After a busy player-acquisition splurge in free agency, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley created a minor stir when he mentioned the fact that most of the team's late-round NFL Draft picks would have an uphill fight to make the opening-day roster coming out of training camp. It's fairly common for late-round picks to miss the roster and end up on the practice squad, but NFL front offices usually aren't so up-front about the fates of their third-day selections.
While it will be interesting to see how many of those guys do stick around to face Indianapolis in Week 1, it brings to mind this question: how long should fans expect those picks to stick around at all? Is second-round pick Ronald Darby going to be a starting cornerback five years from now? Will seventh-round receiver Dezmin Lewis hang on to a roster spot for one year, or even longer?
It's impossible to tell without seeing how they handle themselves on and off the field, as well as how they fit into the coaching staff's plans, but that doesn't mean we can't set some reasonable expectations.
I've pored over the last ten Bills draft classes, and made notes about each player's staying power, both with the Bills and in the NFL. I compared both of those figures to the number of seasons since those players were drafted, and grouped them all by round. For example: over the last five seasons, every player the Bills have picked in the third round has played every season in the NFL. However, since T.J. Graham, Kelvin Sheppard, and Alex Carrington have played for other teams in that span, they've only played 73.3 percent of their possible seasons with the Bills. (I also included the Jets draft classes during Rex Ryan's six seasons at the helm, for comparison's sake.)
|Rd.||(10-14) %BUF||(10-14) %NFL||(05-14) %BUF||(05-14) %NFL||(09-14) %NYJ||(09-14) %NFL|
As you can see, it was already going to be an uphill battle for the late-round picks to make the roster. Ryan's Jets seemed more likely to hold on to their fifth-rounder than the Bills, which could bode well for Karlos Williams, but by and large the players picked near the end of the draft (unsurprisingly) don't stick around nearly as long.
I understand this doesn't say much for the more pressing issue of whether or not these players will even make the team this year, but according to the trends, it's not likely. We saw a few late-round picks see significant playing time last season on the offensive line, but Cyril Richardson and Seantrel Henderson seem to be exceptions to the rule. Nick O'Leary is probably the best bet to fill that role this year, and could become a long-term fixture at tight end if he impresses enough. But I'd hold off on ordering any Tony Steward or Lewis jerseys, if I were you.