Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane’s off-season priority was to build around quarterback Josh Allen and improve the league’s No. 30-ranked offense. Major holes, especially on the offensive line and at receiver, were plugged during free agency. That means Beane has the luxury of taking the best player available in the NFL draft this week instead of trying to fill a positional need.
The Bills have a lot of draft capital with 10 picks, including the No. 9 overall selection, so Beane has multiple options: He could stand pat or swing a deal, either to move up and grab a marquee player before he comes off the board or to trade down and acquire more first-round or second-round picks. Oakland, which has four picks in the top 35, could be a trade partner.
Curious what the AFC East rival Patriots, Jets and Dolphins will be up to in the draft? Check out Forbes’ complete NFL draft coverage.
The Bills could use more help on the defensive line with the retirement of defensive tackle Kyle Williams last season and with defensive end Jerry Hughes going into the last year of his contract. They also will need a replacement knowing that outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, 35, will call it a career after this season. The Bills also need another running back, another tight end and a true No. 1 big receiver who will augment a new receiving corps with slotback Cole Beasley and John Brown. Meanwhile, Robert Foster and the club’s leading receiver, Zay Jones, will be better with another year of seasoning.
This is a deep tight-end class, led by T.J. Hockenson, who won the John Mackey Award handed out to the best tight end in college. He has the frame for a prototypical tight end at 6-5 and 250 pounds. Hockenson can be used as a run blocker or as a pass target on mid-range or short-yardage situations. He presents a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties. Last year for Iowa, Hockenson caught 49 passes for 760 yards, good for a 15.5 average gain per catch. Hockenson would be a valuable complement to returnee Jason Croom and free-agent acquisitions Tyler Kroft and Jake Fisher.
Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf has both size, at 6-3 and 228 pounds, and speed with a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. The Bills need an explosive deep threat who can catch up to Josh Allen’s bombs, and Metcalf would be that guy. A criticism is that he lacks agility after slow times in the 3-cone drill and short shuttle at the combine. But on the positive side, he’s got the length and size to go up and get those jump balls, he can make quick adjustments in his route running, and he’s got great hand-to-eye coordination to make one-handed catches if he’s overthrown. Another knock against him is that he’s injury prone after suffering season-ending injuries in 2016 (foot) and in 2018 (neck).
Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver would fill a need on the interior of the defensive line with the retirement of Kyle Williams. Oliver is coming off a three-year college career that saw him record 53 tackles for a loss, in addition to 13.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. But he may not be still on the board when the Bills are on the clock because he could be the best player available in the draft. Some mock drafts have him going as high as No. 4 to the Oakland Raiders. He has elite speed off the snap, although he is considered a little undersized for an interior lineman at 6′ 3” and 292 pounds.
After the first round, the Bills have nine picks: one in the second round, one in the third round, two in the fourth, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.Day 2 of the draft will likely see running backs start to come off the board. The best available might be Alabama’s Josh Jacobs, although some don’t like the fact he never posted a 1,000-yard campaign or spent a full season as a starter. Last season, he averaged 5.3 yards a carry and scored 11 touchdowns. Jacobs excels at blocking and receiving, too.While the Bills have filled in with Cole Beasley and John Brown at wide receiver, the club is missing size at the position, and that’s where North Carolina State’s Kelvin Harmon, at 6-3 and 214, would be a good fit in the later rounds. He’s a big-play receiver. Last year, he caught 81 passes for 1,186 yards and seven touchdowns.
Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson set an NCAA record for career sacks with 47, including 17.5 last season, beating the record of Arizona State star Terrelle Suggs. He’s not off the charts with his measurables, but he has a complete arsenal of pass-rushing moves with the speed, power and length to develop into a quality edge rusher.
This is the second go at this for GM Brandon Beane, who was hired 10 days after the 2017 draft. With so much draft flexibility, the Bills are dealing from a position of strength and, if they can add a couple of impact players, Buffalo could become the surprise team of the NFL next season. Coming off a 6-10 record, the Bills appear to be only a few pieces away from being considered a playoff contender.
Curtis Rush is a Toronto-based writer who began in this business when newsrooms had typewriters. I am a contributing writer to The New York Times, the Washington Post, the WSJ and the Guardian.