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NFL – Bills’ Season Review – Part 4

10 Jan

The fourth and final edition of our Buffalo Bills’ 2018 season-ending review is our favorite section of the series, where we play general manager and explore what the team needs to add, position-by-position for areas of need, in order to improve and truly become “playoff caliber”, as coach Sean McDermott likes to preach, in 2019. The Bills have 10 picks in the college draft and lots of cash to spend in free agency now that they’ve cleared room under their salary cap, so they should have an active off-season. Here is our list of possibilities, not necessarily in order of the most need:

 

Running Back

 

Whether they keep LeSean McCoy around or not, the Bills have to upgrade their running back stable for next season. GM Brandon Beane has already stated that he plans to spend the large amount of cap money he has wisely, and that he doesn’t expect to go after the “big splash” free agents. That would rule out any attempt to lure Le’Veon Bell, who wouldn’t be a locker room fit anyway since coach Sean McDermott preaches a “team first” mantra and Bell appears to be a “me first” player. New Orleans’ Mark Ingram is also a free agent, but with McCoy expected back, the Bills would be more in the market for a complementary back who is reasonably young. A few possibilities who fit that description are Detroit’s Zach Zenner, Jacksonville’s T.J. Yeldon and Seattle’s Mike Davis. NFL teams today seem to have a “dime a dozen” attitude toward running backs, so the Bills could look to the middle rounds of the draft for one. Keeping in mind that they would expect the drafted player to be the heir apparent to McCoy, as opposed to a free agent complementary back, they could go as early as the third round for a back. Players expected to be available in the mid-round range include Stanford’s Bryce Love, Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. and Devin Singletary of Florida Atlantic. L.J. Scott of Michigan State and Cal’s Patrick Laird are late round possibilities.

 

Wide Receiver

 

Buffalo is in dire need of what is considered a “#1” wide receiver, and if that is truly what they are targeting, the free agent pickings are slim. However, they need more than just a single addition to the receiving corps and a possible gem in free agency, who fits the “fairly young” and “team first” requirement of the Bills, is Adam Humphries of Tampa Bay. Another possibility is Carolina’s Devin Funchess, given the Beane/McDermott Panther connection, but the team’s fan base would see him as another Kelvin Benjamin fail. In the draft, this isn’t considered a banner year for receivers, but there are quality guys available in the early rounds who could help the Bills, including J.J. Arcega-Whiteside from Stanford, Hakeem Butler of Iowa State and Deebo Samuel of South Carolina. In the later rounds, Collin Johnson of Texas is a large, red zone target at 6’5. Would the Bills consider drafting the University at Buffalo’s Anthony Johnson? He has fallen as far as the fifth round on some draft boards, and Buffalo should have a good inside scouting report on him.

 

Tight End

 

Charles Clay’s days are numbered in Buffalo, and he never was the top tier tight end they thought they were getting when the Rex Ryan regime signed him. The Bills desperately need help at this position, and it would behoove them to find a consistent, play-making “security blanket” for Josh Allen. The top free agent TE available is Oakland’s Jared Cook, but he is 32 years old and will require overpaying, so the Bills should avoid him. In the 2 years he’s been here, Beane has rolled the dice on a particular type of free agent – one coming off a major injury who could possibly have a huge upside if healthy. Jordan Poyer worked out tremendously as he has stayed healthy and provided stability at safety. Last year, it was edge rusher Trent Murphy, and although he never was fully recovered from various injuries, the jury is still out on him now that he will have a full year of recovery time. If Beane decides to go this route again, a perfect target would be Bengals’ tight end Tyler Eifert. He is a former first round talent from Notre Dame who hasn’t made it through a full season healthy in about 3 years. If the Bills’ staff is comfortable that he is fully recovered from his latest injury, a broken ankle, he would be a great addition at only 28 years of age. In the draft, if Iowa’s Noah Fant or Alabama’s Irv Smith Jr. somehow slip into the second round, the Bills would certainly grab either one. Possible mid-rounds diamonds in the rough are Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad and Josh Oliver of San Jose State.

 

Offensive Line

 

This is the area where Beane and his scouts have the most work to do. The Bills could possibly part ways with up to 6 of their current O-linemen in an attempt to improve, so reinforcements have to be found. If they decide to not bother trying to attempt to re-sign free agent starters/contributors like John Miller, Jordan Mills and Ryan Groy, they have to make sure they’ve done their homework and the replacements they bring in are actually upgrades. On the free agent front, Chicago tackle Bobby Massie is mentioned as a possibility, but he’s 30 years old. Darryl Williams of Carolina, also a tackle, fits the mold of a Beane signee on 2 fronts – he is coming off an injury and is a Panther. Oddly enough, there is also a player named Darryl Williams, a guard from Mississippi State, who is a second round prospect in the draft. There’s a very real chance that the Bills use their top draft pick, # 9 overall, on an elite tackle. Two players, Jonah Williams of Alabama and Greg Little of Ole Miss, fall in the top 10 range. If the Bills wait until the middle rounds to draft linemen, as they did last year with Wyatt Teller, some possibilities are tackles Andre Dillard of Washington State and Jawaan Taylor of Florida, and guards Chris Lindstrom of Boston College and Penn State’s Connor McGovern.

 

Edge Rusher

 

This isn’t necessarily an area of need with Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson on the roster, and they wouldn’t likely pursue a free agent for this spot. However, if an elite one fell into their hands at the ninth pick of the draft, like Josh Allen of Kentucky or Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, they might consider taking him. This could open up a possible trade scenario involving Hughes for either an extra pick or maybe a veteran player who fits a need elsewhere.

 

Cornerback

 

Again, this isn’t a real position of need if the Bills feel Levi Wallace can hold onto the starting corner role opposite Tre White, but I would consider it a possibility for the team to draft one if an elite one is available at the ninth spot, or if they trade down and pick later. Two candidates are Byron Murphy of Washington and DeAndre Baker of Georgia.

 

Defensive Tackle

 

Kyle Williams’ retirement opens up a hole in the defensive tackle rotation, although the Bills may feel like Harrison Phillips, a third round draft choice last year, can fill the void. Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett is an attractive free agent target. He’s only 26 and is a highly productive player, but there will likely be a lot of teams bidding for his services, including the Falcons, who have made it a priority to try to re-sign. A couple other under-the-radar young FA prospects are a pair of Patriots, Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton, although Shelton so far in his career has been an underachiever. It’s a long shot considering their many needs on the offensive side of the ball, but the Bills could consider a top defensive tackle with their first round draft pick, like Michigan’s Rashan Gary or Jeffrey Simmons of Mississippi State. It’s more likely they’ll wait until the middle rounds and look at prospects like Daniel Wise of Kansas or Virginia Tech’s Rickey Walker.

 

Linebacker

 

It would seem like a top priority for the Bills to bring back Lorenzo Alexander, a 35 year old starting ‘backer and locker room force who is a free agent. Another possible scenario might be to take a look at an old friend from Beane/McDermott’s Carolina days, the recently released Thomas Davis, to see what he has left in the tank. He’s a past Walter Payton Man of The Year Award winner who would bring the same leadership to the locker room as Alexander and, if he hasn’t slowed down much, would fit into the starting lineup. Buffalo could use some depth here, so they could use a late round draft pick trying to find a diamond in the rough like they did with Matt Milano a couple of years ago. There’s Devin Bush of Michigan and a pair of MAC prospects on that list – Buffalo’s Khalil Hodge and Northern Illinois’ Sutton Smith.

 

It’s worth noting that the “positions of need” for the Bills that we listed this year include every spot except quarterback and safety. That’s the challenge Beane faces this off-season, and will likely put him in the position of drafting the “best player available” in April’s draft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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