The Buffalo Bills are slated to pick No. 30 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. This will be the latest pick in the first round for the Bills in franchise history—if the team stays in its original spot, that is. In the three years where general manager Brandon Beane has run the Bills’ draft, Buffalo has made three picks in the first round, and only one of those choices came at the slot where Buffalo began. That was the 2019 NFL Draft, where the Bills selected Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver ninth overall.
At the 30th spot in the first round, the Bills will be able to find a talented player, but recent history suggests that there’s a wide range of outcomes with this choice. True, any draft pick is a lottery ticket, but the names chosen at No. 30 overall since 2011 are a true mixed bag.
The list of players includes an All-Pro, a couple of Pro Bowl players, and one player who was out of the NFL in less than four years. Nine out of the ten players, coincidentally, have been defensive players, and five of those players are defensive backs.
Here is the whole list of recent picks at No. 30 in chronological order.
DL Muhammad Wilkerson
The big defensive lineman went to the New York Jets in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he was an immediate impact player on head coach Rex Ryan’s defense. He notched 49 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and three sacks as a rookie, and he has made one Pro Bowl in his career (that was in 2015 when he had a career-high 12 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, and 64 tackles). Wilkerson remained with the Jets through the 2017 season, moving on to play with the Green Bay Packers in 2018. He suffered an ankle injury that season, and he has not played since. He has been arrested twice—once in 2019 and once in 2020—since playing that last season, with both arrests for DWI.
WR A.J. Jenkins
Easily the player whose career was least impactful of the men on this list, Jenkins went to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2012 NFL Draft. He was active in three games as a rookie, and he was targeted once. The 49ers traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason—yes, the offseason after they spent a first-round pick on him—for wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. In two years with the Chiefs, he was targeted 32 times, making 17 catches for 223 yards. He spent the 2015 offseason with the Dallas Cowboys and has been out of football since.
LB Alec Ogletree
The St. Louis Rams made Ogletree their first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and he made an immediate impact as a rookie, notching 119 tackles to lead the team in that first year. He also had ten pass breakups and nine tackles for loss. Ogletree developed into a solid contributor on defense, and he remained with the Rams when they moved back to Los Angeles. He’s played in New Jersey for the last three seasons, spending 2018 and 2019 with the New York Giants before playing for the Jets in 2020. He is currently a free agent.
S Jimmie Ward
The 49ers are the only team to draft twice at No. 30, and they made Ward their first-round choice in the 2014 NFL Draft. The defensive back from Northern Illinois has had a good-not great career, playing mostly at safety but adding some appearances at corner as well. Ward has 324 tackles, 33 pass breakups, and two interceptions over the course of his NFL career. He is also the player who has remained with his original team the longest, as Ward is still on San Francisco’s roster.
DB Damarious Randall
The Green Bay Packers drafted Randall in 2015, and he has contributed at both corner and safety for three teams now during his professional career. Randall played in Green Bay for his first three seasons, amassing ten interceptions, 32 pass breakups, and 144 tackles. The Packers traded him to the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 offseason, and he had 85 tackles and two interceptions during his first year in Cleveland. In 2020, Randall signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in the offseason, but was released prior to the start of the year. He spent the 2020 season as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, initially signing on their practice squad. He appeared in ten games and made three tackles on the season. The Seahawks re-signed him this offseason.
DT Vernon Butler
Familiar name alert! Butler went to the Carolina Panthers in 2016, where defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and assistant general manager Brandon Beane were able to foresee his eventual move to Orchard Park with nearly every other Panthers cast-off. I kid, of course, as Butler was selected to rotate with Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei. Butler did not do much statistically early on, totaling just 45 tackles and two sacks over his first three seasons, but he had a breakout of sorts in his fourth year after the Panthers declined his fifth-year option. Butler had 32 tackles and six sacks in 2019, then signed a free-agent deal with the Bills in 2020. He had 18 tackles, five tackles for loss, and a forced fumble last year.
EDGE T.J. Watt
The crown jewel of the No. 30 picks is Watt, a three-time Pro Bowl choice, two-time All-Pro choice, and the 2020 NFL sack leader. The younger brother of J.J. Watt, T.J. has been a monster in his own right, improving every season he’s been in the league in amassing 49.5 sacks, 59 tackles for loss, 111 quarterback hits, and 17 forced fumbles since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the Bills in search of an edge rusher this year, they could only hope that lightning strikes twice in the same spot in the draft merely five years apart.
CB Mike Hughes
A talented corner from UCF, Hughes has dealt with injury issues since the Minnesota Vikings drafted him in 2018. During his rookie season, Hughes tore his ACL, limiting him to just six games. Hughes played 14 games in his second year, but was limited to just four games in 2020 before he was placed on injured reserve again thanks to a neck injury, the second injury to his neck he suffered in the course of a year. Hughes has 80 career tackles, two interceptions, and 13 pass breakups.
CB Deandre Baker
The New York Giants traded up to draft Baker in 2019, and that pick did not work out as planned. Baker was known as “a handful” during his time with the Giants, and he was arrested in the 2020 offseason and charged with four counts of robbery with a firearm. The Giants released Baker, who latched on with the Kansas City Chiefs for the rest of the 2020 season. All charges against Baker were dropped in November 2020. Bakers has 66 tackles, one sack, and nine pass breakups on his NFL career. He re-signed with Kansas City in February.
CB Noah Igbinoghene
The Miami Dolphins added the diminutive corner last year in the NFL Draft, and he appeared on a little over a quarter of the team’s defensive snaps as a rookie. He made 13 tackles, broke up two passes, and recovered two fumbles. With just a year of experience to his name, the jury is still out on him as a player, but he is the third of three straight corners to be selected at the No. 30 slot.
Will the Bills pick a star like T.J. Watt at No. 30 overall? Will they choose a complete bust like A.J. Jenkins? Or will they render this entire thought exercise useless by trading up or down from their current spot? The NFL Draft kicks off tonight with the Jacksonville Jaguars on the clock as of 8 p.m. EDT.