The longest streak without a playoff berth in the league finally came to an end last season, as the Buffalo Bills made their first playoff appearance this century. It had been so long since the Bills last tasted post-season play that some of the writers you read here every day hadn’t even been born yet for their last appearance. Fans have a lot to be excited for as the team looks to build upon last season’s success and tries to make consecutive playoff appearances. A rare feat for an AFC East team not named New England.
But last season’s success doesn’t — and shouldn’t — overshadow the fact that the Bills roster still has some significant holes that will need to be plugged. Running a mock draft before the free agency period has played out is always tricky, as you don’t know how many of those holes are going to get plugged during this time. However, with the information we currently have, let’s take a look at one draft day scenario to help the team build towards a perennial playoff threat.
As most of you know, I’m typically a Miami Dolphins writer. So it’s safe to say I’m reaching a bit out of my comfort zone with this one. As such, I reached out to the #BillsMafia hashtag on Twitter to help identify some of the biggest holes the team needs to fill before kickoff next August. Let’s see if I made the Mafia proud.
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Round 1: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College & Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
If there was one prevailing theme in the suggestions that I got from Bills Mafia, it was that the team desperately needs some help on the defensive side of things. While Tyrod Taylor caught a lot of flak for the team’s mid-season slump, some deservedly so, his defense didn’t do him any favors, to say the least. It’s with that thought in mind that I gave the Buffalo Bills not one, but two key players on defense who can step in right away and help to turn the defense around.
With the 21st pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, we have the Buffalo Bills selecting Harold Landry, the star EDGE player from Boston College. While Landry struggled with injuries this season, he was still one of the premier pass rushers in all of college football, a facet of the game the Bills were sorely lacking last season. In Landry, the Bills are adding a polished pass rusher who has the burst and flexibility to come off the edge and be a nightmare for the majority of left tackles in the league already. He’ll need to expand his pass rushing repertoire if he wants to be an elite pass rusher, but no one expects a rookie to come in and be a finished product. That’s what coaches are for.
Harold Landry says hello pic.twitter.com/R3et8r2vOn
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) February 18, 2018
With the very next pick, the Bills complete their first round double-dip on the defensive line with one of the best interior defensive linemen in the SEC, if not the entire country. Da’Ron Payne from Alabama instantly beefs up the Bills front four, and would make an excellent replacement for Kyle Williams, should he choose to retire. Payne would also make a great complementary player to Williams should he decide to delay retirement for one more season. I don’t think there’s a better run stopping defensive tackle available in this draft, and Payne also has the quickness and athleticism to cause havoc for opposing teams in the passing game. With Landry and Payne, the Bills are getting two of the more complete defenders available.
Round 2: Billy Price, C, Ohio State & Justin Reid, S, Stanford
Multiple selections is a theme in the 2018 NFL Draft for the Buffalo Bills, as they have two selections in the first, second, and fifth rounds. In the first round I have them double-dipping on defense, this time I have them going to the well on defense once more, while also picking up some help along the offensive line. Neither one of these second round selections are necessarily positions of need for the Bills, but more along the BPA (best player available) line of thinking.
First up we have Billy Price, the All-American center from Ohio State. When I reached out to #BillsMafia for guidance on team needs, I expected a lot of fans to be clamoring for help at the position with the news of Eric Wood’s injury ostensibly forcing him into early retirement. I was surprised to see this wasn’t the case, though. Most in the fandom believe in backup center Ryan Groy as a capable starter. However, when someone of Price’s skill-set falls to you in the second round, I believe you have to grab him, need or not. Price is arguably one of the best interior linemen available in the NFL Draft, and likely the best center prospect.
Price has tremendous explosion off the line and plays with a mean streak that you want to see from your offensive linemen, particularly on the interior. He is a strong, powerful lineman who shouldn’t have much problem adjusting to the step up in athleticism he’ll face at the next level. In Price, the Bills may be getting one of the bigger steals of the draft.
Next up: a safety? Safety wasn’t one of the positions that most of the Bills Mafia was clamoring for, as they do have some considerable talent already at the position in the form of Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, and Shamarko Thomas. However, I believe a guy like Justin Reid from Stanford is too enticing of a prospect for the team to pass on. Reid has an NFL pedigree that teams love to see, as his brother Eric — a former LSU alum — has been tearing it up in the league for years.
The elder Reid was a consensus All-American at LSU and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers. And I’m here to tell you today that Justin is every bit as good as his older brother, if not even better. During his time with the Cardinal, Reid has shown a great knack for the ball, hauling in 6 interceptions (5 in this past season alone) and 14 passes defended. He’s also shown the ability to come up in the box and make plays in the run game at times. Reid is a physical, athletic safety who is poised to be a star at the next level right out of the gates.
Round 3: Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
When I look at the Buffalo Bills depth chart, the question I ask myself is “Who is supposed to be the dynamic play-maker in this offense beyond Shady?” Don’t get me wrong, Shady McCoy is still an effective weapon, even with the tread he’s put on his tires over the years. But to survive and be a perennial threat in today’s NFL, your offense better have some play-making capability on the outside as well. When I look at the current crop of wide receivers in Buffalo, I simply don’t see that on the roster.
Florida State’s Auden Tate might not jump off the tape at you as that type of receiver, but I feel like there’s a ton of untapped potential waiting for someone to unlock it. Tate has some incredible body control, strong hands, a great catch radius, and that alone should make him an effective possession receiver at the next level, as well as a threat in the red-zone. But that alone does not a dynamic play-maker make. Being dynamic involves being able to get a great break off the ball, being able to create separation in your routes, and making plays in the open field. And that’s where I believe Tate’s untapped potential comes in.
Call it a gut feeling, but I think there’s more to Tate than he’s been able to put on film. The Seminoles have struggled with their offensive line play for the past few years, and losing starting quarterback Deondre Francois early in this past season has seriously hampered Tate’s numbers. So has, in my opinion, misuse. The Combine is going to be big for Tate. With a good performance, specifically in the agility drills, Tate could see a significant rise in his draft stock. As it stands right now, the third round may be a reach for Tate. But one that I believe pays dividends in the end.
Round 4: Kyle Lauletta Jr, QB, Richmond
If defensive line was the most popular suggestion from Bills Mafia when I reached out to them, a new quarterback wasn’t far behind. It seems like the fans don’t have much faith in Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman, and honestly, I can’t say that I blame them. I feel like Taylor is a little better than the fans give him credit for, but ultimately I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who is ever going to get you over the hump and lead you to a Super Bowl, much less win one.
He’s the kind of guy who can get you to the playoffs, maybe even win a game. That’s fine for now, as you have to run before you can walk, but the fans are anxious for THE GUY. And with it looking less and less likely that Taylor is going to be back in Buffalo, that time may be now.
It may rub some of the fans the wrong way that I’ve waited until the start of Day 3 to select a quarterback, but believe me when I tell you that Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta is being seriously slept on. Personally, I think the kid is a second-round talent who has the potential to develop into a very solid starter in the NFL.
Is he the prototypical “franchise QB”? Probably not. But I do believe that Lauletta has the talent to come in and take a team with weapons deep into the playoffs, provided he gets a couple years of development under his belt. That may be tough to do in Buffalo, where he may be asked to start right away, but if he has the mental makeup to take the lumps without letting it destroy him, the Bills could have something special.
Round 5: Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State & Adam Breneman, TE, UMass
Speaking of weapons, this draft wraps up early, as the Bills don’t have any selections in the sixth or seventh rounds. So if you’re going to supplement the offense on Day 3, you have to do it early. With the Bills’ final two picks, I’ve given them two more weapons on offense, and two of my favorite Day 3 prospects. First up we again turn to the wide receiver group and take Iowa State’s Allen Lazard. When I evaluated Lazard in the pre-season, I thought he was someone who had the potential to blossom into a borderline Round 1 guy. That may have been a bit of wishful thinking and my Cyclones fandom coming through, but shouldn’t diminish the very real contribution Lazard can make for the Bills.
Lazard is another big, physical receiver who lacks the burst off the line of scrimmage, but I think he’s the type of possession receiver that every offense needs. He has great body control for a guy his size and is dominant as a red-zone threat. Where Lazard struggles is if you’re asking him to do anything agile. He’s not going to run away from anyone or make them miss. What he is going to do is sky for jump balls and come down with some eye-popping sideline catches.
To round out the 2018 NFL Draft for the Buffalo Bills, we have them going to the offensive well one more time with University of Massachusetts product Adam Breneman. Were it not for a history of knee injuries, Breneman would likely be in the discussion with the likes of Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews, Mike Gesicki, and Troy Fumagalli as the head of the 2018 NFL Draft class of tight ends.
But, with his injury history a very real concern for teams, he’ll likely fall into the group of tight ends with the likes of Tyler Conklin, Durham Smythe, and others as Day 3 guys who can make a solid contribution. Breneman still has a lot of work to do to become a solid blocker at the next level, but he has great hands and the frame of a guy who can be a good safety valve for whomever the quarterback may be. With Charles Clay entering the final years of his contract and coming up on the wrong side of 30, Breneman could be the tight end of the future in Buffalo.
How did I get to these picks? Who else was on the board when the picks were made? Check out how the entire draft played out.