I’ve had two revelations after the past two games.
One is we’re building for the long haul, and no short-term setback will avert GM Brandon Beane’s eyes from the ultimate prize. Beane’s Bills are set for a New Era, which will start with $88,531,260 cap money and 20 of his 22 starters set to return. Our savvy General Manager will re-sign from within, and spend judiciously in 2020 Free Agency. Our needs assessment after Free Agency will look different than many draft sites are predicting right now.
My other revelation is that the Bills stand to lose firepower in Free Agency along both lines, but mainly on defense. A whopping 20% of the Bills’ cap is spent on 4 players: DE Jerry Hughes, DL1T Star Lotulelei, C Mitch Morse, and DE Trent Murphy. That likely won’t continue. Three other defensive players are UFAs in 2020: iDL Jordan Phillips (age 27), EDGE Shaq Lawson (age 26), and Swiss Army Knife OLB Lorenzo Alexander (age 37). Beane has the wherewithal to re-sign some of these players and reward others for their stellar play, but he can’t –and won’t– be sentimental and keep under-performers. Expect one or two Day-2 selections at the positions listed above.
Beane has been specially successful at drafting competent back-7 defenders (none of these —S Jaquan Johnson, CB Levi Wallace, CB/S Siran Neal, OLB Matt Milano, CB Taron Johnson, and IR’ed LB Vosean Joseph— claim even 1% of the Bills’ salary cap). Expect back-7 defenders on Day 3 again this year. The special-teams play from these positions adds into this prediction.
Here we go.
RD1, Pick #26: Malik Harrison, ILB/OLB, Ohio State
A lot of draft rags will identify Harrison as a ILB, and the Bills would still feel comfortable drafting Malik as Tremaine’s understudy and insurance plan. But I see enough lights-out plays that suggest he could be the Bills’ third linebacker. You have to watch his 2019 Michigan State game for sure, as it was scouted by 2 Bills scouts, not just one. If you have 2 minutes, though, watch the Michigan 2018 game and picture him with Edmunds and Milano.
RD2#58: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Frank Gore is 37 years old, and is a free agent. I’m not opposed to giving him another 1-year deal to continue his vet presence in that RB room. Devin Singletary is a young Shady McCoy, and now it’s time to draft a young Gore. Brian Daboll will recognize this name from his OC year with Alabama. Famous for his grinding work ethic, Najee Harris has plenty of highlights for you to watch. For the second straight year the Bills will draft a Day 2 RB, and for the second straight year, they’ll get one who’s top 2 in missed tackles forced after contact. This year, Najee has answered my question about receiving ability. An astounding 44.0% of his rushes were a first down or touchdown this season, the best mark in the SEC. Najee will compete against international player Christian Wade for playing time in training camp and preseason for the thunder-back role to complement Singletary’s lightning.
RD3#90: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
A box-out, high-pointing beast in the red zone, Nico Collins has averaged 20.6 yards per catch this year, ranking him second to Tee Higgins among my top 23 wideouts. Collins could drift down to Day 2 because he doesn’t have the number of catches this year you’d expect, as the Wolverine market share is too split up, but I’d run to the podium for that much of a difference maker at pick 90. D’haquille Williams will need competition for that tall Kelvin Benjamin type.
Trade! LA Rams send RD4#20; Bills send RD4#26 and RD5#15.
RD4#126: Nick Coe, EDGE, Auburn
The only thing you and Sean McDermott have to know about Coe is that he’s a wrestler. He’s won 2 state championships and 3 national championships. Coe secures the edge well, and can do so from either end. He’s also good at the switcheroo games our line likes to play. You have to read this great story of Coe’s “second family” that got him where he is. It’s reminiscent of The Blind Side, isn’t it? Rather than waiting for Trent Murphy any longer, I’d have edge rushers in Coe, a re-upped Lawson, Darryl Johnson, Hughes, and the last pick of my mock below.
RD5#169: Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
Football Outsiders says the Bills were 29th in the NFL running off RT and 5th running off LT. I’m going to suggest we don’t need a LT. I also don’t think Nsehke or Waddle are in the Bills’ long-term plans for Right Tackle (I still think Ford’s a Guard, and that’s in my thinking, too). Charles is a human brick wall in run blocking. Here, you watch him (#77) keep Marlon Davidson at bay on a run up the middle, and that’s important because of the Bills’ run game. Combo blocks like this fit the Bills’ scheme, as well. Saahdiq has experience; he got work right away in Baton Rouge. In fact, Saahdiq made the 2017 All-SEC Freshman Team. An alternate tackle is Missouri’s Yasir Durant, about whom I wrote here.
RD6#194: Josh Metellus, SS, Michigan
SS Micah Hyde will be 31 when his contract is up in March 2021. FS Jordan Poyer is a UFA in March of 2020 and will be 29. Jaquan Johnson has already been drafted by the Bills, but the Bills will eventually need two. I looked for Strong Safety fits for the Bills, and the Wolverines’ elder statesman safety, Josh Metellus, kept ringing the bell after top-10 player Grant Delpit. Beane and Schoen both went to his game against Iowa, and Metellus had this nice INT in addition to 4 tackles and 2 assists.
RD6#204: Zack Baun, OLB, Wisconsin
I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of Vosean Joseph as the team’s third LB, and that Maurice Alexander (29 in February) isn’t it, either. I think Baun (6’3/230) was miscast in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense. He operates very well in space and off the ball, and is more of an intriguing fit for 4-3 defensive teams looking for an outside linebacker than he is at edge rusher. Like Buffalo. Here he is working a game with the iDL (#56), and here’s a sack against Trace McSorley. This play shows Baun has the range, effort, and persistence he could have as a third OLB.
RD6#207: Josh Uche, Swiss Army Knife, Michigan
Trying to give Uche a position might be the hardest decision about this guy. We’ll just say that he’s an EDGE/ILB/SLB with athleticism and pass-rush prowess, speed off the edge, speed-to-power, determination, and motivation. Uche was often leading Michigan in sacks at times. Tony Pauline calls him “an explosive, athletic, front-seven player who can rush the passer and play in space with equal effectiveness” Last year Uche had only 13 tackles, but 8 of those went for loss, 7 of those for sacks. Injuries drop him here. He played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore (injuries). He tore his meniscus and came down with a virus in his first season. The next year, he missed fall camp with a stress fracture in his foot. The fit for Buffalo is uncanny. He can line up as an EDGE, drop into coverage, or rush. If the Bills re-sign LorAx, I’d draft placekicker or punter. Really I would.
Editor’s babble: As always, thanks to our draft “Dean” Dean Kindig for all his terrific contributions to our blog. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.