It’s right around the corner, folks. The NFL draft is almost upon us. All of your questions about who will go where will finally be answered on draft weekend which will take place on Thursday, April 28 and go up until Saturday, April 30.
For the Bills, this draft will be key in determining who will be lining up against the Baltimore Ravens on opening day Sunday, September 11th. The Bills could go in a multitude of directions at pick 19, as there are significant holes on this roster from an offensive and defensive perspective. Barring a trade up or down by Doug Whaley, the Bills, as it appears, should be in position to land a quality starter that can contribute right away.
Here are five prospects, in no specific order, that would be able to step into the lineup and make an impact in 2016:
1. Reggie Ragland
The 6’1″ 247 Lbs inside linebacker from Alabama is a force to be reckoned with. Reggie Ragland lead a stout Alabama front seven en route to a national title for the Crimson Tide in 2016. For Reggie Ragland, Ragland brings a solid all-around game when he steps onto the field.
Defending the run is one of Reggie Ragland’s strengths. Ragland has the ideal size to play inside Rex Ryan’s defense that would enable him to take on guards and fullbacks against the run, along with possessing the willingness to drive downhill and lay the wood on running backs. In the passing game, Ragland possesses enough athleticism to drop into zone coverage and cover tight ends up the seams and running backs in the flat. Ragland also shows signs of outstanding intangibles through his leadership, situational awareness, and blue collar type of play.
Reggie Ragland would be a solid pick at 19 for the Bills because not only he would be a valuable selection at pick 19, he addresses a need at inside linebacker and provides much needed depth to a group that contains rather unproven players lead by Preston Brown and Zach Brown. If the Bills are set on getting an immediate impact defender at pick 19, and Reggie Ragland is still on the board, expect them to be content with grabbing the nasty linebacker from Tuscaloosa.
2. Leonard Floyd
No matter where Leonard Floyd was lined up on defense, he made an impact for the Georgia Bulldogs. At 6’6″ 244 pounds, along with a 33 1/8″ inch wingspan, Leonard Floyd is one, if not the most, versatile player available in this draft class. Leonard Floyd has experience playing inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and as a defensive end.
In his three seasons at Georgia, Floyd’s ability to get into the backfield was evident as he racked up 17 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss, receiving All-Freshman notice in 2013, being awarded the Bulldogs defensive MVP in 2014, and earning second-team ALL SEC honors in 2015.
As the Bills make the shift to Rex Ryan’s 3-4 hybrid defense full-time in 2016, Leonard Floyd’s versatility would be a valuable addition to a defense that was underwhelming in 2015. Floyd’s ability as a pash rusher would enable Rex Ryan to utilize him across the front seven. A combination of Leonard Floyd and Jerry Hughes off the edge as outside linebackers or defensive ends, depending on the sub package, would cause offensive coordinators nightmares on finding out a way to contain two supremely athletic edge rushers. Leonard Floyd’s length would also be a valuable asset in the run game, as he has proved at Georgia he can set the edge on the outside and contain the run as an outside linebacker, while displaying the ability to blockshed and move swiftly through traffic with a relentless pursuit to hold up in the run game when asked to play inside linebacker.
With a defense that generated only 21 sacks in 2015, the transition to Rex Ryan’s scheme is in need of fresh blood. A good place to start that transition would be to invest in the versatile playmaker from Athens at pick 19.
3. Noah Spence
As a sophomore in 2013, Noah Spence was beginning to unveil his potential for the Ohio state Buckeyes when he registered 50 tackles and eight sacks in 13 games. Shortly after a breakout season for the talented sophomore, he got into trouble failing two drug tests which unfortunately got him suspended from the Ohio State Buckeyes and eventually permanently banned from Big Ten play. Noah Spence would decline the opportunity to apply for the 2015 NFL draft, as he decided to stay in college to get his degree as he transferred to Eastern Kentucky to prove himself to scouts that he has matured. Noah Spence would back up his actions with an impressive junior season racking up 13.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss while capping off the campaign with a AP FCS All-American nod.
Similar to Leonard Floyd, the 6’2″ 251 linebacker has the versatility to line up at defensive end or as a standup linebacker, which would make Spence an intriguing piece in Rex Ryan’s defense. Noah Spence is an explosive pass rusher with a good burst off the snap while displaying the ability to bend the corner to get in the backfield. Noah Spence also contains a high motor and a sense of urgency at the snap. With his measurables and ability to rush the passer, Noah Spence would be a perfect fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
There isn’t a question about the talent Noah Spence possesses. The question is if he has matured off the field. His off field issues may be enough for teams to stay away from him in the first round which may likely make him available when the Bills are on the clock.
There’s always a risk taking on troubled players. However, considering Noah Spence’s incredible recovery to get his football career back on track, while also possessing top 10 worthy talent, Noah Spence has the potential to be the steal of the draft. This may be enough to convince the Bills to take a chance on the talented pass rusher.
4. Darron Lee
The athletic linebacker out of Ohio State took the Big Ten by storm with a total of 12 sacks, 27.5 tackles for loss, and 147 tackles in just a matter of two seasons as a redshirt freshman and sophomore.
At 6’1″ 232 pounds, Darron Lee is a fascinating prospect with his combination of size and athleticism. Lee ran a 4.47 40 yard dash along with a 35.5 inch vertical jump and a 133.0 inch broad jump at the NFL Combine. Lee’s translates that explosiveness onto the field with his ability to quickly diagnose plays and track down the ball carrier. Lee also displays the agility together with his quickness to cover sideline-to-sideline, which in today’s pass happy league agility in linebackers becomes more crucial in pass coverage. Lee is exceptional in man coverage with his ability to cover running backs, tight ends, and even slot receivers. Lee also thrives in short and deep zones with his athleticism.
Darron Lee is a phenomenal athlete with a diversified skill set. Lee is scheme versatile and is a proven playmaker at the linebacker position. Lee’s versatility would give Rex Ryan a dynamic player that can succeed in different spots among Rex’s multiple fronts. Lee would be given the opportunity to start at inside or outside linebacker next to Preston Brown and opposite of Jerry Hughes, along with providing much needed depth overall at the linebacker position.
After the departure of Nigel Bradham in free agency, the cupboard is bare of athletic playmaking linebackers. Darron Lee would bring an extra element to the linebacking corps, which makes Lee a strong consideration at pick 19.
5. Sheldon Rankins
The first defensive lineman on this list, Sheldon Rankins is a beast in the trenches. With a stout 6’1″ 299 pound frame, Rankins has a thick lower body that enables him to push the pocket and hold up in the run game. Rankins transferred those abilities onto the field with a strong junior season for the Louisville Cardinals, leading the way with eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
What makes Sheldon Rankins so intriguing is his versatility. Rankins ability to start as a three or five technique labels him as one of the safer prospects in this draft due to his scheme versatility. No matter where Rankins was lined up, he found a way to consistently bring down ball carriers and cause havoc for offensive lines.
Despite being a bit undersized for an interior defender, Sheldon Rankins displays a strong base that allows him to keep his balance when engaging with guards. Rankins possesses elite explosiveness and quick feet to go along with his violent hand usage in the pass rush. Rankins also holds his own in the run game with his length and capacity to leverage into blockers and displace them.
Sheldon Rankins would be a great fit in Rex Ryan’s defense. His ability to make an impact at multiple spots is an uncanny resemblance to Sheldon Richardson. Rex loves defensive linemen that can be interchangeable along the front seven, and Rankins fits the bill perfectly.
With Kyle Williams nearing the end of his career, it’s imperative that the Bills find a potential replacement for him along the defensive line. In the meantime, Rankins will provide depth as an interior pass rusher alongside Marcell Dareus to reignite the pass rush Bills fans grew accustomed to in 2013 and 2014. Sheldon Rankins would be a home run selection if he’s available at pick 19.