The Buffalo Bills seem to have five starting linemen locked in for the 2022 season. Dion Dawkins and Mitch Morse are entering their fourth year together in the lineup, and both have contracts extending through 2024. Second-year pro Spencer Brown is the right tackle, free-agent signee Rodger Saffold will play left guard, and Ryan Bates (who signed a four year, $17 million contract with $8.8 million guaranteed) is expected to play right guard in that situation.
That said, Saffold is a free agent after this season, as is backup Cody Ford. The team’s only backup center option with a Morse injury would be Bates. So there’s room for the team to add an interior lineman early in the draft, if they want. Here’s how the draft class stacks up.
Evan Neal and Ikem Ekonwu are considered the 1A and 1B offensive tackles of this class, and potential top-five picks. Mississippi State’s Charles Cross is in the second tier, but a prototypical left tackle with excellent agility and flexibility. Also in the second tier, but considered an option to play either tackle or guard, is Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning.
They must be growing the corn with HGH in Cedar Falls, Iowa, because that’s the best explanation for Spencer Brown and his college teammate, Penning, to both test as elite athletes. The 6’7” 325-lb Penning had a 97th percentile 40-yard dash and a 98th percentile three-cone drill at the NFL Combine. He’s a nasty brawler who’ll gladly scrap with his opponent on the turf at the end of a play. Put Penning at RG and Brown at RT and you have the NFL’s version of the Bash Brothers.
25th pick contenders
Zion Johnson (Boston College)
Johnson is probably the best pure interior lineman prospect in the draft. A left guard and left tackle first at FCS Davidson and then at Boston College, Johnson is an elite athlete with excellent technique and toughness. He also practiced at center during the Senior Bowl.
Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa)
Linderbaum is considered the best pure center in the draft, although not every team will be sold on his 6’2” 296-lb frame. A state champion wrestler, he’s a flexible technician who produces teaching tape for the offensive line.
Kenyon Green (Texas A&M)
Green might remind you of Cody Ford when you read his scouting reports. That’s not an immediate negative, as it might seem. You just have to remember Ford’s selling points: a road grader with experience at both guard and tackle, plenty of upper body strength, and some occasional issues with hand technique that can cause lapses in pass protection. For the Bills, who value versatility, a player who could play as many as four positions on the line would be a plus.
Fringe first rounders
Dylan Parham (Memphis)
Parham played for an offensive scheme that’s often tough to project into the NFL, but he was a multi-sport athlete in high school, became a four-year starter in college, and could potentially play all five OL positions.
Tyler Smith (Tulsa)
Smith is one of the toolsy options in the draft, a 6’5” 325-lb lineman who played left tackle in college but looks like a potential Pro Bowl-or-bust left guard project.
Pick from out of nowhere
Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan)
Raimann definitely fits Buffalo’s recent penchant for athletic ability. The Austrian came to America with a track and field background, and he has every physical tool to be an impact offensive tackle or guard at the next level. But he’s only played football since he was 14, and only began playing offensive line in 2020 (tight end before that). If he works out, everyone will understand why—and if he doesn’t, that will be apparent as well.