Buffalo Bills Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer
Will the Bills make a trade or stay put at the No. 9 overall pick? At whichever spot they end up, whom will the Bills select?
We’ll learn the answers to those questions by the end of the night, but until then, we can take a look at what needs the Bills have to fill, who their top first-round targets should be, whom NFL draft experts think the Bills should pick and what potential trades or acquisitions have been rumored for the team.
Ultimately, the Bills might end up in a position to make one of the first surprise picks of this year’s draft.
Departures and Additions
The Bills lost one of their star players during this year's free-agency period, but were able to retain most of their key players from the 2013 season.
Jairus Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler who is widely regarded as one of the NFL's best free safeties, left Buffalo after five seasons to sign a six-year, $54 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. Now one of the NFL's highest-paid safeties, he leaves a void in regard to playmaking impact that is unlikely to be replaced with any one player.
The only other two free agents to leave this offseason were defensive lineman Alex Carrington, who signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Rams, and linebacker Arthur Moats, who signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. While both of them were starters on the defense at points in their careers in Buffalo, neither loss should have a significant effect on the 2014 season or the team's plans for the draft.
Two other Buffalo free agents, safety Jim Leonhard and offensive tackle Thomas Welch, have not yet been signed by any team this offseason.
Buffalo took a smart, cost-effective approach to this year's free-agency period. Instead of rushing to make big-ticket signings, the Bills waited for the frenzied first few days of free agency to pass and then landed a number of quality veteran players at reasonable prices.
The most significant free-agent additions came on defense, where they signed linebackers Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers and defensive back Corey Graham. Spikes is expected to be the team's starting middle linebacker, while Rivers should get a shot at winning the starting strong-side linebacker job. Graham is a versatile player who could factor into the lineup at both cornerback and safety.
The team signed just two free agents, guard Chris Williams and running back Anthony Dixon, on the offensive side of the ball. Williams should compete for the starting left guard job, while Dixon is a power back who could contribute in short-yardage and goal-line situations while also playing special teams.
Buffalo made a bigger move for the offense, however, when it traded its sixth-round pick in the draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for wide receiver Mike Williams. A talented receiver who adds size and strength to the roster at the position, he might not necessarily be a starter but should see significant playing time.
The Buffalo Bills offense needs to improve this season, and that effort starts up front. If they are going to take their offensive output to the next level, they shouldn't settle on Chris Williams and Doug Legursky at left guard or Erik Pears and Chris Hairston at right tackle. Their offensive line roster is serviceable as is, but there's room for improvement in this year's draft.
Thanks to the acquisition of Mike Williams and the re-signing of tight end Scott Chandler, the Bills have plenty of receiving targets on the offensive roster, but the group lacks stars. What they specifically lack but could add in either a big receiver or a fast tight end is a pass-catcher with the size and athleticism to consistently create mismatches on the field.
Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes are a strong pair of pass-rushing defensive ends, but as the Bills switch to a 4-3 base defense, they should be looking for another defensive end who can rotate in with them. Ideally, they need a defensive end whose strength is against the run, as Hughes is best suited to rotate in as a pass-rusher, but Buffalo needs someone with more ability off the edge than the rest of its other defensive linemen.
The Bills might feel as though they already have Jairus Byrd's replacement(s) on the roster. Da'Norris Searcy performed adequately when he filled in for an injured Byrd early last year, Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks should be in line for bigger roles in their second NFL seasons, and Corey Graham could also factor in at free safety. Nonetheless, the Bills might want to consider upgrading or adding depth at the position in this year's draft.
Between a strong one-two punch in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and with veteran free-agent addition Anthony Dixon to back them up, the Bills have no immediate need for a running back. They might be smart to draft and develop one, however, as Spiller and Jackson could both become unrestricted free agents in 2015.
The Bills are more likely to sign an undrafted free agent than use a draft pick on a punter, but they should be looking for another one to compete with Brian Moorman, who was one of the NFL's worst punters in his return campaign in Buffalo last season, and Jacob Dombrowski, who has yet to appear in an NFL game after going undrafted last year.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
There are five or six top talents in the draft who could entice the Bills to move up the draft board, but if Buffalo makes a play for the Houston Texans' No. 1 overall pick, it would be so it can draft South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Considered by many to be the top talent in this year's class, he is an explosive edge-rusher with rare physical potential and would potentially form the league's best defensive end tandem with Mario Williams.
2. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Another suggested trade-up target for the Bills has been Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, but if Buffalo is going to move up to land a pass-catcher, it should be for Texas A&M's Mike Evans. A 6'5", 231-pound wide receiver with 35.125" arms and impressive athleticism for his size, he is exactly what the Bills still need for their passing offense. It's plausible that he could fall to the No. 9 overall pick but unlikely.
3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The most polished all-around offensive tackle in this year's draft class, Matthews could be an immediate upgrade at right tackle, where he played the first three seasons of his Texas A&M career. He's another player who is likely to be off the board within the first eight picks but should be an obvious selection for the Bills if he falls to the ninth slot.
4. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
Robinson isn't quite as NFL-ready as Matthews, especially as a pass-blocker, but he has rare physical traits that have led many to believe he'll be the first offensive tackle selected in this year's draft. He's an unlikely trade-up target, but the massive, powerful and athletic lineman would be a terrific choice if he is still on the board at No. 9.
5. Zack Martin, OT/G, Notre Dame
If the Bills stay put at the No. 9 overall pick and don't have a top talent fall in their lap, their target might end up being Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. He isn't as physically gifted as Matthews or Robinson, but he is a polished technician with the versatility to play any spot on an NFL offensive line. He could project as an upgrade at either right tackle or left guard for Buffalo.
6. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
The top tight end in this year's draft class, North Carolina's Eric Ebron is another possibility at the No. 9 overall pick. A terrific athlete at 6'4" and 250 pounds, he could give the Bills a field-stretching target over the middle and a player who can create mismatches wherever he lines up.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Jake Matthews is the type of player you'd pick No. 1 overall in most drafts—in fact, he would have been in the running for the first choice in last year's draft with Eric Fisher and teammate Luke Joeckel. Now, one year more developed and having spent a season at left tackle, he's ready for the pros.
Matthews is interesting in that he can legitimately play any of the five positions on the offensive line and play them well. Some teams I've spoken to like him as an All-Pro candidate at center, while others see a Joe Thomas-like technician at left tackle.
The Bills can use him and Cordy Glenn at either tackle position and have one of the best young duos at tackle in the game.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews would team up with Cordy Glenn to give the Bills an outstanding set of young offensive tackles.
Todd McShay of ESPN (subscription required): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
I've heard from three league sources in the past week that the Bills are trying to trade up. If they do make a move, it'll likely be to land Clowney, Robinson or Watkins. But if they're stuck at No. 9 in this scenario, I think it'd come down to Lewan and TE Eric Ebron, and their need to protect second-year QB EJ Manuel would be the overriding factor.
Peter King of The MMQB/SI.com: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Bills stunned that Lewan’s still hanging around, and they pass on tight end Eric Ebron, who could be a great security blanket for E.J. Manuel. Keep in mind that GM Doug Whaley is very much open for business here, and could trade down and still get another guy they love: Odell Beckham.
Mike Mayock of NFL.com: Zack Martin, OT/G, Notre Dame
Eric Ebron is possible, but I would take Martin. You can play him at tackle or guard, even center, and he'll do it at a high level. He will help make E.J. Manuel a better quarterback.
Whether it's a scenario where Matthews falls to No. 9 overall, as Miller and Jeremiah project, or where the Bills settle for Lewan or Martin, the common thread between these experts' projections is that they all expect Buffalo to draft an offensive tackle with its first-round pick.
McShay thinks the Bills could move up, while King thinks Buffalo might look to drop down, but all five of these experts believe the team will upgrade its offensive line instead of drafting Eric Ebron.
Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Another solid weapon for young EJ Manuel to throw to, plus when Ebron is flexed, the running game will open up even more.
Charles Davis of NFL Media.com: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Bills need to help young QB EJ Manuel, and the best TE in the draft will provide.
While most experts favor drafting an offensive tackle, Kirwan and Davis think the Bills will add the receiving playmaker they need over the middle. Davis' prediction is particularly bold, as he has the Bills selecting Ebron even with Jake Matthews still on the board.
Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis
Will the Bills Trade Up?
When Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei brought it to light in late March that the Buffalo Bills could attempt to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick, many were skeptical that Buffalo would actually be considering such an aggressive move. Since then, however, many other NFL reporters have followed suit in discovering that the Bills might be serious about moving up the board.
ESPN's Todd McShay wrote Monday that he has "heard from three league sources in the past week that the Bills are trying to trade up." Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, meanwhile, reported Wednesday that the Bills "have been burning up the phone lines in an effort to work out a deal that would vault them from No. 9 to No. 1 or No. 2."
Pulling such a trade off is easier said than done, and if the Bills are going to make the move, it's likely to cost them a hefty price. It seems, however, that they have a top target in mind—per Florio, those targets are Jadeveon Clowney and Greg Robinson—and are willing to part with at least some additional resources to land the player they covet.
Are the Bills "Seriously Considering" Zack Martin?
In his most recent Monday Morning Quarterback column, Sports Illustrated's Peter King said he knows of "one team in the top 10 seriously considering" drafting Martin, whom King labeled as "this week’s Hottest Guy in the Draft."
King didn't specify the team, but the most likely choice to fit the profile would be the Bills, as they could miss out on both Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson yet are likely to look for an offensive line upgrade with their first-round pick.
WGR's Joe Buscaglia said last week that the Bills are "very interested" in Martin, while WalterFootball.com's Charlie Campbell wrote Wednesday that the Bills "are targeting an offensive tackle with their first-round pick" and that if Jake Matthews is off the board, their selection is "likely to be either [Taylor] Lewan or Martin."
Could the Bills Trade Down?
While the majority of predraft buzz has surrounded the possibility of the Bills trading up, it's also possible they could trade down.
If they do not move up and miss out on top targets such as Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, they could arguably get better value by trading down than in selecting a player such as Martin or Lewan.
There haven't been many reports in regard to this possibility—probably because Buffalo is still seeing if it can move up before it even considers moving down—but Sports Illustrated's Peter King suggested earlier this week that the Bills are "very much open for business" and "could trade down and still get another guy they love: Odell Beckham."
7-Round Buffalo Bills Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick 9: Zack Martin, OT/G, Notre Dame
In a scenario where the Bills do not trade up and Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Greg Robinson are all off the board, they could be content to settle on Martin with the ninth pick.
He would be an immediate upgrade to the offensive line and could be considered the best player available on the team's board.
Round 2, Pick 41: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
By selecting Benjamin, the Bills could reunite second-year quarterback EJ Manuel with one of his collegiate receivers while adding the size they lack at the position. He is a big wideout who excels at making plays on jump balls and is a skilled route-runner.
Round 3, Pick 73: Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford
An instinctive linebacker with a nose for the football and good playmaking range, Skov has the versatility to play a variety of roles in the Bills 4-3 defense.
An impactful blitzer who fills gaps well but is also adept in coverage, Skov could be a priority rotational player at any of the three linebacker positions and then potentially take over as the starting middle linebacker in 2015.
Round 4, Pick 109: Walt Aikens, CB/FS, Liberty
Aikens is a small-school standout who has a good combination of size and athleticism and could provide depth and competition at both cornerback and safety. He is a physical player who is at his best in press coverage and run support.
Round 5, Pick 149: Terrance West, RB, Towson
The Bills seem to be interested in adding a power back to their stable of runners and would get good value on a spectacular small-schooler if Towson's Terrance West is still available in Round 5.
West, who set single-season FCS records last season for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, is a big, between-the-tackles runner who consistently grinds out extra yardage.
Round 7, Pick 224: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
The Bills could use one of their late-round picks on a young backup quarterback, and Boyd would be a good fit with his ability to make plays with both his arm and feet.
He didn't quite develop into the pocket passer he was expected to be going into his senior season, but in Round 7, he would be a good value as a developmental player with some stylistic similarities to Manuel.
Check out my Bills mock draft slideshow from earlier this week for full analysis on all of these projected picks.
All measurables courtesy of NFL.com.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.