The chart you see below lists all 20 players that the Buffalo Bills have selected in the NFL Draft over the last three seasons. We go back three drafts because that's how many that Doug Whaley has directly overseen as the Bills' general manager. (Buddy Nix was still the GM in 2013; he stepped down shortly after that year's draft.)
|2015-2-50||Ronald Darby||CB||Florida State||ACC|
|2016-3-80||Adolphus Washington||DT||Ohio State||B1G|
|2016-4-139||Cardale Jones||QB||Ohio State||B1G|
|2014-5-153||Cyril Richardson||OG||Baylor||Big 12|
|2015-5-155||Karlos Williams||RB||Florida State||ACC|
|2016-6-192||Kolby Listenbee||WR||TCU||Big 12|
|2015-6-194||Nick O'Leary||TE||Florida State||ACC|
|2014-7-221||Randell Johnson||LB||Florida Atlantic||Conference USA|
|2015-7-234||Dezmin Lewis||WR||Central Arkansas||Southland|
|2014-7-237||Seantrel Henderson||OT||Miami (FL)||ACC|
Why are we bringing this up? To point out that two established draft trends under Whaley continued this year: the Bills draft a high volume of players from power conferences, and they also have a tendency to lean heavily on their list of pre-draft visitors when making picks.
Heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, nine of Whaley's 13 Bills draft picks had played in the ACC. That tendency relaxed a bit, even after using a first-round pick on Clemson pass rusher Shaq Lawson, but an equally prominent theme emerged: the Bills have drafted almost exclusively from power conferences (ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) under Whaley.
Specifically, 18 of the Bills' 20 draft choices under Whaley have played in one of those five conferences. The only two that didn't were seventh-round draft choices Randell Johnson and Dezmin Lewis. If you're being picky, you could also argue that Preston Brown didn't, as his Louisville career ended in a year in which the school was stuck in an obscure conference before their move to the ACC (from the Big East) became official.
The Bills have now also drafted from all five power conferences under Whaley; he'd hit the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 prior to this year, but logged his first B1G and Pac-12 picks two weekends ago. Pretty much everybody is starting to cotton on to this trend.
Whaley repeatedly talked about bringing in players from winning programs "who know how to win."— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) May 9, 2016
Another trend that continued this year was the team's tendency to select heavily from their list of pre-draft visitors, which we fleshed out in greater detail in this post from back in March.
While first-round pick Lawson was not a pre-draft visitor, breaking a streak there, there's an asterisk to apply, as well; given the connection between Rex Ryan and the Clemson program, the Bills likely skipped out on bringing Clemson kids in for visits, as there was already a comfort level established.
Even with the streak of first-round picks being used on pre-draft visitors shot, the Bills still drafted four players (that we know of) from this year's list: second-round pick Ragland, third-round pick Washington, fourth-round pick Jones, and sixth-round pick Listenbee. Even without having a full, confirmed list of players the Bills have brought in on pre-draft visits over the last three years, we know that 10 of the 20 names you see above toured One Bills Drive weeks before Buffalo selected them. Their names are in bold.
Long story short: when draft season comes around again next spring, if the current front office is still in place, we can expect these two trends to play a huge rule in shaping our pre-draft conversations.