some plays for this team last year. However, with all of these additions it’s still obvious that something is missing among the positional group.

Flip it over to the defensive side of the ball and the Bills, who already have one of the best defenses in the league, may still be in the market for assistance along the defensive line. Shaq Lawson, if not re-signed by Buffalo, will leave a hole at defensive end opposite of Jerry Hughes, who, while at 31 can still be a major contributor for the defense, isn’t getting any younger. Jordan Phillips, who had 9.5 sacks in 2019, may also walk in free agency.

So what direction should the Bills go in the first round of the NFL Draft? Wide receiver or defensive line? Here’s the case for both...


Wide receiver

As stated earlier, the Bills improved dramatically at the receiver position last year. John Brown and Cole Beasley were both fantastic for Buffalo last year. You can even make a case that John Brown could’ve made the Pro Bowl as he had similar numbers to Jarvis Landry, who did make the all-star game. But it always felt that something was missing—like there wasn’t a true alpha at the receiving position.

Now that’s not to say the receivers they have just aren’t good enough. I actually love both Brown and Beasley on this team next year. However, neither one has ever been the main go-to guy on a team and that’s what they were last year. Adding a big-time, true number-one receiver, whether it be in free agency, a trade, or the draft, will allow Josh Allen to depend on a game-changing play when needed. You see it all over the league with guys like Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones, Deandre Hopkins, and Michael Thomas. When asked, any of these players can make a play that can change the outcome of any game. Finding that type of receiver for the Bills is critical this offseason.

Defensive line

Buffalo was clearly run through on defense at times in 2019. They were third in the entire league in terms of total defense, allowing just a shade under 300 yards a game. While a fantastic unit, they were not perfect. The strength of this unit was within their secondary, led by All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White. While the front seven improved from 2018, they would have games where the rushing defense just wasn’t able to stop anyone from getting big gains. Even with those games where teams were able to run on the Bills defense, they still did finish in the top ten in terms of run defense. The sack numbers did improve as well, jumping from 36 in 2018, to 44 in 2019.

Just by the looks of it, you can assume the numbers might remain the same for next year, but then you realize that Lorenzo Alexander has now retired, and Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson may both leave in free agency. Those are three huge pieces in the front-seven who could be gone next year (and are, in Alexander’s case). Given the track record of head coach Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, they place a high value on defense, and it’s very possible again that most of the top-end wide receivers may be gone by the time Buffalo is on the clock. So if a player like A.J. Epenesa is there at 22, don’t be surprised if he’s holding a Bills jersey come draft night.

So which direction should they take?

If it were up to me, the Bills would select a wide receiver in the first round. I believe the team still has enough talent within that front-seven to get pressure on the quarterback and slow an opposing team’s run game down. We’ll see if Harrison Phillips—who is coming off of a torn ACL—can be productive for this defense, as it looked like his best football was in front of him before the injury. I am also very high on Ed Oliver, especially with him having another year of experience to improve and become a disruptive force even if there is no Jordan Phillips to take some of the pressure off of him on the inside of the line.

I believe the Bills are desperate for some help at the wide receiver position, and it couldn’t be a better year to need a receiver in the draft. With all the big-time talent at the position early like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault Jr., and many others, Buffalo would be wise to invest early in a big playmaking wide receiver. Now all of this can change with free agency and any possible trades they may make from now until the draft, but I still believe this year’s wide receiver draft class may be too good to pass up.