With the 2016 NFL Draft around the corner, the Buffalo Bills will need to nail as many selections as possible to make up for their lack of activity during the Free Agency period. They have several holes on both sides of the ball that will need to be filled with talented players that could step in and made an impact early in their careers. Here at Building the Herd, we take a look at some of the best options for the Bills in the early rounds of the draft.
Round One, Pick No. 19
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Laquon Treadwell has gone through an interesting draft process this offseason, as he was originally seen as a Top-10 lock, but after questions regarding his speed and athletic ability arose, he saw his “stock” plummet. Now, the 6’2” 215 pounder could potentially slide right into the Buffalo Bills’ lap at pick No. 19. The Bills have one of the best up-and-coming wide receivers in the league in Sammy Watkins, but they lack a weapon opposite him that can attract coverage away from him.
While Treadwell isn’t the deep threat that the team has stated that they covet, he’s a dominant underneath threat that’s physical over the middle and has the size and strength to regularly win in contested catch situations.
LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
Following the loss of Nigel Bradham via free agency, the Bills need a playmaker with speed on the inside of their defense alongside Preston Brown. Darron Lee is a bit raw and undersized, but he’s explosive, athletic and fits the mold of the new-age coverage linebacker. He’s versatile, playing nearly half of his 2015 defensive snaps in the slot, but he’s physical enough to play within the tackle box and make plays. Rex Ryan’s defenses have typically relied on bigger linebackers on the inside, but as the league shifts towards more spread-oriented passing attacks, a player like Lee provides three-down value.
EDGE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
Kevin Dodd had to wait his turn to shine, sitting behind Vic Beasley and being overshadowed by fellow edge defender Shaq Lawson throughout the year, but Dodd brings athleticism, speed and power off the edge and has the ability to play either as a five-technique end or a standup pass rusher in three-man fronts, as well as a traditional defensive end in four-man fronts. He’s stout against the run, has the flexibility to bend the corner as an edge rusher and has enough athleticism to drop into coverage on occasion.
EDGE/LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Leonard Floyd is one of the more intriguing prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft, as the 6’6” 245 pounder transitioned from a pass rushing role to more of an inside linebacker in 2015. Floyd has a similar body type and shares the same positional flexibility that current Bills’ SAM linebacker Manny Lawson does and would be an ideal replacement for the 31-year old that is a key piece in Rex Ryan’s defense.
Floyd would be able to come in as a situational pass rusher early in his career, while having the ability to play some inside linebacker as well.
DL Chris Jones, Mississippi State
Chris Jones hasn’t gotten much hype as a first-round prospect, but the more I watch him, the more I see a player that team’s will regret passing on within a couple of seasons. I shared this sentiment with Preston Smith last year, and he led rookies in sacks. Chris Jones stands 6’6” and weighs 310 pounds and possesses ridiculous length and power and has the ability to play all over the defensive line.
With the Bulldogs, Jones played everything from nose tackle to defensive end. There’s been questions about his motor, but when he’s on, he’s one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the draft and will only improve.
Sleepers: ILB Reggie Ragland, CB Mackensie Alexander, EDGE Noah Spence, DL Vernon Butler
Round Two, Pick No. 49
LB Joshua Perry, Ohio State
Ohio State’s defense was stocked with blue-chip talent, but Joshua Perry seemed to get lost in the shuffle throughout the year. Perry, who stand’s 6’4” and weighs roughly 250 pounds, played all three linebacker positions on the Buckeyes’ defense, and is more athletic than you’d expect from someone his size. He’s strong and physical when taking on blockers at the point of attack, but has the athleticism and fluidity to provide solid pass coverage, while adding additional value as a pass rusher.
WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame
Will Fuller is an explosive receiver that has the speed to take the top off of a defense. A true deep threat, the Notre Dame wideout caught 29 touchdowns in the last two seasons and picked up 56% of his 1,258 yards last year on passes that traveled 20+ yards downfield. He’s limited in what he can do from a route tree perspective and drops are an issue, but there’s no doubting his downfield speed and playmaking ability.
EDGE Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Kyler Fackrell is a bit of an unknown name due to playing for Utah State, but the 6’5” 245 pound edge defender was a dominant force throughout his career. In three years, Fackrell recorded 251 tackles, 26 for a loss, 12 sacks, five forced fumbles, four pass breakups and four interceptions. He’s got the length to set the edge against the run, recording 29 run disruptions in 2015, according to RealFootballNetwork. Fackrell can also get after the quarterback in a variety of ways, from overpowering linemen with a bullrush, or using his speed and flexibility to turn the corner on outside rushes. He’s reliable when dropping into short area zones and can run the seam with tight ends. He’s a versatile player that’d be a nice fit within the Bills’ hybrid defense.
S Karl Joseph, West Virginia
The Bills have question marks at the safety position, as Corey Graham is getting up there in age and played more of a linebacker role as the 2015 season went on and Aaron Williams is returning from a serious injury. Baccari Rambo was a bright spot on last year’s defensive unit, but he wasn’t brought back as a free agent, leaving recently signed Robert Blanton, the underwhelming Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks as the Bills’ safeties.
Karl Joseph missed the majority of the 2015 season with a leg injury but the 5’11” 200-pounder is one of the most well-rounded safeties in the 2016 draft class. He’s a heat-seeking missile that delivers bone-crushing hits when coming downhill, but has the range to play the deep middle in Cover 1 or 3 looks. He’s a versatile player that can play in multiple coverages as well as close to the line of scrimmage as an eighth man in the box.
Sleepers: OT Germain Ifedi, LB/S Su’a Cravens
Round Three, Pick No. 80
QB Cardale Jones, Ohio State
The Bills appear to be dead set on acquiring a quarterback in the 2016 NFL Draft as insurance for the impending free agency of Tyrod Taylor, as well as finding a replacement for EJ Manuel. Cardale Jones only has 12 career collegiate starts under his belt, but he’s a big, strong-armed quarterback that comes from an offensive system that asked a lot of him progression-wise. Jones will certainly need some grooming to develop his game, but he’s shown the ability to scan the field, throw receivers open and extend plays with his legs.
DL Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
Bronson Kaufusi is another versatile defensive lineman that would be a solid fit within Rex Ryan’s hybrid defensive scheme. In 2015, Kaufusi racked up 63 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, an interception, two pass breakups, three forced fumbles and blocked five kicks. He graded out as ProFootballFocus’ No. 2 pass rushing and No. 8 run stopping 3-4 defensive end, while being credited with 42 quarterback pressures, 40 run disruptions and 17 “stuffs.” As the son of a defensive line coach, Kaufusi is one of the more technically sound defensive linemen in the draft and gives 100% effort on every snap. He’s an ideal fit as a 3-4 defensive end, but provides enough as a pass rusher to stay on the field in sub-packages.
EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland
The Bills have no depth behind Jerry Hughes at the rush linebacker position and Maryland’s Yannik Ngakoue fits the mold of a Rex Ryan edge rusher to a “T.” A two-year starter for the Terrapins, Ngakoue racked up 84 tackles, 32.5 of which were for a loss, 21 sacks and three forced fumbles. In 2015, his 13 sacks were 2nd in the nation and his 45 quarterback pressures ranked 5th. Ngakoue will need to improve his strength at the point of attack as a run defender, but the raw, yet explosive 21-year old can make an immediate impact as a situational edge rusher due to his speed, burst and bend off the edge.
S Keanu Neal, Florida
If you look at the strong safeties that Rex Ryan has utilized throughout his coaching career, Keanu Neal is about as close as it comes. The 6’2” 215 pounder is an elite run defender that was a tone setter for the Gators’ defense. In 2014, Neal was primarily a free safety where he played more deep coverage, but in 2015 he moved to a more natural fit at strong safety where he was used more in the box. Neal is a punishing hitter that takes on blocks and fills against the run like a linebacker, but has the range and athleticism of a safety. Keanu Neal needs to improve his mental processing when playing deep safety, as he can be slow to recognize developing routes, but he has a high ceiling and could be a rotational player as a rookie.
Sleepers: WR Leontee Carroo, LB Deion Jones, OT Kyle Murphy
Round Four, Picks No. 117, No. 139
LB De’Vondre Campbell, Minnesota
De’Vondre Campbell is another overlooked linebacker prospect that will likely have a better pro career than in college. In three years with the Gophers, the 6’5” 240 pound Campbell racked up 209 tackles, 16 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, five pass breakups, two interceptions and forced two fumbles. Campbell is a smooth athlete for his size and is a nice fit as a SAM in the Bills’ defense. He’s got prototypical size and length to play on the line of scrimmage as a pass rusher or an edge setter, but is athletic enough to play in both man and zone coverage schemes.
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Dak Prescott actually reminds me a lot of Tyrod Taylor in terms of their size, athletic ability and arm talent. But, like Taylor, Prescott will need time to sit and learn the nuances of an NFL offense. Coming out of Mississippi State’s spread-option offense, Prescott doesn’t have a lot of experience reading the middle of the field, as most of his throws were to the flats on screens or swing routes. He’s got the mobility, arm strength and pocket poise you look for, but he needs to work on throwing with anticipation, as far too often he’ll wait for his receiver to get open, rather than “throw them open” which resulted in his receivers taking a lot of unnecessary shots. He’s a nice developmental prospect that could eventually emerge as a starter within a few years.
TE Austin Hooper, Stanford
The Bills signed Charles Clay to a lucrative deal last year, but Greg Roman’s offense relies on a ton of multiple tight end sets to create an extra gap for his power run game. Austin Hooper played in an offense almost identical to the one the Bills run at Stanford, as Greg Roman was the former offensive coordinator there. Hooper didn’t have a lot of opportunities to showcase his abilities in the passing game due to the Cardinal run-oriented offense, but when he had the chance, he made plays. A willing and effective blocker, Hooper would be an ideal fit as a No. 2 tight end within the Bills’ offense with a chance to develop into a talented and versatile player.
CB Cyrus Jones, Alabama
Alabama’s cornerbacks haven’t had the easiest transition to the NFL in recent years, as they have to re-learn their backpedal technique in the pros, as Nick Saban teaches a shuffle technique with his Crimson Tide defensive backs. Nonetheless, Cyrus Jones is a talented playmaker, recording 106 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, seven interceptions, 25 pass breakups and four forced fumbles in his three years with the Crimson Tide. In 2015, Jones was fantastic in coverage, allowing just 36 receptions on 72 targets, a 47% completion rate, and added 530 yards and four touchdowns as a punt returner. Jones is strong in run support and is a good tackler, missing just three on the year. The Bills released Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore is set to become an unrestricted free agent, so adding a cornerback like Jones that can play outside or in the slot, while adding value on special teams would be a wise move.
Sleepers: K Roberto Aguayo, EDGE Jordan Jenkins, WR Malcolm Mitchell, DL Hassan Ridgeway