The 2016 NFL Draft is over and with about two months between now and the start of training camp, Buffalo Bills fans can ponder the meaning and reasoning behind the players the team selected. For the first time I can remember, most fans and analysts—aside from a select few– thought the Bills did a great job. Nevertheless, while the team filled some key needs, there were some logical concerns about areas the team didn’t address as well. Let’s take a look at what we learned about the Bills from this year’s draft.
The Bills Are Comfortable With Their Group of Safeties
The Buffalo Bills lost starting safety Aaron Williams to a season-ending neck injury early in the 2015 season and while he’s cleared to play, he’s personally stated that he doesn’t know exactly how he’ll feel until he takes his first hit in camp. Fellow starter, Corey Graham was wildly inconsistent in his first year at the safety position after spending the first eight years of his career playing cornerback. Duke Williams struggled mightily in his limited time on the field and the team didn’t tender Baccari Rambo as a restricted free agent.
Buffalo brought in cheap veterans on minimum salaries in Robert Blanton and Colt Anderson, but both seem to provide more value on special teams than in the secondary. Many fans and analysts thought that safety was one of the more overlooked needs of the team heading into the draft. However, General Manager Doug Whaley didn’t even address the secondary until the sixth-round selection of Southern California cornerback Kevon Seymour. Obviously, it appears he and Rex Ryan hold higher expectations for the seemingly lackluster safety group than most.
Doug Whaley Believes that the Bills Came Away with Two Top-19 Ranked Players
Following the selection of Clemson pass rusher, Shaq Lawson, Bills’ General Manager Doug Whaley said that he didn’t think he’d fall out of the top 12 picks. The next day, Whaley traded two fourth-round picks to the Chicago Bears, moving up eight spots to select Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland, stating that he was a player the team considered at their No. 19 overall slot. He went on to explain that he tried to trade up all the way to the No. 32 overall pick, held by the Cleveland Browns in order to ensure Ragland’s services, but the two sides couldn’t formulate a deal. In the minds of the Buffalo Bills’ decision makers, the team came away with two Top-20 talents in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Doug Whaley Continues His Streak of Epic Smokescreens
Doug Whaley was named assistant General Manager in 2010 and took over as GM in 2013. Each year since 2013, he’s used the team’s annual pre-draft luncheon to get Bills fans riled up about what’s going on in his head before the draft. In 2013, he said that he hadn’t seen EJ Manuel make NFL throws and that he was rising up draft boards due to the popularity of the read option, before talking up Tavon Austin.
In 2014 he expressed his desire for a game-changing tight end and said Eric Ebron could potentially become a Jimmy Graham-type of player, saying this about the former Tarheel at the team’s pre-draft luncheon.
“Just overall athleticism. He’s a playmaker as a receiving tight end, but at the same time, he’s a complete tight end. He blocks, he gives you great effort. He’s strong, he’s got good size. Every offense is different, but I know a tight end and running back are great friends to a quarterback,” said Whaley of the importance of tight end to an offense. “Just look at the production of the tight ends, like Jimmy Graham and all those guys. It’s trending towards those basketball, athletic guys that can position their body and go up and get balls. Take balls away from smaller defenders. There’s a less emphasis on the blocking of the tight end position nowadays. So that’s the way it’s going and you’ve gotta get with the times.”
Whaley then explained the value of size at the receiver position when asked about Mike Evans. that he wanted a 6’5” wideout with 35” arms and a 30+” vertical (Mike Evans) before trading up for Sammy Watkins.
“Sometimes you have to bring in a dimension that you don’t have and a size receiver is a dimension that we don’t have. Everybody is looking for that, but it would help EJ just because he can find that guy anywhere and also EJ can basically throw up the ball and you’ve got a 6’5” guy with 35-inch arms and 30-plus vertical, that’s a big target that you can have down the field.”
Last year, he hyped up Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty, even dining with Petty the night before the draft. This year, he said that big linebackers aren’t coveted in the AFC East because of the spread offenses, and that selecting Cardale Jones would be a leap of faith. Never change, Doug.
The Bills Didn’t Covet a Wide Receiver as Much as we Were Led to Believe
Throughout the offseason, Doug Whaley and Jim Monos brought up the need for a boundary wide receiver with size and speed to help attract some coverage away from Sammy Watkins. Most mock drafts had Buffalo taking a wideout as early as the first round. Instead, they waited until the sixth-round to select 6’0” 195-pound Kolby Listenbee, a raw, inexperienced receiver with great straight-line speed, but has only run routes from the left side of the field and his tree was limited to go’s, posts and outs.
The Bills Might Have Gotten Two Impact Players in Undrafted Free Agency
Teams often use seventh-round picks to select players that they don’t think they’ll be able to secure once the undrafted free agent frenzy begins. But, without a seventh-rounder this year, the Buffalo Bills still managed to sign two of the highest profile players available in Kansas State fullback/H-Back Glenn Gronkowski and Oklahoma linebacker/edge rusher Eric Striker. Both players are tweeners that lack prototypical measurables, but both also are fantastic football players that have a great change to make not only the 53-man roster, but the 46-man active roster on game-days as well.