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Mocking the Bills: Making the sting hurt a little less

The Bills replace a pending UFA in our latest mock draft

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arkansas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills have some very tough business decisions looming once their playoff run ends and the offseason comes into effect. A pair of cornerstone defenders are at the forefront of conversations already, as their contracts with the Bills are set to expire in less than two months. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Jordan Poyer are two of the best players on a defense that has puffed its chest as a strength since the two arrived in Buffalo. Poyer has had a career revitalization with the Bills, while Edmunds has blossomed year-over-year, continually improving throughout his five-year stint.

Parting with either will be a tough pill to swallow. But that reality seems almost inevitable, considering the money tied up for the team this coming season and the costs it will take to retain both stars. As it stands, the Bills are projected to be over the cap by approximately $6.4 million without the signing of either of those players.

Edmunds is likely to be the pricier of the two, with the longer-term of contract attached. His running mate, linebacker Matt Milano, is currently on a contract that pays him over $10 million per season. Milano is slated to have a $13 million cap hit in 2023. Edmunds is going to be pricey due to his young age (24) and his improved play. Edmunds has turned into one of the biggest pass disruptors in football at his position, and he’s transformed himself into a true alpha on a strong Bills defense. He has a real chance to earn $20 million per year if he hits the open market. I don’t think sinking over $30 million into the linebacker position per year would be wise for Buffalo, despite the talent the pairing brings.

That dilemma leads us to our mock-draft selection for this segment. Linebacker could be a major offseason need. It’s time to see who could be available when the Bills are on the clock.

We used the 2023 NFL Mock Draft Simulator from Pro Football Focus to complete a realistic first-round mock draft (as the order stands) until Buffalo was on the clock at pick No. 29.

With the 29th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select...

Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

This is a name that any SEC or big-time college football fan should be very familiar with. But it might not be the hottest name in NFL Draft circles for the common fan. Sanders was primarily an edge rusher who was on a strictly rotational role with Alabama the first two years of his college career. That all changed very quickly in 2022, when Sanders transferred to the Razorbacks. The former five-star talent became an instant star in Fayetteville.

Sanders has a similar profile to one young junior linebacker the Bills drafted in the first round in 2018 out of Virginia Tech — Tremaine Edmunds. Both standing at 6’5”, Edmunds holds an advantage in weight. Edmunds came out of school around 250 pounds, while Sanders sits at a listed 233. But both players were moved across the board from being stand-up edge rushers to playing in the middle for their respective teams throughout their careers — all while putting up monstrous stat lines.

Let’s be fair. Sanders will need to develop how to consistently fit the run from a stacked alignment. He’s not a thoroughbred in this area, due to his limited snaps at the position, as he was a full-time player in 2022 only.

It’s very likely that Sanders is going to test extremely well at the NFL Scouting Combine in March, and it seems just as likely the Bills could fall in love just as they did with Edmunds in 2018. The developmental ball of clay that Sanders presents is an exciting factor that could make the potential loss of Edmunds this offseason sting just a little bit less.