Back in late March, one month before the 2016 NFL Draft took place, we published a list of the 10 best Buffalo Bills players age 25 and under. Now that the draft has come and gone, it's time to update this list in advance of the 2016 regular season. As is always the case, this list looks a bit stronger now than it did before the draft began.
A quick clarifying note: players who are currently 25, but will turn 26 later this year (Stephon Gilmore tops among them), were not included on this list. You'll only see players who will turn 25 or under this year.
10. OG John Miller (23 on 8/12/16)
Two injuries and a death in the family kept Miller out of the lineup for four games as a rookie, which stunted the 2015 third-round pick's development a bit. Miller was more bad than good as a rookie starter, but he has the talent to play in the league, he fits the Bills' offense, and the team remains very high on his long-term prospects. He appears to be unchallenged for the starting right guard job entering his second NFL training camp.
9. CB Nickell Robey (24 on 1/17/16)
Robey has yet to discover the effectiveness that he played with as an undrafted rookie in 2013, but the Bills re-signed their slot cornerback to a two-year deal last offseason for a reason: even though he's undersized, Robey's agility makes him an asset against some of the game's shiftiest slot receivers. Unless somebody like Sterling Moore eats into his reps, Robey is likely to have a huge role in the defense again this fall.
8. DL Adolphus Washington (22 on 11/24/16)
Buffalo's third-round pick out of Ohio State in last weekend's 2016 NFL Draft, Washington is not an elite athlete, and combined with some off-field baggage and work to do against the run, it's easy to see why he slid a bit. That said, Washington's combination of length and pass-rushing polish will make him a sub-package asset from multiple positions as a rookie. He should play quite a bit in the defensive line rotation.
7. LB Preston Brown (24 on 10/27/16)
Things went poorly for Brown in 2015, especially when compared to his rock-solid rookie season of 2014. An every-down player in Rex Ryan's defense, Brown struggled with assignments and played slower as a result, and also had his play-calling duties stripped by the end of the season. He has that responsibility back heading into 2016, and a year in the system will help, but Brown needs to speed up his game considerably this year.
6. WR Robert Woods (24 on 4/10/16)
When the Bills drafted Woods in 2013, they were planning on employing a no-huddle offense and running as many plays per game as possible. That type of offense better suits Woods, as he often disappeared in Greg Roman's low-volume passing attack in 2015 while dealing with a groin injury. Woods is entering a contract year as a fourth-year Bills starter, and is likely hoping for enough looks to showcase his skills for free agency next offseason.
5. LB Reggie Ragland (23 on 9/24/16)
Regardless of Brown's long-term projection in Buffalo, some of the leadership qualities he's been asked to shoulder - chiefly play-calling - will eventually fall to Ragland, the Bills' second-round pick this year. As a rookie, however, Ragland has enough on his plate as a starter, even if he's spelled by Zach Brown in some passing situations; it's a safe bet that the big, physical, instinctive Ragland will see more field time than any other Bills rookie this season.
4. RB Karlos Williams (23 on 5/4/16)
There are long-term concerns with Williams, given his concussion history and his at-times brutal running style. That said, Williams was nothing short of a revelation as a rookie, accumulating 613 total yards and nine touchdowns on just 104 touches (in a mere 243 snaps played) as a rookie. He is an ideal complement to LeSean McCoy, and there's a lot of tread left on the tires if he can stay healthy.
3. CB Ronald Darby (22 on 1/2/16)
It's easy to overlook the rookie-wall lull Darby worked through at the tail end of his rookie season, because he was that good to start his career. Though a bit undersized for a perimeter corner, the sub-5'11", 193-pound Darby proved to be a highly effective starter in his rookie season, nearly earning Defensive Player of the Year honors for his man-coverage ability and ball skills. He'll start in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.
2. DE Shaq Lawson (22 on 6/17/16)
The Bills have not been shy about disclosing the fact that they didn't expect Lawson to be available to them in Round 1, and that's for good reason: highly productive pass rushers that weigh 270 pounds, run a 4.7 flat, and offer positional versatility typically don't last long. Lawson will start right away as a rookie, and he faces big expectations as the player that will be charged with adding life to the Bills' lifeless pass rush from a year ago.
1. WR Sammy Watkins (23 on 6/14/16)
Even in a low-volume passing offense - 31 NFL receivers were targeted more last season - Watkins is capable of dominating games. He did, too, finishing the 2015 season on a tear, averaging 17.9 yards per reception and scoring eight touchdowns in the team's final 10 games alone. If quarterback Tyrod Taylor can maintain his level of play - or, dare we dream, improve it - Watkins has the potential to become an All-Pro wideout.