With the 2016 NFL draft officially behind us, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate all of the picks and determine how each player will factor into the team’s organization moving forward.
For the Bills, it was yet another spectacular draft class hauled in by General Manager, Doug Whaley, that offered a quality mix of need and value. Whaley and his staff have done an excellent job in recent years of identifying and developing talent that have helped the Bills finish .500 or better in the last two seasons.
So how good was the Bills 2016 draft class? Here, I’ll analyze all seven picks and provide a grade based on what each player brings to the table going into the future:
Round 1 Pick 19: Shaq Lawson
Position: Defensive End
In his third year as Bills general manager, Doug Whaley has stayed true to his mentality of taking the best player available. Whether that’s trading up to land star receiver Sammy Watkins, or selecting a shutdown cornerback via Ronald Darby in the second round when cornerback wasn’t exactly a need at the time. This year, Doug Whaley and his staff once again selected the best player available, and that was Shaq Lawson.
Lawson was one of the best pass rushers available in this draft. His slide down the board to the 19th selection was very surprising, but not for the Bills. According to Doug Whaley, he and his staff had Lawson as one of their top rated players on their board:
- “Very few times, that you can go into a draft, and have a really big need, and that guy there standing out like a sore thumb is the guy you want and is the guy that fills that need. So we are extremely excited to have Shaq Lawson. We never thought he would drop to us at 19, and when it got closer and got closer, we all said let’s keep our mouths shut.”
That’s quite the praise. Lawson, one of better all-around players in this draft, will provide an immediate impact in the run and pass game for the Bills defense.
Shaq Lawson led the nation in 25.5 tackles for loss to go along with 12.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, he was rated as the third highest edge defender in the class, while being rated second against the run last year.
For a defense that generated only 21 sacks (second to last), and fell from the 4th overall defense to the 21st in 2015, a player with his skill set will be a welcome addition to the Bills.
How he fits in:
Doug Whaley has already stated that Lawson will be starting opposite of Jerry Hughes at outside linebacker. Rex Ryan reinforced this by stating the Bills will start out of a 5-2 formation, which will likely feature Lawson as an outside edge rusher with Marcell Dareus at nose tackle, Corbin Bryant and Kyle Williams as the defensive ends, and Jerry Hughes as the opposite edge rusher.
However, Lawson is versatile player that can stand up at outside linebacker or put his hand in the dirt, which is one of the appealing traits that make Lawson such a great addition to this defense. At Clemson, he played the ‘5’ technique, and he was able to play equally well while standing up. So no matter where Lawson will be lining up, it’s safe to say he’ll be making his presence known to opposing offenses sooner rather than later.
Overall, whether by coincidence or luck, this pick was outstanding in terms of need and value. Shaq Lawson’s required shoulder surgery may he been enough to scare teams off, but the reigning ACC defensive player of the year is arguably one the best players in this draft class, and he has the chance to be the steal of the draft, and ultimately make those 18 teams in front of the Bills pay for not selecting him earlier.
Round 2 Pick 41: Reggie Ragland
Position: Inside Linebacker
Doug Whaley was able to select another highly regarded player they loved in Reggie Ragland. When the Chicago Bears were on the clock at pick 41, Whaley crafted a deal with the Bears sending their second round pick (49), a 2016 4th round pick, and a 2017 4th round pick next year to move eight spots up to select the talented linebacker.
Reggie Ragland was considered, for most of the pre-draft process, a first round pick that excels defending the run with his physical and aggressive style of play. However, the knack on him was being labeled a ‘two-down linebacker’ that would have to come off the field on passing downs, while also being suspected of an enlarged aorta may of played a significant role of pushing him out of the first round.
Like Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland was one the best players available in the second round, and his availability was also a surprise. According to Pro Football Focus, Reggie Ragland was the only linebacker to finish with a plus seven or better grade in all facets of play including run defense, pass coverage, and pass rushing. As a result, Ragland’s all-around spectacular play earned him SEC defensive player of the year.
Whaley made no hesitation on his efforts to trade up for the linebacker from Tuscaloosa, as he contacted every team from Cleveland at pick 32 all the way down to eventually finding a partner in Chicago at pick 41 to secure Ragland.
How he fits in:
Reggie Ragland fills a major need at inside linebacker. The addition of Ragland will automatically make him a starter alongside Preston Brown in the middle of the defense, according to Rex Ryan. Rex also stated that Ragland has the versatility to play either the ‘MIKE’ or ‘WILL’ in the defense as well. Ragland reiterated Rex’s statement by confidently claiming he’s a three down linebacker:
- “I can be a three down linebacker. I did it. I played all three downs in my last year. Against Texas A&M, I played the ‘MIKE’ the whole game, the inside backer covering backs and tight ends. Against other teams I played outside and played all three downs. I rushed and dropped from the end position. I can drop and I can cover. I don’t know why people feel that way. It doesn’t matter to me. Coach Ryan gave me an opportunity and I’m going to give it my all for the organization.”
Doug Whaley also opened up about Ragland’s style of play and versatility:
- “Preston and he will be on the field at the same time,” Whaley says. “We’ll have two guys who are defensive players who play well. You have a guy in Ragland that’s 258 pounds, runs in the 4.6’s. I think a lot of people maybe feel like this guy is a true MIKE (middle linebacker) but we feel he can play WILL.”
Ragland also generates depth to a inside linebacking corps that holds young, talented, but inexperienced players in Preston and Zach Brown. Ragland reiterated Rex’s statement by confidently claiming he’s a three down linebacker:
Ragland’s style of play will transition well to the NFL. His willingness to drive downhill to stuff the run will be invaluable to the Bills run defense. In addition, Ragland’s ability in pass coverage is very underrated as well. He possesses enough athleticism to drop into zone coverage and cover tight ends up the seams and running backs in the flat. With this, Ragland has the ability to stay on the field in nickel packages at the very least. Nevertheless, Ragland’s pursuit in diagnosing and tracking down the ball carrier will soothe his path to becoming a three down player in the NFL.
Overall, the additions of Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland with the first two picks arguably delivers Doug Whaley essentially two first round picks. Adding Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland will fill in holes left by the departing Mario Williams and Nigel Bradham in free agency, while also presenting depth at inside and outside linebacker.
The two will be depended upon being immediate impact starters that should find themselves in the running for defensive rookie of the year in 2016. The Bills hit big-time on their first two selections based off of need and value alone, and the grades given to the first two picks reflects that.
Round 3 Pick 80: Adolphus Washington
Position: Defensive Tackle
College: Ohio State
After two outstanding selections in the first and second rounds, the Bills kept on adding to the front seven with the addition of Adolphus Washington.
In 2015, Adolphus Washington arguably had his best season as a senior when he earned second-team All-Conference honors by racking up 49 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and four sacks.
However, he was unfortunately suspended for Ohio State’s bowl game against Notre Dame when he was accused of soliciting a vice squad officer in early December. This event triggered scouts to question his off the field maturity, which may have resulted in his fall to the third round, as Doug Whaley indicated they had a second round grade on him.
How he fits in:
Adolphus Washington is a versatile defensive lineman that will provide much needed defensive line depth behind the likes of Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Corbin Bryant. Washington is slated to fit in best at ‘5’ technique in the base defense, while having the opportunity to be utilized inside the interior with different sub packages on passing downs.
Washington will provide an extra pass rushing punch to go along with Dareus and Williams, as the two combined for only three sacks in 2015. Washington’s combines his quickness, agility, and length to overwhelm interior pass blockers with his wide array of pass rushing moves.
Due to his thin lower body, Washington will make his money by rushing the quarterback in his first season, as he’ll need to get stronger to improve his balance when holding up in the run game in order to become a more complete player and eventually earn more playing time. Corbin Bryant will most likely start at ‘5’ technique in the base defense because of his underrated ability to stop the run, which will allow Washington to play to his strengths via rushing the quarterback. On a final note, Washington must improve his consistency and motor to take the next step in becoming a more complete player moving forward.
To conclude, adding Adolphus Washington will provide defensive line depth and a pass rushing threat from the interior in the short-term. Washington has the potential to become a special player if he can keep his mind on football and focus on becoming a well rounded player. This pick has a lot of upside in the long-term if everything pans out. For the meantime, Doug Whaley added a decent player who can contribute in certain situations.
Round 4 Pick 139: Cardale Jones
College: Ohio State
It was inevitable that the Bills would be adding a quarterback in this year’s draft. The possibility of Tyrod Taylor leaving in free agency after the 2016 season, along with the failure of former first round pick EJ Manuel, called for a backup plan for insurance at the position in case Tyrod or EJ do depart after this upcoming season.
In the fourth round, the Bills selected Cardale Jones, one of the most polarizing prospects available in this year’s draft. Cardale Jones possesses all of the physical tools you want in a developmental quarterback. He’s has the size, mobility, and the arm talent that NFL teams drool over. Jones was able to utilize his tools effectively in college as he finished his Ohio State career undefeated (11-0).
Doug Whaley recognizes the potential, and development, Jones will need going into the future:
- “… [T]hat’s why we’re saying this guy is not going to come in right off the bat know everything like a guy who has been in the league or even a guy who has played three or four years in college. This guy has had 11 starts. So he’s a piece of clay we can mold and we think his upside is untapped.”
Although Jones was surrounded by a multitude of other top recruits at Ohio State, his drive and his mentality to win football games was his main motive in his success. He will be able to transfer his success to the Bills organization in hopes to create a winning mentality similar to the one he was a part of at Ohio State.
How he fits in:
Cardale Jones will be given the opportunity EJ Manuel never was able to have, and that is to sit and be able to develop his game. Jones has the raw physical ability that teams typically look for in developing quarterbacks.
His arm talent and mobility is an ideal match in Greg Roman’s quarterback friendly, run first offense. He has the desired arm strength to drive the football down field in Buffalo’s playing climate, and the mobility to execute bootlegs and numerous types of options plays that are vital to Greg Roman’s complex running attack. These type of qualities make Jones such an intriguing prospect to develop for the future.
Jones will most likely be the third-string quarterback in 2016 behind Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel. There’s a possibility that Jones could come into training camp and unseat Manuel as the backup quarterback to Taylor. However, it’s in the Bills best interest for Jones to have reasonable expectations placed on him from the start so he’ll be able to develop properly behind two quarterbacks without having to deal with any pressure to be a starting caliber quarterback right away.
With the selection of Jones, the Bills will have no pressure to get this guy onto the field with already a starter via Tyrod Taylor in place. Jones’s transition to the NFL will be much smoother than his teammate, EJ Manuel, because of the situation he is entering. Jones will be working with Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach, David Lee, to immediately clean up the flaws in his game (accuracy, reading coverages, and footwork).
If Jones can put the fundamental and the physical aspects together, it’s possible he can become arguably one of the better Bills quarterbacks in franchise history. Whether Jones becomes the eventual franchise quarterback or not, this pick is a low-risk high-reward type of selection that contains a ton of upside. Doug Whaley, once again, deserve credit for addressing a need and finding excellent value in the late fourth round.
Round 5 Pick 156: Jonathan Williams
Position: Running back
The Bills decided to reinforce a position of strength by selecting the talented running back from Arkansas. Jonathan Williams was forced to split carries with another talented running back in Alex Collins in 2013 and 2014. Still, Williams found a way to make an impact with his carries with 900 yards rushing and four touchdowns in 2013, while improving his numbers in his junior year with 1,190 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Jonathan Williams had to miss the the 2015 season with a foot injury that required surgery. This marks the third pick in this draft that the Bills will be gambling on a player with health issues coming into the NFL.
Despite Williams injury, the former razorback has a ton of potential, and his draft slot doesn’t not equal his talent level. Williams entered 2015 as one of the better running backs in the SEC with his exceptional feet, balance, and power that he combines when he is on the field. His light feet for a 220 pound running back caused defenders to miss a total of 44 miss tackles in 2014. Williams also has limited tread ware due to the split carries with Alex Collins, which is a positive due to his recent foot injury. On a final note, Williams excels in short yardage situations with his physicality and ability to maximize his touches. So if the Bills were looking for a cheaper Boobie Dixon replacement, they may have found their guy that offers the same style of play and attitude, but in the end Williams brings more upside to a Bills backfield that already has three capable starters.
How he fits in:
Williams will most likely see his playing time come from primarily on special teams. With already a talented backfield in place, it’ll be hard for Williams to get a decent amount of carries unless an injury or suspension takes place. Williams is already use to sharing carries, so entering a diverse and talented backfield won’t be detrimental to his development or moral.
In the long-term, however, Williams will have the youth and upside to overtake LeSean McCoy, and possibly Karlos Williams if he lives up to the talent level he displayed in college. With McCoy nearing the age of 30, and with Karlos Williams dealing with concussion and knee issues in his first season, Jonathan Williams will have a legitimate chance to become the bell cow running back in the future.
It’s never bad to have too much talent, and depth, at a particular position, especially in a run oriented offense. The Jonathan Williams pick was a valuable selection that has the potential to be a steal in the fifth round. The pick also provided insurance to a running back group that is extremely talented, yet very unpredictable due to the off-field antics by LeSean McCoy, the injuries to Karlos Williams, and the unknown factor of Mike Gillislee.
This pick could receive a higher grade in the future. For now, the Bills are deep at running back, and the Bills could have looked elsewhere to address specific needs while finding value. As you can see, Doug Whaley sticks with his mentality of selecting the best player available.
Round 6 Pick 192: Kolby Listenbee
Position: Wide Receiver
The Bills made it a priority to address the depth at wide receiver for not only this season, but beyond. Outside of Sammy Watkins, Marcus Easley, and Dezmin Lewis, the Bills have no other receivers under contract after 2016. In addition, the Bills finished 28th in the league in passing offense with only 208.9 yards-per-game. So adding another receiver in the draft was vital.
The Bills waited all the way into the 6th round to draft a receiver in Kolby Listenbee, who ran a 4.39 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine with a double hernia. Listenbee is a former track star who is transitioning to his speed and athleticism to Football. Doug Whaley loves selecting receivers who can take the top off defenses. Listenbee’s track-like speed, alone, was too good for Whaley to pass up in the 6th.
At TCU, Listenbee was shadowed by fellow draftee, Josh Doctson (first round pick of the Redskins). Although Doctson grabbed most of the scouts attention, Listenbee shouldn’t be ignored. In 2015, Listenbee racked up 29 receptions for 598 yards to go along with five touchdowns on the campaign. Listenbee consistently ran go routes down the field that took the top off defenses, which allowed Doctson to get opened up underneath.
It’s said that Listenbee can play a similar role in Buffalo with the presence of Sammy Watkins. Last season, Watkins was doubled constantly because of the lack of a legitimate number two receiver beside him. Could Listenbee be a long-term complement to Sammy Watkins?
How he fits in:
Listenbee’s athleticism makes him a versatile weapon that will allow him to return kicks, line up in the backfield, in the slot, and on the outside. The question is, how much of an impact will he make in his first season? How much playing time will he get?
As of now, Listenbee is destined to be the 4th or 5th receiver on the depth chart when training camp comes about. With that, expectations should be tempered on the sixth round pick. It’s still possible for Listenbee to become an immediate contributor for the Bills on offense and special teams, despite the presence of other receivers such as Robert Woods and Leonard Hankerson.
The selection of Listenbee will offer more value in the long-term rather than the short-term. Listenbee will be transitioning from a simplistic spread offense to a pro-style one in which he’ll have to learn the whole route tree. Therefore, he’ll have to improve his route running in order to attack all three levels against opposing defenses. He will also need to get stronger to be able to beat cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage, as relying on being a one-trick pony at the NFL level often doesn’t spell success.
If the selection of Kolby Listenbee was in a higher round, the grade would be much lower. However, picking up a versatile, speedy receiver in the 6th round is a risk worth taking. Besides, Listenbee has already stated that he’s the ‘fastest player in the NFL’.
In all seriousness, the addition of Listenbee brings in another body to compete in a talented deprived wide receiver group. One aspect that is holding this grade back from being higher is his transition to the NFL, and how can he be developed. Listenbee has the tools you look for in a developmental receiver. The upside in this pick is up for debate. Listenbee could become the the ideal number two receiver opposite of Sammy Watkins, or he could be the second coming of Marquise Goodwin. Only time will tell, but Whaley obviously sees a piece of clay he can mold here.
Round 6 Pick 218: Kevon Seymour
With the final pick of the Bills draft, Doug Whaley selected a cornerback to reinforce the depth at the position. Kevon Seymour was a four year player at USC that had a productive career. Seymour led the Trojans in pass breakups with 13 in 2014 while also recording one interception. Unfortunately, knee and ankle injuries cost Seymour playing time in his senior season, so he could only start four times in 11 appearances, racking up 24 tackles and an interception in the process.
Just like taking a flyer on Nickell Robey a few seasons ago as an undrafted free agent (UDFA), the Bills will roll the dice on another athletic cornerback out of USC in hopes to strike gold again.
Seymour’s speed is evident, as he ran a 4.39 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. Seymour is a rangy corner who plays with NFL caliber quickness. His overall burst and speed will be an asset in zone coverage. He was also a special teams standout with 19 tackles over the last three seasons (eight in 2015).
Despite having the desired physical tools for a cornerback in today’s NFL, Seymour’s injury history is a cause for concern, especially since the Bills have already gambled on a few players in the previous rounds. Seymour’s playmaking ability is often questioned by scouts as well, as he intercepted only three balls in a little over three seasons. He is also victim of being boxed out by bigger wide receivers on deep and inside routes. So it appears Seymour will have to make some adjustments when entering the NFL.
How he fits:
It’s no guarantee that Seymour will automatically make the 53 man squad heading into 2016. So training camp and preseason will be big times for the Trojan cornerback to prove he belongs on this roster.
With that being said, Seymour offers special team versatility in his first season, along with the opportunity to solidify a cornerback group that is lacking depth. In 2016, he’ll definitely provide that much needed depth. However, the Seymour selection brings more value to the Bills long-term if he can utilize his athleticism in becoming a better playmaker on the ball.
If Seymour is on the roster for 2016, expect him to be a 4th or 5th cornerback with limited snaps. Similar to Dezmin Lewis, a seventh round selection in 2015, Seymour could end up on the practice squad to refine his game. The practice squad may be better for his long-term development, which will help the Bills achieve maximum value with their other 6th round selection.
Just like any other late round picks, it’s always a gamble attempting to locate players that may be hidden gems. Grabbing an athletic cornerback who is raw, but very talented, is a reasonable risk to take on in the later rounds, especially when the position is currently thin for the most part.
Nevertheless, Seymour has upside that can be developed by defensive mastermind, Rex Ryan, in hopes to get the best out of their 6th round investment.
Overall Grade: A-
Like I stated earlier, the Bills absolutely hit the nail on the head with their draft picks this year. Whether that was trading up to select the talented Reggie Ragland, or potentially selecting their franchise quarterback in the fourth round, Doug Whaley was able to gather a third straight impressive-looking draft class that will immediately help the Bills in the short and long term. Doug Whaley and his staff were able to identify specific players that will address their current needs, but most importantly, Whaley was able to find excellent value in each and everyone of his selections.
It’s arguable that some of the players in this draft class will be in a wait-and-see mode, as my grades on the picks are no indication of their future roles and success. However, it’s reasonable to assume that there will be growing pains and hard lessons learned along the way. Most of these players will need some form of development at the next level if they ever want to discover their potential.
In the end, it’s the faith in Doug Whaley’s superb drafting skills that will end the Bills daunted 15 year playoff drought. Whaley has already assembled a star studded roster on paper that is awaiting to finally break through. With the addition of another incredible draft class, there’s hope that this will be the tipping point in the Bills turn around to finally make the playoffs, and hopefully, deliver Buffalo it’s first super bowl championship. The turnaround starts now heading into 2016.