Coming off of a disappointing 8-8 season the Bills needed to add impact players through the draft in order to overcome the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. Ryan Dukarm breaks down the Buffalo Bills draft fits to see which players can step in immediately and which players are longer term projects.
Entering the 2016 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills had multiple holes to fill on defense at inside linebacker and edge rusher, along with depth questions at various positions across the roster. The Bills came out of the draft with two year one starters and multiple early career role players. 2016 was an important draft class for the futures of both General Manager Doug Whaley and Head Coach Rex Ryan’s careers in Buffalo and this draft should begin the 2016 season on the right path.
Year One Starter
Lawson’s pro career is off to a rough start, as he is currently rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder and is expected to miss the first part of the season. When he returns to the field, he is expected to slot in as the starter at outside linebacker opposite Jerry Hughes. Lawson showed the ability to win as a pass rusher at Clemson with a variety of techniques including spin, speed and hand fighting.
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This play demonstrates Lawson’s ability to fight the offensive tackle’s hands while running the arc, and cornering around the edge to convert for a strip sack to effectively clinch the game for Clemson.
Lawson is also very stout against the run, he plays explosively with the burst, violence, and use of hands to shoot gaps and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Lawson should be an immediate upgrade over Manny Lawson and will be a year one impactful player when he fully rehabs his shoulder.
The linebacker out of Alabama was a player the Bills were strongly considering at pick 19, had Lawson gone earlier as many draft pundits expected. He slipped into the second round, and the Bills traded up to pick 41 to select him. Ragland should step in from day one as the starter next to Preston Brown at inside LB. Ragland is heralded as a run stuffer but enters the league with concerns about his ability to consistently play on all three downs. The Bills personnel would allow him to come off the field in some nickel situations, as Manny Lawson is a very good coverage player and fits best as a situational player in that role. Overall, Ragland is likely to play a large majority of snaps from day one for the Bills defense.
A prototypical gunslinger, I evaluated Cardale Jones as a developmental quarterback because of his elite arm strength, touch, and ability to make plays in the intermediate area of the field. However, his mental quickness, poise, anticipation, and short accuracy shows that he needs time on the bench to continue to develop before seeing NFL snaps. With EJ Manuel entering the final year of his contract, Jones will need to show in training camp, preseason games, and practices that he is capable of being the backup for Tyrod Taylor in years to come.
A late-round pick that could end up being a steal for the Bills, the corner from USC has quietly been doing well in the team’s offseason program. Based on the Bills cornerback depth chart, he could end up being the top backup at all three cornerback positions come Week 1. He had been working as a replacement for Stephon Gilmore during OTAs (which Gilmore chose not to attend) and reports from OTAs and minicamp say he has been up to the job. Seymour is listed as a role player not only because he could overtake incumbent Nickell Robey in the slot, though it’s probably unlikely in his rookie year, but also because he’s been working as a kick returner in offseason workouts, a sign the Bills staff likes the athleticism he brings to the table.
Bills working KR, rotating as returners: Walter Powell, Javier Arenas, Jonathan Williams, Kevon Seymour.
— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) June 16, 2016
His athletic ability and willingness to come up and make plays in the run game suggest Seymour should find a role early on in his career as a special teams player.
A sixth-round pick out of TCU, Listenbee is likely the heir apparent to Marquise Goodwin as the deep-ball threat for the Bills. Listenbee is a very good athlete, posting elite numbers in the 40 yard dash and the broad jump at the 2016 Combine.
He has good hands, and displayed on film the ability to extend his arms away from his body and pluck the ball from the air. His trump card is his deep tracking ability, and how he is able to continue running at high speed and track the ball over his shoulder for a catch in traffic.
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This play against Oklahoma shows how he can quickly find the ball by looking back and still hold on for a catch. Listenbee does not have the size, strength, or toughness to win in jump ball / contested situations and will likely never be a starting NFL receiver. However, he can absolutely be a role player from day one as a deep threat on offense that should routinely command safety help over the top.
Another former Ohio State Buckeye, the Bills drafted Washington in the third round with the hopes of slotting him in as the third and final member of the defensive line with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. When it all clicks for Washington he looks nearly unblockable, demonstrating flashes of dominance with quickness, great hands / shedding ability, and power in his game. However, he simply lacks the consistency necessary to slot him in as a year-one starter and needs time to refine his technique for the NFL game. He plays too high in the run game and needs to continue to work on squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage and taking on / stacking blocks in the hole. His effort and motor need work on a snap-to-snap basis; too often he’d drop out of the game for long stretches. Washington has impressive flashes, but right now should not be playing a significant number of snaps.
The Bills’ fifth round pick out of Arkansas, the former Razorback running back fell all the way to the fifth round after missing all of the 2015 season with a foot injury. He was highly productive in his last year of play, even while splitting time with Alex Collins, logging 1,190 yards on 211 carries and adding 12 rushing touchdowns. He can run with power and should be an excellent fit on the Bills roster as a number three back behind LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams.
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This play shows a good example of what Williams can bring to the Bills roster. He sets up tacklers in the open field with solid change of direction ability, and he has very good balance through contact and the ability to stay on his feet through arm tackle attempts. His long speed is only adequate and he will look hesitant to hit the hole when there is traffic in front of him. Overall, Williams is likely going to spend much of the 2016 season learning the offense and continuing to come back from the foot injury, but in the later part of his contract he could be the second piece of a duo with Karlos Williams as the Bills running backs of the future.
In total, the 2016 draft class was a fruitful one for the Buffalo Bills, as they grabbed two impactful players who should be full time starters in year one. They added a developmental quarterback to replace EJ Manuel and drafted players to add depth to the DL, RB, CB, and WR groups. They found two players who should find themselves in a position to contribute as role players in Seymour and Listenbee and found good value throughout the entire draft.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm.
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All video is courtesy of DraftBreakdown.