With the NFL draft now complete and the Bills underway in signing undrafted free agents, one can now look at all the moves that were made and start to draw some conclusions about what this team is going to look like in September.
Here are 8 takeaways from NFL draft weekend for the Buffalo Bills.
1.) Doug Whaley is Fully in Charge
Whaley made a couple of the most criticized moves in the draft by sending a 2015 1st round pick in the trade up for Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins and then trading Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers. But he announced to the NFL and us fans in his first year at the helm that he will not sit idly by. It’s a nice departure from what we’ve seen before, and some of the most successful NFL general managers make these kinds of moves (think Trent Baalke in San Francisco).
2.) Stevie Johnson and the Bills Needed to Break Up
This is not so much a reflection on what differences Johnson and the coaching staff had between them, but instead it was a player and team that needed to dissolve their relationship from a football perspective. Johnson wasn’t the same player last year from a mental standpoint and it showed on the field at times. The Bills needed a do-it-all play maker and Watkins was it. For Johnson, there wouldn’t be enough passes his way to satisfy his thirst for the ball so he needed a new place to catch passes.
3.) Giving Up a 2015 1st Round Pick is Worth it if Sammy Watkins is as Good as A.J. Green
How many first round picks and players do the Cincinnati Bengals need to be offered until they part with A.J. Green? Answer: They would never entertain a trade offer, unless it’s a RGIII godfather type deal. With that said, if Watkins lives up to the hype that’s been building around him after his outstanding freshman campaign then getting the best offensive weapon in the draft was worth the price to pay. He and quarterback EJ Manuel could form quite a dynamic aerial duo.
4.) The Draft was All About EJ
Four of the team’s seven selections were spent on offensive players designed to help EJ grow into the franchise quarterback the front office envisioned when they took him 16th overall last year. Watkins is a receiver that’s open, even when he’s not, Cyrus Kouandjio is a road-grading right tackle that should keep pass rushers off EJ and Cyril Richardson provides depth to the interior of the line and could push to be a starter sometime this year. Seantrel Henderson is a bit of a project, but he too could eventually play a big part in keeping Manuel safe. EJ has little excuses this year, so a jump in play needs to be made.
5.) The Pressure is on Hackett
Nathaniel Hackett’s first year as offensive coordinator had mixed results. There were some points where the offense performed well, and other times they stumbled over themselves. The biggest improvement that needs to be made is within the red zone. With the additions along the offensive line and plenty of talent in the receiving corps, Hackett will have pressure to make sure the ground game and Manuel improve dramatically. He, like Manuel, has little in the form of excuses this year.
6.) Schwartz has Work Cut Out for Him
New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was given a middle linebacker and a cornerback to add to his stable of defensive talent. Schwartz was hired with the goal of continuing the improved play and to make the unit better in run defense. Schwartz has talent at each level along the defensive front and secondary, but he will have to show his coaching chops as they run a more hybrid 4-3 front than last year’s 3-4 front that worked so well.
7.) Can Hughes Continue to be Huge?
The Buffalo Bills won last year’s trade with the Indianapolis Colts by acquiring Jerry Hughes for Kelvin Sheppard. Hughes put up a double-digit sack year after playing a rush linebacker. Now with the 4-3 front coming, Hughes will play a more traditional hand in the ground defensive end that he had difficulty adjusting to back in Indianapolis. Hughes could play a weakside rush linebacker role in a mixed front on obvious passing downs, in addition to the noted end position. For Hughes it’s a contract year so showing the ability to post similar results could net him a big payday, whether that is with the Bills or another team. For the Bills, they don’t have much depth at defensive end, and they didn’t draft one, so Hughes’ play will either be a big strength or weakness along the line.
8.) Can The Bills Make A Run?
From their play a year ago and the talent they have added, yes they can. For the division? Probably not as that road continues to go through New England, but a wildcard certainly seems within reach. The team went 6-10 a year ago and lost EJ Manuel for six of their games. Of the games he started, the team went 4-6 with three of those losses within a single score. If those become wins then the Bills have nine wins and are in the wildcard discussion. There will be a burden for Watkins and Williams to step up, and EJ has to show improved play, but this is a team that has clear intentions and expects to be in the playoffs. It’s a breath of fresh air for fans, as it appears that the players and front office seem to be on the same quest: Playoffs or bust.