Round 1, Pick 4: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Round 2, Pick 44: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Round 3, Pick 73: Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville
Round 4, Pick 109: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Round 5, Pick 153: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
Round 7, Pick 221: Randell Johnson, OLB, Florida Atlantic
Round 7, Pick 237: Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
For the most part, the Bills did a great job combining value with addressing areas of need in making seven selections in this year’s draft.
Not one player selected by Buffalo was a major reach at the point at which he was drafted. The Bills patched their biggest holes by adding potential starters at wide receiver, right tackle and left guard, while they also made important depth improvements at linebacker and in the secondary.
Kouandjio and Richardson, who we’ll get to in greater detail later in the slideshow, could both emerge as starters up front in their rookie season.
Despite being a seventh-round pick, Henderson could also eventually factor into the mix to start. He has as much physical upside as any offensive tackle not named Greg Robinson in this year’s draft, but his play has never lived up to his hype and he has an alarming history of failed drug tests, including one at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Brown and Cockrell are likely to start their Bills careers as backups, but both are skilled players who were adequate middle-round values and should be ready to contribute quickly.
The success or failure of Buffalo’s 2014 draft class, however, will ultimately be defined by how well Watkins performs and whether he makes the Bills immediately better.
By trading their 2015 first- and fourth-round selections to move up five spots with the Cleveland Browns and secure Watkins, the Bills put an enormous investment into their first-round pick being a star. As the value of the traded picks will be dependent upon the Bills’ success this season, that investment was also made into the Bills being a playoff contender this year.
The massive cost of the trade, which will significantly limit the Bills’ options in next year’s draft, can only be justified if Watkins emerged as one of the NFL’s elite wide receivers.
The notion that the Bills gave up too much to land Watkins prompted ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) to grade Buffalo’s draft as a C-minus:
Sammy Watkins isn't just going to be a really good player, he already is one. He was my No. 2 prospect in the entire draft. EJ Manuel has a weapon, a player who can turn simple throws into big gains, and that matters because I still don't know how effective a downfield thrower Manuel is. My issue is that this draft is loaded with wide receivers—there are good ones already signing as undrafted free agents as I type this, in fact—and the Bills paid a significant price to get Watkins. A future first-round pick is always a heavy price, but they threw in a fourth as well. Think about this: the Jags took a QB one slot ahead of Watkins, but still managed to get Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in Round 2. Watkins could be a star; the problem is he has to be, and soon.
The focus of criticism has been on the trade’s steep price, but as for the reason the Bills decided the cost was worth it, the acquisition of Watkins should have immediate benefits.
An explosive playmaker who can burn defenders with his speed and can create yardage with the ball in his hands, Watkins can immediately become a go-to target and help second-year quarterback EJ Manuel find his groove after a rocky rookie year.