Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane has done it again. He heads into the month of April with no large, gaping holes among his starters following 2021 NFL Free Agency. With the bulk of free agency done, it’s time to take a look at the 2021 NFL Draft needs for the Bills.
Taking a step back, Buffalo had problems at offensive guard, right tackle, tight end, wide receiver, kick returner, and backup quarterback on offense. On defense, there were holes at rotational defensive end, 1-tech defensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback. All of those needs were addressed with returning players or free agents. That means the Bills can use the draft to upgrade and mitigate potential losses in 2022.
Here is my list of 2021 needs in order of importance. I’ve attached a link to our earlier series on NFL Draft prospects at each position. You should make your own list in the comments section.
The Bills lost Trent Murphy and Quinton Jefferson this offseason at what was already a lackluster level on the edge. With 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa potentially ready to take the next step, you’d think this might be settled, but starters Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison are 33 and 34 and both have one year left on their deals. Buffalo needs a player who can come in and take some reps in 2021 and take over in 2022. We saw the power of a good pass rush in the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl.
The Bills have been talking about Dane Jackson all offseason as a legitimate contender to Levi Wallace. I think the team would be okay with that duo fighting it out, but it’s a smokescreen. They want to add a CB even though that’s not really their M.O. Perhaps it’s not a first-round guy and it’s a Day 2 pick, but the Bills will address this position with a player early in the draft. With Tre’Davious White on a huge contract, a low-cost starter for four years is really appealing.
The Bills were able to bring back Jon Feliciano and Ike Boettger, Cody Ford is returning, and Mitch Morse took a pay cut to stay but none of those guys are locked in for the long term. Morse looks like he’s on a pathway to a 2022 release, so bringing in a depth option who can play guard and transition to center in his second season would be an ideal succession plan, even if that player doesn’t see the field in 2021. Of course they could beat out Feliciano or Ford for a spot in the starting lineup and that wouldn’t bother me.
Star Lotulelei skipped the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns and likely only has one year left in Buffalo given his contract. The Bills need to hedge against a step back from Lotulelei and the future without him. Harrison Phillips doesn’t look like he’s going to be that guy.
A sneaky need for the team, Cole Beasley is up there in age and Emmanuel Sanders is really up there in age and on a one-year deal. We don’t know what they think of Isaiah Hodgins, their sixth rounder from last year who spent the season on injured reserve.
Unless the Bills take a big swing and go up for Kyle Pitts, it just doesn’t seem likely they can get an immediate impact at the tight end position, which knocks it down my list of priorities. I fully expect them to grab someone during the draft, but I’m not sure how high of a priority I’m going to assign the long-developing position. I’d be more likely to add another free agent at this point.
After 2021, Vernon Butler is a free agent and the Bills will need to decide on Ed Oliver’s fifth-year option. I don’t get the sense that it’s a lock they pick up that option. Picking a guy to develop for depth now and to take over later could be a very intriguing option, especially because it’s a position they rotate.
I’m on Team “No RB at 30” and I don’t want them to spend three premium picks in three years on a running back, but adding a late-round guy as the third running back wouldn’t bother me at all. Shiftiness and speed would be a welcome addition to the backfield.
The Bills have been adding bodies to this position group recently, so adding one in the later portions of the draft in a deep class could be a worthwhile investment. Even doing it earlier might make sense if they want to move on from Daryl Williams soon. Williams only has one year guaranteed on his contract and has been known to be a bit up and down.
Taron Johnson has been a little hit-and-miss and only has one year remaining on his deal. A slot cornerback could be a solid add.
A groom-to-replace option at safety could be a late-round option as well as a Big Nickel safety. I don’t think it’s a prioritized position.