For the first time in a very long time, I’ve had the opportunity to explore a wide array of NFL Draft opinions and scouting reports. I also have a pretty good handle on the Buffalo Bills and what makes general manager Brandon Beane tick.
With all that collected together, here’s what I think is going to happen this weekend.
Wide receiver is the first-round target for Buffalo Bills
The wide receiver class has all sorts of opinions surrounding it and very little consensus beyond Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He won’t be there for Buffalo. Quentin Johnston is expected to come off the board in the early 20s along with Jordan Addison and Zay Flowers. Johnston is my target because I think the Bills need a boundary receiver now, but if all three are there at 20, the Bills can afford to wait. To trade up ahead of the run, Buffalo would need to pair their first-rounder with their third-round pick or more. It all depends on how many first-round grades they have on receivers.
Wide receiver is the obvious target for me because of the composition of the room. Stefon Diggs is aging, so adding a young option is a good idea for the franchise. Gabe Davis is entering the final year of his deal and I don’t think it’s going to be an easy contract to negotiate. Behind them is not a great list, as Buffalo tried adding a hobbled Odell Beckham Jr. before signing a washed John Brown late in the 2022 season then didn’t make a significant upgrade in free agency. Last year, cornerback was obvious, and while some say linebacker is obvious this year, I think it’s receiver.
I guess it also needs to be said that trading for DeAndre Hopkins shouldn’t be on the table for Buffalo. The salary cap impact and his age don’t make sense.
If their first-round receivers are gone, trading back is a solid option
If the receiver isn’t able to happen, I want to trade back. I’m not a believer in drafting a running back in Round 1, so Bijan Robinson isn’t an option. I’d consider a tight end at 27, and I’d rather have Dalton Kincaid than Michael Mayer, but I think Josh Allen likes guys who can get open faster rather than big bodies. Someone trading up to get a fifth-year option at some position is the right call. Drop into the top of the second round and add a mid-round pick. You can take your top player remaining and then trade up for another position.
The Buffalo Bills shouldn’t take a linebacker at 27
Linebacker may be the biggest hole in the starting lineup, but there isn’t a first-round lock in the class and they have some options to get through. (Is there an A.J. Klein fan club?) No NFL Draft prospect or otherwise is even close to Tremaine Edmunds, much less 2022 Tremaine Edmunds, so I suspect this is a target for the second round — perhaps in a trade down from the first round or trade up from 59. Arkansas’ Drew Sanders, Iowa’s Jack Campbell, and Clemson’s Trenton Simpson are all early Day 2 picks. Buffalo’s current second-round pick plus their third-round selection would be a steep trade up, but it would get them to pick 44 with the Atlanta Falcons, and they may not need to go that high.
Defensive tackle is a Bills priority, but it’s a weak class
It stinks that the Bills should probably draft a defensive tackle this year, because the class isn’t strong. Even if they re-sign Ed Oliver, the team doesn’t have anyone else under contract for 2024 and they can’t continue to bank on one-year deals with veteran free agents. For that reason, I could see them picking a DT instead of WR in the second round if they end up trading back. (Bryan Bresee and Mazi Smith could both be available.) There is another group of DTs that Buffalo could snag at the end of the second or with a third-round trade up including Keeanu Benton, Tuli Tuipulotu, Siaki Ika, and Gervon Dexter. With such a weak class, I’d expect these guys are going to be overdrafted as teams fill a need, so there may just never be a time when value meets selection.
It should be noted that the Bills have invested frequently in the defensive line since general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott came to town.
Buffalo is going to add a defensive back
The Bills have taken eight defensive backs in the five years since Brandon Beane came to Buffalo plus Tre’Davious White in Sean McDermott’s first draft with then-GM Doug Whaley. And that’s with three All-Pros in the starting spots, so the Bills obviously value DBs. Christian Benford gives them flexibility here; if a cornerback falls, Benford moves to safety whereas if a safety falls, Benford sticks at cornerback. Jaquan Johnson and Dean Marlowe have moved on and we still don’t know what to expect from a returning Damar Hamlin. Ideally, Buffalo finds an eventual successor to one of the two starting safeties in the draft this year. Kaevon Merriweather is an intriguing Day 3 option out of Iowa, and not just because it’s Micah Hyde’s alma mater.
You should always take an offensive lineman
I just think it’s good philosophy, and the Bills have taken four in the last two drafts. Unfortunately, none of them have been home runs and Spencer Brown may be struggling to even be a base hit. Dion Dawkins (2017 class) is the last draft pick on the OL to last more than three seasons with the team and sign a second contract. The potential for a Mitch Morse backup-turned-replacement is tantalizing as he just turned 31 and has dealt with multiples concussions.
The Bills are going to end up with more than six picks
... but I’m not sure how they get there. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the receiver-less trade down outlined above with a team looking to move up, like the Indianapolis Colts or Los Angeles Rams. The Tennessee Titans trading picks 41 and 72 for 27 is almost perfect on the trade chart, and then they can nab Hendon Hooker. Even if Buffalo picks six players in 2023 and adds a 2024 pick in a trade down, I think the weakness in a few key position groups makes this an option for Beane.