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2023 NFL Mock Draft: Buffalo Bills post-free agency edition

Wave one of free agency is over so let’s mock the first two rounds for the Bills

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NFL Combine Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

With the first wave of NFL free agency in the books, the time is right to unveil the first post-free-agency mock draft. The Buffalo Bills have made several tweaks to the roster by pivoting off of familiar names for upgrades at multiple positions including offensive guard, wide receiver, and running back. Buffalo also managed to retain safety Jordan Poyer on a very team-friendly contract. The one huge glaring hole left to be addressed is clearly at the MIKE linebacker position. The Bills lost young star linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to a hefty deal from the Chicago Bears. The linebacker market has largely dried up at this point, which has left fans wondering about the status of the position moving forward.

Buffalo made a couple of moves at receiver signing former New Orleans Saints receiver Deonte Harty and former Miami Dolphins / San Francisco 49ers wideout Trent Sherfield. Both players provide plenty on special teams and the ability to threaten all parts of the field with speed and juice to burn with the ball in their hands. Subsequently, the Bills decided to part ways with veteran and long-time Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie. A bit of a new face in a new place was necessary for the receiver room, and adding these two veterans with some proven production in the league surely makes some sense.

Ex-New England Patriots running back Damien Harris has now reportedly been added to the running back room — a necessary move to add a power back with juice. The Bills desperately needed a back with a nasty streak to complement rising sophomore James Cook and veteran Nyheim Hines.

The scene’s being painted before us in a way that’s starting to make sense. So many questions were in front of the team before free agency opened. Now, the questions remaining are poignant while answers have been solved at other positions of conversation.

This mock draft reflects what is still needed and where that may be coming from in the near future.

For this exercise, we’ll put a realistic scenario in place using a recent big board put together by The Athletic’s NFL Draft Writer Dane Brugler. Brugler is very plugged in to the league — with an enormous understanding of who the league’s personnel likes along with his own thoughts and opinions on prospects.

With the 27th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select...

Drew Sanders, LB (Arkansas)

The Mike linebacker spot during this offseason appears to be one of the biggest holes/needs that general manager Brandon Beane has ever left the roster with following the first wave of a free agency. The loss of Edmunds to Chicago leaves the team with options like long-time veteran backup Tyrel Dodson and upcoming sophomore linebackers Baylon Spector and Terrel Bernard to fill the role this coming season. That seems like a recipe for disaster as it stands, due to the inexperience and lack of impact of play when those players were on the field in 2022.

Sanders embodies so much of what the Bills had in Edmunds as a draft prospect. Sanders is a young player entering the draft with a physical profile you simply cannot teach. He didn’t test at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine, but he is known for an athletic profile that should have some teams stargazing what he could be in the NFL. The addition of Sanders fills a huge need and also gets the Bills a cheaper contract at a non-premium position.

With the 59th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select...

Josh Downs, WR (North Carolina)

I think it’s safe to say that the Bills aren’t a team with too many size-threshold restrictions for receivers after the addition of 5’7” 170-pound Deonte Harty in free agency. That should make a player like Downs fair game in the second round of the draft as the full-time slot option for Buffalo’s offense now and in the future. If the Bills are looking to shift to a player pool at the position offering a lot with the ball in their hands, then Downs makes so much sense. Harty and Sherfield are fantastic depth options due to special teams value, but now the Bills need to work on improving the ceiling with cheap talent. Downs does that as a player with multiple years of huge production at North Carolina. If the Bills aren’t worried about size at the position, it would be logical to assume Downs is high on their list of options as the second round unfolds.

You can make an argument that right tackle is a need for the Bills, but it’s difficult to know how high on the totem pole of needs the team places that need. The additions of two new receivers to change some of the identity of the receiver room leads me to believe they didn’t love what that position had to offer in 2022, which is why making it the selection within the first two rounds makes some sense. Other positions of potential need are defensive tackle and edge rusher in the mid rounds of the draft.