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2022 NFL Draft: Building a Buffalo Bills Big Board

Lining up the possible first-round picks for the Bills

The Buffalo Bills are set to make the 25th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. A year removed from the oddity of a shortened/cancelled college football season, the rookie prospect pool is a little easier to analyze than last year’s class. On the other hand, lining up what player could be picked by the Bills is still way more challenging than when Ed Oliver was the tenth overall selection in 2019.

To keep track of the options the Bills could consider, we’ll sort and rank the rookies available. Since this year’s weak rookie QB class doesn’t have any first-round locks (and that’s the only position we could definitively rule out), we need to build a full list of 25 players for the Bills. Overall, the class isn’t very strong, either. I found myself shoving a lot of players into the “maybe consider trading down” bucket, and I had only 14 players I felt confident in having Buffalo target with the 25th overall pick.

Without further ado, the ranking:

Top talents

Should be locks for the top ten picks. If the Bills want to draft one of them, they’re taking out a second mortgage on the house.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati

Likely the best cornerback prospect in this draft, Gardner is also the absolute perfect marriage of need, talent, and template traits that the Bills look for. A 6’3” 190-lb CB with vines for arms who never gave up a touchdown in college, he could potentially become an All-Pro in his own right—and he’d perfectly balance against Tre’Davious White’s contract years.

Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame

Safety isn’t an immediate need for this team. But the 6’4” 220-lb Hamilton could start his career as a nickel cornerback or nickel linebacker, then take over for either Jordan Poyer or Micah Hyde once he had his sea legs. Some might be turned off by his 4.59 40-yard dash, but don’t let that deter you from seeing his elite qualities—after all, Hyde and Poyer ran a 4.56 and 4.54, respectively.

Aiden Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

Obviously Hutchinson is in play for the first overall pick in the draft. But the point of this exercise is, if he somehow fell, he should be near the top of the list. Hutchinson, in his last two non-pandemic seasons, stacked up 131 tackles, 26.5 TFLs, and 17.5 sacks. Even with Von Miller in the picture, the Bills’ pass rush would benefit from adding an elite edge rusher to the mix.

Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State

In reality he’ll almost certainly be drafted to play LT, but for the Bills he could represent an all-star left guard with the ability to flex out to tackle if Dion Dawkins is injured. An outstanding athlete and run blocking dynamo, he’d make Buffalo’s line that much more dangerous.

Trade-up candidates

The Bills have enough ammunition for trading up into the mid-to-late teens of the draft. If one of these players falls, general manager Brandon Beane should work the phones.

Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State

Earlier in the offseason, I had Olave and Williams pegged as more likely to fall to the 25th pick. At this point, I think they’re more likely to be gone by pick 15. For these two players, I think the trade could be worth it. In Olave’s case, he’s the best route runner in the class, and a nimble athlete to boot. He’d be the ideal understudy for Stefon Diggs.

Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama

Williams, who’s right on track with his ACL recovery, seems like he could be at least 75% of the prospect that Jaylen Waddle was before him. Waddle set a rookie record with 104 receptions last year. Speed is dangerous, but being able to integrate that speed with a complete receiving skillset is what makes for a high-quality starter, and Williams shows that ability. A field-stretcher with upside on shorter routes would seriously upgrade the Bills’ offense.

Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

I’m sure Tre’Davious White wouldn’t mind seeing the team reach back to LSU for another cornerback. Stingley has the athletic ability and raw talent to be a Pro Bowl cornerback. Even after a couple seasons that didn’t match the shine of his true freshman season, his high upside can’t be ignored. If he isn’t picked by the tenth overall selection, the Bills should pick up the phone.

Jordan Davis, NT, Georgia

I don’t care that the Bills signed three defensive tackles in free agency. If Davis were somehow available for Buffalo’s taking, I’m buying a card, a bouquet, and a cake for Tim Settle or Jordan Phillips and drafting the Georgia prospect. A preposterous athlete and arguably the most disruptive player on Georgia’s championship defense, he would fit perfectly into Buffalo’s defensive line rotation. Buy, buy, buy.

Great talents who aren’t a perfect fit for the Bills

It would be hard to justify trading up for these players, but they should still rank highly on Buffalo’s draft board.

Evan Neal, OT, Alabama

Neal could potentially be the first offensive lineman off the board. I ultimately took him out of the running for Buffalo, because I’m not sure that the 6’7” 335-lb OT would work as a guard. I also don’t think the Bills intend to move Dion Dawkins or Spencer Brown to the inside. If you draft Neal, the most natural combination is to either move Dawkins to LG or sit Neal for a year so you can trade Dawkins, and neither one seems super appealing.

Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State

Another talented lineman, and a poor fit for Buffalo’s needs. Cross is a natural LT. He’s very good at that, but that isn’t what the Bills are looking for.

Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M

On the one hand, Green’s versatility, size, and blocking skills definitely seem like something the Bills would covet. On the other hand, I’m not sure he can play tackle in the NFL, and I’m not sure the Bills want a guard-only player in the first round. Green represents a template, like Cody Ford and Daryl Williams, that they seem to be moving away from.

Drake London, WR, USC

I love London as a prospect, and I think he fits the rare profile of a “big bodied” receiver who would actually succeed as a starter in today’s NFL—a place that puts much more value on separation and speed. That said, I don’t think the Bills value his traits when thinking about the kind of offense they want to run. Gabriel Davis and their tight ends seem to have all the size they’d covet.

No-brainer picks at 25th overall

As the board thins out, you can’t go wrong with any of these choices.

Zion Johnson, OG, Boston College

Look, I know that an interior offensive lineman isn’t a sexy pick. But do you think the Pittsburgh Steelers mind that they spent the 24th overall pick on David DeCastro a decade ago? Johnson’s one of the best blockers in the class, an elite athlete, and he has the potential versatility to play center in the future. Even if he doesn’t have a clear path to starting as a rookie, he’d be extremely valuable for the long-term plan.

Travon Walker, DE, Georgia

Okay, I imagine you want to know why Walker (and Thibodeaux below him) are in this category even though they’re potential top-five picks. It’s a decision based on philosophy. The Bills already have multiple talented edge rushers. If they trade up for one, it needs to be a no-brainer top-tier finisher. In this (overall not too strong) draft class, the only player who fits that criteria for me is Hutchinson. Walker, a 99.9th percentile athlete, didn’t have enough solo impact in his college career to sell me on his high potential. If the Bills needed an edge rusher, he’d be in the trade-up group, but since they have options, he drops to this one.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon

A similar story for Thibodeaux. Arguably a top-five talent in this year’s draft, but I’m not convinced he’s so much better of a prospect than a top-15 pick in another year. If the team needed edge rushers, he’d be a trade-up target, but they don’t, so he’s not.

Jermaine Johnson, DE, Florida State

One more edge rusher, and you’ll note that the position is one of the strengths of this draft class. Several more fringe first rounders don’t even make the cut for me, because of Buffalo’s ranked needs. Johnson, who blossomed at Florida State with 12 sacks and 18 TFLs, is an excellent athlete with a great frame for an edge rusher. He’s the last player I consider a “first-round” grade if the Bills were willing to draft a defensive end.

Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson

You know I like Booth because we just drafted him in the SB Nation Mock Draft. With good size, plenty of speed and fluidity, and appealing instincts for the position, he seems like he has the upside of a top cornerback on a team (or at least a very good number two). The size is what ultimately puts him over Trent McDuffie for me.

Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State

Wilson is most likely one of the five best receivers in this year’s class. Well coached and a great athlete, I like him for the Bills because of the way he would add the danger of yards after catch to Buffalo’s offense. He doesn’t seem to have many flaws, aside from being a slightly undersized 6’0” and 183 lbs.

Consider trading down

At this point, the pool of players widens and personal preferences come into play. It might be worth dropping ten or 15 picks before selecting someone.

Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa

I want to like Linderbaum for the Bills, I really do. Having recovered from a sprained foot, he ran a 4.98 40-yard dash and a 7.14 three-cone drill at his personal pro day a couple weeks ago. He has phenomenal hand fighting technique as an experienced wrestler. But I’m not sure that, at 6’2” and 296 lbs, he has enough size to be their center, and he’s almost definitely too small for guard.

Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

If the Bills draft Burks, I’ll understand why they did. I personally don’t see the fit, but I get the appeal. He’s sort of in the Cordarelle Patterson mold, as a receiver-slash-running back who you deploy around the field and rumble for yards after the catch. My concern is that Burks isn’t quite as explosive as Patterson or Deebo Samuel, and that will limit his ceiling.

Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington

McDuffie is a fantastic football player, that’s for sure. I do worry about his arm length, which falls just below the 30” threshold that’s used as a baseline for successful NFL cornerbacks. But he’s pretty darn close to 30”, and he has the speed and aggression to keep up in spite of that lack of length.

Kyler Gordon, CB, Washington

I think Gordon is actually a sleeper pick for the Bills, even ahead of a few other cornerbacks on this list. He has all the raw athletic measurements that fit the projects Buffalo tends to target (think Ed Oliver, Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds). He’s unpolished, but the Bills like bringing rookies along slowly.

Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah

Maybe the best linebacker in the class. And LB is absolutely an underrated need for this team, with Tremaine Edmunds in the last year of his rookie deal! Lloyd, though, is 23 years old, which is only a year younger than Edmunds. Does he really offer that much more upside? I’m not sure, and I also think that from an economic perspective, the Bills are better off staying away from linebackers in the first round.

Daxton Hill, CB/S, Michigan

The best part about Hill is that the Bills could deploy him wherever they have a need. Cornerback, safety—he fits the template either way. He has really great vision, which I think would make him an intriguing off-coverage cornerback. It’s a bit of a projection, but I like him enough to put him on the board.

Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State

Running back, most of the time, is a fringe first-round selection. Hall is the best running back prospect in this year’s draft, and has the kind of speed and agility that the Bills are looking for. He also has an excellent resume of production. If choosing between the top RB or the seventh-best receiver, maybe you prefer the RB. If Hall could last to round two and still land with the Bills, I’d be happier, but if he’s the pick on Thursday I can’t complain all that much.

Trevor Penning, OT/OG, Northern Iowa

Penning isn’t a perfect fit for the Bills, as a college tackle with tackle size (6’7”, 325 lbs). I would see him as a potential right guard, where he could play next to his college teammate, Spencer Brown. He’s a tremendous measured athlete, although he doesn’t play to that speed on the football field.

Other players, more-or-less off the first round board

These are fine players, but I just can’t find room for them, and that tells me I should only consider them in a trade down.

Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

A fantastic linebacker but he maps more closely to Matt Milano’s role, and Milano signed an extension last season.

Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia

One of the top 3-technique tackles, but Wyatt has apparently been linked to allegations of domestic violence, in which case... pass.

David Ojabo, DE, Michigan

A real great edge rusher talent who tore his Achilles in the lead-up to the draft. Just doesn’t fit Buffalo’s timeline.

Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State

A good route-runner, but I think he’s limited to the slot only, and if I’m drafting a first-round receiver for Buffalo he needs to be able to play outside too.

George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

One of the best power edge rushers in the draft, but the Bills have enough of those already.

Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida

A very solid cornerback option, but for me he’s squarely behind four or five other players I’d rather have at the position.

Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State

One of multiple safeties who could slide into Hyde or Poyer’s role in the future. If the Bills drafted him, I get it, but I personally limit myself to Kyle Hamilton (and Daxton Hill) on my list.