It’s safe to say 2015 was a big disappointment for the Buffalo Bills. In Rex Ryan’s introductory press conference he announced, “Is this thing on? Because it’s about to be.” Basically proclaiming the Bills were going to take the NFL by storm under his tutelage.
As we know by now, the Bills weren’t the bullies that Ryan intended them to be, but they were more so the crybabies of the NFL. The players were as undisplaced as any team in the NFL and even had to be told how to speak to referees as to not get a penalty. It wasn’t pretty.
Now that the season is over, the one silver lining and ray of hope, surprisingly, wound up being the offense. Greg Roman had the offense looking better than it has in years, Tyrod Taylor has what seems to be the makings of a franchise quarterback and Sammy Watkins eventually became the dominant force many expected him to be when the Bills traded up in the draft to grab him.
The Bills front office has plenty of decisions to make this offense, such as who are they going to cut to make room to re-sign Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito. Probably Mario Williams and Leodis McKelvin?
Aside from re-signing two key free agents, they also need to figure out how to rebuild the defense to Rex Ryan’s liking. Honestly, I wasn’t too impressed with Ryan saying the Bills defense struggled because he tried to merge two systems, I’d rather him take more ownership of their struggles, but that’s in the past.
With potentially limited money to re-sign free agents and pending cap casualties, the Bills need to have a big 2016 NFL Draft. In 2015, Doug Whaley struck big on Ronald Darby and Karlos Williams, but the rest, honestly, wasn’t that good. John Miller gets a bit overrated because he wound up starting, but that doesn’t have anything to do with his level of play, it has more to do with there simply not being a better guard in Buffalo.
With all that being said, here is a seven-round mock draft outlining what the Bills need to do to have a successful 2016 draft.
Round 1: Noah Spence (DE/LB, EKU), Darron Lee (LB, OSU) or Jack Conklin (T, MSU)
If the Bills can’t re-sign Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito then they have to take a tackle in the first. They don’t have anyone on the roster that can jump in and replace either, and the team needs to upgrade at right tackle because Seantrel Henderson isn’t cutting it.
If Glenn and Incognito are re-signed, it opens them up to focusing on defense. Assuming Mario Williams is cut, the Bills need to grab another pass rusher because Jerry Hughes won’t be able to do it by himself. Spence is a polarizing draft prospect with plenty of off-field issues, but if everything checks out he could be a steal for any team. The Bills were 31st in the NFL in 2015 with 21 sacks, Spence would certainly make that number go up in 2016.
With the Bills rebuilding their defense, they are going to have to grab another defensive lineman. Aside from Marcell Dareus, there isn’t too much depth and Kyle Williams could be on the decline at this point in his career. However, I don’t think the Bills should spend a first round pick on a defense tackle. Guys like Andrew Billings, Jarran Reed and A’shawn Robinson could be there but I think they’ll be able to find a big tackle/end later in the draft.
Darron Lee may be an underrated pick for the Bills in the first, and I’d be willing to bet some fans don’t want a linebacker in the first. However, Bills linebackers were quite bad in 2015 and Nigel Bradham is an impending free agent that the Bills may not want to re-sign after a disappointing 2015. Lee is a speedy linebacker that can cover a lot of ground and is in the mold of safety turned linebacker, Deone Buchannon.
Round 2 & 3: Adolphus Washington (DT/DE OSU), Austin Johnson (DT PSU), Vernon Butler (DT LA TECH), De’Runnya Wilson (WR MSST)
Here, in the second, the Bills can grab a defensive tackle to fortify their front line. Butler and Johnson fit the profile of nose tackles more so than Washington, but either of these three would add run-stuffing ability to the defensive line.
It seems Bills fans have been clamoring for a big target at wide receiver for years and De’Runnya Wilson could be that guy in the third round. Wilson is a receiver that progressed each year at Mississippi State and could be an adequate red zone target for Tyrod Taylor. However, there are a few sleeper receivers with similar size that could be there for the Bills later in the draft.
Round 4 & 5: D.J. White (CB, GT), Eric Murray (CB, MINN), Justin Simmons (S, BC)
As mentioned earlier, the Bills are probably on their way to cutting Leodis McKelvin which opens up a need at cornerback. The Bills have had a few corners like Nickell Robey, Mario Butler and Ron Brooks play important roles over the past few years, but they could all be upgraded.
Justin Simmons is a big, 6’3,” safety from Boston College that posted 67 tackles and five interceptions in 2015. Leodis McKelvin played a diverse role for the Bills in 2015, playing both safety and corner, if he gets cut, the Bills should look for more depth at safety and corner. Also, Bacarri Rambo is a free agent, even though it seems Rex Ryan likes him, you never know this early in the offseason.
Round 6: Rashard Robinson (CB, LSU), Alex McCalister (DE, UF), Jeff Driskel (LA Tech)
I think one of the hallmarks of Doug Whaley’s tenure as GM is going to be his knack for targeting big name prospects that had question marks. Over the past few years, he’s gone after players like Seantrel Henderson, Kiko Alonso, Cyrus Koundjio, etc. Not to mention, trading for first round failure, at the time, in Jerry Hughes and signing Richie Incognito.
Rashard Robinson is a 6’3,” 177-pound cornerback that was suspended indefinitely from LSU in November 2014. He hasn’t played college football for over a year but is widely remembered for shutting down Mike Evans as a freshman in 2013. Robinson is a bit of an unknown considering he didn’t play in 2015 but he’s a former four-star recruit with a few good performances under his belt.
Like Robinson, McCallister is another prospect that was dismissed from his team, the University of Florida. He did play in 2015 though, notching 6.5 sacks in just nine games. McCallister is a tall defensive end at 6’6,” but only weighs around 230 to 240 pounds. With Mario Williams likely gone, Jerry Hughes is really the only proven pass rusher on the roster, so the Bills may have to grab one to two more prospects to get after the quarterback.
For whatever reason, Driskel flamed out at Florida and wasn’t able to get anything going, so he wound up transferring in 2015 to LA Tech. There he became the quarterback many thought he could become in 2011, posting 27 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and completed 62.4 percent of his passes. According to college scout Dane Brugler, Driskel has plenty of attributes of a starting quarterback in the NFL but he needs to work on his ball placement and velocity on deeper and intermediate crossing routes.
In my opinion, Doug Whaley would be crazy to draft a quarterback as high as the second to fourth round if he wants this team to get in the playoffs in 2016. Driskell could be the perfect option to sit behind Tyrod Taylor for a few years and possibly take the reigns at some point.
So, that’s just a snapshot of some of the players the Bills could be looking at once the 2016 NFL Draft rolls around. Obviously, there are plenty of other good players available, but I can’t list everyone. Let me know what you think.