ESPN’s Bill Barnwell named the AFC East “the league’s most topsy-turvy division” after one quarter, saying the Bills’ biggest surprise was their defense. The Bills have allowed a league-low 13.5 points per game. Wideouts have averaged only 3.8 yards after the catch, the 3rd-lowest YAC rate in the NFL.
Opposing QBs have the league’s second-lowest passer rating on throws of 15 yards or more. The Bills’ foes aren’t chewing up yards on the ground, either; the Bills are 9th in Opponent Rush Yards per Game.
DT isn’t the cause of the Bills’ success against the run, though. Thornton, Dareus, and Washington are on Joe Buscaglia’s list of bottom ten Bills right now. Jerel Worthy missed the first three 2017 games (concussion), only playing in the Falcons matchup.
Only 34-year-old Kyle Williams is playing at a Pro-Bowl level right now, but he’s on a one-year deal. The Bills are likely going to spend at least one of their RD1-2 picks on a one-technique and/or three-technique defensive lineman.
The early RD1 contenders so far are Clemson’s Christian Wilkins and Washington’s Vita Vea. Wilkins is the most versatile; he’s played DE, NT, and 3-Tech, and is even used on offensive plays.
Vita Vea (say “VIE-tay VAY-uh”) is the biggest and fastest of the first rounders (346 pounds, 4.8-second forty), and is an offensive coordinator’s nightmare. Don’t sleep on Utah’s Lowell Lotulelei; his brother played for McDermott and Beane in Carolina.
Later steals include the quick and explosive Dre’Mont Jones from Ohio State, Kahlil McKenzie, a DT/NT out of Tennessee, Michael Hill a NT/DT Buckeye, and two LSU Tigers, Christian LaCouture and Frank Herron.
DE is another story. Jerry Hughes is having a Pro Bowl season. In Week 5, Hughes was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated DE, edging Joey Bosa and Vinny Curry. He has the fifth-fastest sack this year, dropping Matt Ryan in 2.54 seconds, and forced a fumble in that game for White’s scoop-and-score.
On the other side, Shaq Lawson is full-go from a groin injury that caused him to miss the Falcons’ game. He’s had 12 tackles and 2 sacks despite the missed game. In Lawson’s stead, Eddie Yarbrough made 4 tackles, a stuff, and a sack, versatile vet Lorenzo Alexander plays the DE role on occasion, and Ryan Davis hasn’t looked out of place in limited duty.
The Bills brain trust might look at the meager Day 3 pickings at this position and choose to add a Lorenzo type –an active, versatile defender– perhaps in RD3. Heck, LoZo was so versatile, he was NFL Draft Scout’s #10 Defensive Tackle! I’d look at Jaylon Ferguson (LA Tech) if he declares, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo –who’s played EDGE/OLB/ILB for the Sooners, or Javon Rolland-Jones from Arkansas State, who needs 13.5 sacks this year to tie the NCAA FBS record for a career, currently held by Terrell Suggs.
LB play has been a mixed bag. The Bills let Zach Brown seek greener pastures, and I thought letting the sideline-to-sideline LB go would boomerang on us. So far that hasn’t happened due to scheme, but an early draft pick may need to be used on one. Speed in coverage is a liability of our linebackers, but tackling isn’t.
Preston Brown is tied with NaVorro Bowman as the 3rd-ranked MLB in combined tackles (Only Kuechly and Wagner are ahead of him). Ramon Humber has one fewer tackle than Brown with 38. Now, who is a linebacker that fits the 4-3 scheme, has sideline-to-sideline speed, savvy football smarts, productivity, and the right degree of toughness?
RD1’s Malik Jefferson, who switches from ILB to OLB this season. He’s the fastest on my board, and the most-likely defensive prospect in RD1. I expect Jefferson to be gone by the Bills’ first pick. Dante Booker (Ohio State) and Josey Jewell (Iowa) aren’t far behind and may be there by the Bills’ second or third pick.
Other good fits on Day 2 are Micah Kiser and Tremaine Edmunds (both Virginia Tech), Cameron Smith (USC), Matthew Thomas (Florida State), and Skai Moore (South Carolina).
DB starters are ballhawks, but lack backups. Tre’Davious White leads the NFL with 11 passes defensed. Jordan Poyer is the NFL’s leading Safety in the same category with 6 PDs. Micah Hyde has 5, as does the currently-injured E.J. Gaines. After that, there’s an abyss, with a whopping 92 NFL DBs with better stats than any Buffalo Bills.
Expect one DB to be drafted every year under this regime. The McBeane defensive back will have 4 years of experience, has played zone, shows toughness, exudes the team-first ethos, and has logged more than 25 combined interceptions + passes defensed over his career.
Day 2 might be the spot for Free Safety-Cornerbacks like Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson (Say “FACE-son”), USC’s Iman Marshall, or Connecticut’s Jamar Summers. Day 3 steals fitting the Bills’ system include Rashard Fant from Indiana and Darius Phillips, a CB/KR/PR from W Michigan.
O-Line players were bad and plenty on Joe Buscaglia’s bottom ten. RG John Miller had Buscaglia’s lowest player grade; RT Jordan Mills was the second-worst player, and even Dion Dawkins made the list, playing out of place for injured LT Cordy Glenn. Pro Football Focus and Sean McDermott must agree about Miller; he was replaced by Ducasse in the Bengals game, but he’s no upgrade.
Groy has promise at Center and Guard, but isn’t getting starter snaps at either spot. Thankfully, Cordy’s back practicing, and Seantrel Henderson now returns from suspension, which may allow this OL slider puzzle to work. The Bills are PFF’s 7th-rated in pass protection, but just 27th in run-blocking (see RB, below).
Look for a Day 2 and/or Day 3 pick, most likely a big zone-blocking Guard. We at DraftTek thought Dion Dawkins would be a Guard in the NFL, and Dion still might be. One very-draftable Guard who’ll go first is Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, whose size (6’5” 325), quick feet, Taekwondo belt, and ability to turn a defensive lineman in the run game will appeal to McBeane.
Tyrone Crowder is a load (349 lbs.), and isn’t speedy, but he’s nasty in the run game and pass-wise he’s solid; Crowder didn’t give up a sack in 2016. Martez Ivey, Damian Prince, and Mason Cole are big Day 2 prospects who fit the qualities McBeane will look for, and Day 3 prospects that fit the archetype include Michael Dieter, Beau Benzschawel, and Bradley Bozeman.
TE Charles Clay won’t be back for a while, as he left the last game with a left knee injury requiring surgery. O’Leary’s 54 yards against Cincinnati is a blueprint going forward. He was targeted the most, with a market share of 7 of Tyrod’s 25 passing targets (28%).
Logan Thomas seems to be a work in progress, but Rico Dennison’s scheme has traditionally used TEs a lot. Baker Mayfield’s TE target, Mark Andrews, is a RD2-A possibility. He’s a downfield receiving option who reminds me of Jay Riemersma in that they both found the seams well against man or zone.
RD3’s Jeb Blazevitch out of Georgia is possibly the better downfield blocker, having done so for Chubb and Sony Michel. The Bills have lost downfield blocking (Hogan, Goodwin, Watkins), so that’s a factor. Blazevich has been described as a “team player with high character, attitude, and effort”. Doesn’t that sound like a McDermott guy?
RBs are only as good as their O-Line and the scheme. Yards Per Carry (3.4, with Taylor and Tolbert both bringing that average UP) is a concern, although the Bills have already faced the NFL’s best run defenses they’ll see all year. Yards After Contact (1.58) suggests downfield blocking is worse than the last several years.
While another RB might be seen as a luxury pick, Shady will need a breather, and I don’t believe Tolbert is the answer. Look to RD3 or RD4 for a back with shiftiness, knack for finding the thinnest of gaps, excellent receiving skills, team player with no character concerns. I like Mike Weber from Ohio State, a “bowling ball with elite speed” who’s known for toughness.
Later on, look at two Justins –WVU’s Justin Crawford and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson. Crawford is known for his Shady-like jukes and change of direction. Jackson is Mr. Relentless. When the hole opens, nobody accelerates through it quicker. Jackson’s receiving ability is on a par with McCoy’s, as well.
WR is a mess. Buffalo Rumblings does a very good job of portraying the dumpster fire here. It’s been awhile since we had a 1A and 1B wide receiver, hasn’t it? It’s possible the Bills draft two pass-catchers, depending on the healing of Jordan Matthews’ thumb and Zay Jones’ psyche.
How about ND’s Equanimeous St Brown in RD1? He put up 4/182 vs Syracuse last year, has the height and body frame to shield the ball, and @Jimetrics compares him to a taller DeVante Parker. Allen Lazard and Auden Tate are the same build, but not as natural at the catch point.
Day 2, I like Deon Cain from Clemson for his separation skills, Dante Pettis from Washington’s fight for the football, and Peterman’s college target, Jester Weah, who has many McDermott qualities. All can get over the top of a defense, and maybe get the Bills over the hump!
QB is often followed by “problem” in Buffalo. Tyrod Taylor is 2nd-lowest to Alex Smith of the Chiefs in aggressiveness, per Next-Gen NFL stats; The difference is what they do with it. Smith has a snazzy 76.6% comp rate with 11 TD, 0 INT. While not awful, Tyrod’s line is 62.5%, 6 TD, 2 INT.
Tyrod’s running ability (highest ypc on the team) has masked some of the deficiencies on the line, and has masked the team’s rushing average. I claim we’d be worse off by starting a rookie this season or next without fixing the OL first.
However, there is a QB in every round of the coming draft that fits Rico’s system. In RD1, Darnold’s still a possibility, but so is Mason Rudolph, with his precise sideline-timing throws and deep-ball accuracy to throw over the top when the box gets too crowded.
In RD2, Lamar Jackson is tempting for his athletic upside that would fill The Cap, but he’s Cardale Jones all over again –too raw for immediate NFL use. Luke Falk, likely a RD2-A pick, has the ball spin for Lake Erie winds, and isn’t averse to tough coaching. In RD3, look at Mike White (Western Kentucky) with his composure and deep-ball accuracy, and Max Browne, Peterman’s successor at Pitt. Browne has great size and upside. He left USC when Darnold came on the scene. Good plan.
With the season only one quarter over, a lot can change, but true fans thrive on that dynamic. Nothing is set in stone here, and that’s why we like it. The NFL Draft is still far away, and that’s okay; it’s not heresy to peek at potential cure-alls, even if you’re playoff caliber.
It’s October, but we still insist on reading the DraftTek mocks. We even run our own drafts over at FanSpeak to reassure ourselves that The Answer is on his way to Buffalo. It’s no coincidence that “Mafia” and “Mania” are one letter apart.
Editor’s babble: Many thanks to Dean Kindig, DraftTek’s Bills Analyst for his terrific contributions to our blog. You can follow Dean on Twitter @TCBills_Astro.