Even without a first round-pick in the 2015 NFL draft, to say the Buffalo Bills weekend was uneventful would be a lie. Sure, there were no blockbuster trades or big-name additions, but Doug Whaley and the front office stuck to their best player available philosophy, adding some diverse and interesting talent with its 2015 draft class.
With only six selections this year and two noticeable deficiencies on the roster, it was widely presumed that Buffalo would immediately address the offensive line and maybe even take a quarterback at some point. The Bills’ brass had different ideas, adding to the defense first and bypassing all signal callers with their picks.
While a majority of experts are knocking Buffalo for the players added, it’s far too early to reach any definitive conclusion on how these individuals will fair in the NFL. Realizing that I am no general manager and trying to assess each pick would be fruitless, finding out how and where these rookies can contribute is a good place to start.
Let’s take a look at the six players chosen by Buffalo and what they bring to the team.
Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
5’11”, 193 pounds
4.38s 40-yard dash
41.5 inch vertical leap
Cornerback certainly was not the biggest need on the roster, but we know Rex Ryan loves to draft defensive guys and in the NFL, you can never have too many shutdown corners. The Bills are hoping to get just that with its second round pick, as the speedy Ronald Darby will be joining an already solid secondary.
Along with his ability to burn, Darby is a superb athlete that likes to press receivers and play physical in coverage despite his just average size. However, just like current starter Leodis McKelvin when he first entered the league, last year’s third-team AP All-American has trouble tracking the ball in the air. He also occasionally struggles to defend the run and needs to improve his tackling for the pro game.
Even though he has NFL starter’s potential, don’t expect Darby to step in alongside Stephon Gilmore right away. The rookie will most likely make his immediate contributions as a nickel and dime cornerback while backing up Mckelvin on the depth chart.
John Miller, G, Lousiville
6’2 ½”, 305 pounds
33 ¼” arm length, 10 ¼” hand size
Many analysts are calling the Bills’ 81st selection of guard John Miller its best pick of the draft. Slightly undersized for the position, Miller uses his strong hands and upper body to overpower opponents. Bills’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman loves to utilize power-running plays, which could mean early playing time for the third-round pick.
Miller is most effective in run-blocking as he should be able to dig in and occupy defenders right away. He will struggle more in passing situations with slow feet and lack of lateral movement which will hopefully improve with time. Regardless, the offensive scheme calls for a lot of down-hill blocking, which is something this draftee should be able to provide. Given the uncertainty of Buffalo’s offensive line, a guy that can play both left and right guard will get plenty of opportunities to earn his keep this summer.
Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State
6’1”, 230 pounds
4.48s 40-yard dash
33.5 inch vertical jump
In arguably the biggest surprise of Buffalo’s draft, the fifth round saw another former teammate of quarterback E.J. Manuel chosen to don the Ralph Wilson red, white and blue. Karlos Williams actually started off as a defensive back at FSU, recruited as the number two-ranked safety in the country coming out of high school.
After his freshman and sophomore seasons in which he recorded 30 tackles and one INT, Williams moved to running back and finished out his collegiate career as the Seminoles’ starter. He’s a load to tackle and has excellent straight away speed, although he isn’t going to make anyone miss in the open field which puts a limit on his potential. Williams is also a competent receiver out of the backfield and has the physical tools to be a solid blocker.
Like many of Buffalo’s draft picks, Karlos also plays special teams. He returned 29 kickoffs in his collegiate career and has the experience on defense to be an effective coverage player on punts and kickoffs. This is where Williams will see most of his playing time, but don’t be surprised if he gets a couple carries in Roman’s run-heavy offense too. If he’s able to have a solid all-around rookie year, I foresee a bigger role for Karlos in 2016.
Tony Steward, LB, Clemson
6’1”, 241 pounds
4.64s 40-yard dash
34 ½ inch vertical jump
Tony Steward is another Bills’ draft pick that was a top-ranked recruit coming out of high school. The linebacker actually ranked second overall in the country when he committed to Clemson, but suffered ACL injuries in 2010 and 2011, forcing him to miss valuable time.
Despite the setbacks, Steward is a still very good athlete and showed resilience during his collegiate career as he increased his tackles total each and every season. In his senior year, he finished with 58 tackles,10 for a loss and three sacks. Special teams is an obvious role for Tony but he’ll also be competing with backup linebackers Randell Johnson and Ty Powell for position on the depth chart.
Nick O’leary, TE, Florida State
6’3”, 252 pounds
29 ¾” arm length, 9 3/8” hand size
4.93s 40-yard dash
30.5 inch vertical jump
By now, everyone knows O’Leary is the grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus, but did you know he was also selected as the best tight end in the country last year? That’s right; Mr. Immortal himself won the John Mackey award and was named a first-team AP All-American in 2014. The gritty tight end/h-back is an old-school player that has a high football IQ, great hands and consistently finds ways to get open.
O’Leary’s lack of athleticism and speed will certainly put a ceiling on his big play ability, but Rex Ryan and the coaching staff should fall in love with his work ethic and willingness to learn. He’s also a solid blocker both in the run and passing game, which could yield some playing time as a rookie in Roman’s double tight end sets. O’Leary also figures to be active on special teams, as Buffalo scored a competitor who is sure to become a fan favorite with his no-receiving-gloves style and blue-collar attitude.
Dezmin Lewis, WR, Central Arkansas
6’4”, 215 pounds
33 ½’ arm length, 9 7/8” hand size
4.46s 40-yard dash
37 inch vertical leap
While most people had already shut the TV off or were knee-deep into their post-draft recaps, Doug Whaley was hunting for that seventh round gem. He may have found one in small-school standout receiver Dezmin Lewis, who’s been labeled as a steal in the draft by NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah. Originally projected to go earlier, Lewis slipped all the way to the final round where the Bills scooped him up with the 234th overall pick, adding a big red zone target with the selection.
The first-team All Southland Conference performer is easily the tallest receiver on Buffalo’s roster and provides that ability to win jump balls which is so coveted across the league. Lewis spent the last four years dominating lesser competition, finishing his career with a 64 reception, 945 yard and nine touchdown 2014 season culminating with an invite to the Senior Bowl.
The main reason Dez wasn’t taken earlier is that lack of competition he’s faced. The pro game requires much more speed, physicality and toughness than even top-notch college football, let alone a division one FCS school. Time will tell if the Central Arkansas star can adjust, but he held his own during Senior Week and has the ability to eventually be a contributor on offense. The Bills’ wide receiver competition will be stiff, but Lewis should make a push for the final 53-man roster.
Rookie Minicamp May 8th-May 10th
Rookie mini camp begins this weekend on Friday, May 8th, which should be exciting to get a first look at the newest members of the Buffalo Bills. Until then, we’ll be optimistically ignoring Mel Kiper Jr.