Will the Bills draft another player like Kiko Alonso, who was an instant starter as rookie?
Last year, the Buffalo Bills did a great job with their draft class by drafting four players who saw significant playing time in their rookie season. Quarterback EJ Manuel, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso and wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin were all major contributors throughout the season.
The front office hopes to have another draft class like last year's made up of players who could step in right away and play significant snaps right out the gate. These are six players who if drafted by the Bills could be starters by Week 1 of the 2014 season.
Auburn's Greg Robinson is one of the top tackles in this draft, and if he was selected by Buffalo in the first round, he could quickly overtake Erik Pears for the starting right tackle spot. Pears struggled last year and was one of the worst starting right tackles in the game, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
If the Bills added Robinson it would be an instant improvement to the offensive line and provide stability at either end with Cordy Glenn anchoring the left side and Robinson anchoring the right.
The biggest improvement Robinson could add would be in run blocking, which the Bills offensive line struggled in last year. The team finished second in rushing yards last year with 2,307 yards. The issue lies in the fact that it ran the ball 37 more times than any team in the NFL.
A better statistic to look at the team's effectiveness on the ground would be yards per rushing attempt. In this category the Bills finished 14th last year with only 4.2 yards per carry.
The Bills have talented running backs with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and with a little more room to run provided by an improved offensive line, this part of the offense could be very effective.
Another player in the first round the Bills could target who would start right away is tight end Eric Ebron out of UNC. If the Bills decide not to bring back Scott Chandler, a player like Ebron would quickly jump to the top of the depth chart.
Chandler played a big role in the passing game, ending the year leading the team in receptions and receiving yards, but he doesn't have the same physical abilities as a player like Ebron. He doesn't have the athleticism or the big-play ability of someone like this tight end.
The biggest impact the tight end would have is stretching defenses down the middle of the field and would be a great target in the red zone. Last year, the tight ends for the Bills only accounted for three receiving touchdowns. A weapon like Ebron, particularly around the goal line, would really help to open up this offense.
If there was one position that was most likely to see a rookie starting right from the beginning of the season, it would probably be left guard. It would be surprising to see the Bills coaching staff still believe that Doug Legursky was a capable starter at the position. If the Bills drafted Gabe Jackson, he is the type of player who could step into the role and start Week 1.
He excelled at the Senior Bowl and former NFL GM Phil Savage believes he has the ability to start right away. He described Jackson as:
a classic OG build with long arms, big hands and girth in his lower body. A consensus All-SEC selection, he has the strength to secure the bottom of the pocket and the power to knock people off the ball in the run game. He is tough, has enough lateral athletic ability and the brute force to be a long-time starting guard in the NFL.
Another player who could help the Bills improve their rushing yards per attempt would be Cyril Richardson out of Baylor. Like Jackson, he plays left guard and has enough ability to step in right away as a starter.
At 6'5" and 355 pounds, Richardson would be a good fit because of his run-blocking ability, especially if the Bills continue to rely as heavily on the run as they did this past season.
The team would then be able to pair him next to its best run-blocking lineman, left tackle Cordy Glenn. Last year, Glenn finished 17th in the NFL in run blocking among tackles with a rating of 4.3, according to Pro Football Focus.
With these two on the left side of the offensive line, Spiller and Jackson should finally get the lanes necessary to pick up big yardage on the ground.
C.J. Fiedorowicz could provide great value for the Bills in the later rounds if he goes in his projected spot around Rounds 3 or 4, according to CBS Sports. The tight end out of Iowa may end up being the perfect fit for the Bills at this position in this year's draft.
One area that Fiedorowicz excels among this tight end class is run blocking, and he would even be an improvement over Scott Chandler. Phil Savage named Fiedorowicz as the best tight end at the Senior Bowl, writing:
C.J. won the Alabama Power Most Outstanding Receiver for the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practices. He has excellent size with a proportioned body and is physical enough to continue developing as a blocker. He demonstrated more suddenness in and out of his cuts that will allow him to get separation when facing Man coverage. His hands are dependable and he provides a large catching radius for the QB.
If the Bills don't bring back Scott Chandler, it wouldn't be a surprise to see C.J. Fiedorowicz jumping up the depth chart and being the Week 1 starter because of his ability as a run-blocker.
Along with the offensive line and tight ends, the linebacker position is one that lacks a lot of depth and could see a rookie jump quickly up the depth chart. To solidify the team's defense, it really needs to bring in a solid run-stuffing linebacker, either in free agency or the draft, to play alongside Kiko Alonso.
If the Bills do not address this need in free agency, LSU's Lamin Barrow could be a great fit and immediate starter next to Alonso. He is currently projected to go somewhere around Rounds 4 and 5, which would provide great value late in the draft for Buffalo.
As Bleacher Reports' Matt Miller mentions in the video, Barrow is a tremendous run-stopper but questions his speed and ability to drop back into coverage. However, with a player like Alonso already on the roster, Barrow may not be asked to drop back into coverage often. This would allow him to focus on stopping the run and would play to his strengths.