The Bills are picking at 30 in two weeks, the lowest they’ve found themselves in the first round of the draft since the Super Bowl Bills of the early 90s. But how have their more recent picks added up? In this history lesson, we’ll take a look at the last 10 Bills 1st-rounders, and rank which ones were the best. Let’s get into it.
1. QB Josh Allen – Pick 7, 2018
Was there any doubt? Josh Allen is something the Bills haven’t seen in 25 years: a franchise QB. The young, unproven kid who bailed out of clean pockets and spent his rookie season running for his life is a kid no more, and the front office has done a phenomenal job surrounding him with the talent needed to win in the long term. He is the runner-up in the MVP race from 2020, and the man who broke just about every single-season record we had on offense, and if Allen maintains this level of success throughout his career, he’ll be the greatest draft pick in Buffalo history. He’s expected to sign an extension in the summer and become the franchise QB we’ve been missing for so many years.
2. CB Tre’Davious White – Pick 27, 2017
The last first-rounder of the Whaley Era, though selected by first-time HC Sean McDermott, might have been the best value we’ve seen out of a first-round pick in a long time. White is everything we could ask for: a phenomenal shutdown cornerback, a great teammate, loyal to the franchise, and a leader. Widely considered the best zone coverage CB in the league, his ability to take away part of the field lets the Bills give personnel to the weak side, doing more than his part to turn our defense into a formidable unit. Buffalo’s hype man on defense deserved to set the market when he signed his extension before the 2020 season. He’s in Buffalo for the long run.
3. CB Stephon Gilmore – Pick 10, 2012
The only player on this list with a significant award, Gilmore might have deserved his DPOY over Tre’Davious White in 2019, but with the best CBs going head to head, it was always going to go to the one in man coverage. He was just about everything we got with Tre’Davious White, minus the loyalty. This isn’t a striking indictment of Gilmore, however. Moreso, it is that of the franchise that fumbled everything they did during his time in Buffalo. Players want to play on the big stage. If we’d been more competent, we would have retained him, perhaps drafted White anyway, and this team could look entirely different. Instead, he went to New England, got a lot of money, won some Super Bowls, and has had a hell of a career so far.
4. LB Tremaine Edmunds – Pick 16, 2018
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young, unproven player with crazy physical attributes and little refinement learns to thrive in a team where he’s used for his strengths and trained out of his weaknesses. Edmunds may have been picked only nine players after Josh Allen, but they have a whole lot more in common than that. These two have both become leaders on each side of the ball, and Brandon Beane has excelled in making them work. Tremaine expects to become a staple in this team for the future and will likely be tendered an extension offer after the 2021 season.
5. DT Marcell Dareus – Pick 3, 2011
Dareus was a forceful DT who left it all on the field, and he spent a lot of time on the field. Throughout his first four seasons, he racked up 5.5, 5.5, 7.5, and 10.5 sacks respectively. Issues in the late Rex Ryan era (both personal and injury-related) led to his eventual trade to Jacksonville where he continued to be unable to live up to his 6-year $96M contract. Racking up a whopping 2.5 sacks in 2.5 seasons, he was inevitably let go by ‘Sacks-onville’. He is currently a free agent and was unsigned through 2020.
6. RB C.J. Spiller – Pick 9, 2010
We can’t say that Spiller wasn’t a good RB, but we can say that he might not have been the right choice. With no QB and a high draft pick, teams weren’t using their picks the same way they do now, and Spiller’s short peak wasn’t enough to justify taking him so highly. We’ll never forget his 2012 season (1,703 Total Yards), but with the benefit of hindsight, this is a move that Buffalo would have to rethink. Spiller is now an unpaid intern if the Clemson football program, where his jersey was retired after his time there.
7. DT Ed Oliver – Pick 9, 2019
Bear in mind, Ed Oliver being ranked this low is less about his lack of effectiveness and more about his small sample size, especially playing in his actual position. Oliver was out of position in 2020 due to a lack of 1-tech DTs on the roster, and with better support around him, we can expect him to eat in 2021. His falling as far as pick #9 was considered a blessing at the time, and his brief moments being played the right way over the past season were always impressive. He’s surprisingly athletic for his size and has continued to trend up throughout his career so far. Was he a good pick? As Buffalo’s most recent 1st-rounder, it’s too early to call.
8. WR Sammy Watkins – Pick 4, 2014
If you were excited about the Sammy Watkins pick in 2014, you were one of many. One pick after Jaguars’ legend Blake Bortles went off the board, the Bills snagged E.J. Manuel’s #1 target. That’s a sentence that was full of promise back then but holds a great deal of resentment now. This era of Buffalo draft picks was full of misses throughout the entirety of the roster, and Watkins’ three-year tenure was highlighted by celebrating too soon, missing out on TDs, getting tackled by the hair, and drops. Watkins played just about the best game of his career in SuperBowl 54 as WR4 for Kansas City and then returned to his usual form. He signed with Baltimore as a free agent this offseason.
9. DE Shaq Lawson – Pick 19, 2016
Forgetting his improbable 2019-2020 season, where he posted 6.5 sacks and an incredibly high pressure rate, Lawson was considered one of the biggest Bills busts of the recent era. The former 19th overall pick was essentially a non-factor, unable to earn a consistent starting job in our defensive line and incapable of transitioning to an off-ball LB. Lawson guaranteed himself a swift exit out of Buffalo by being good enough in his contract year to guarantee an offer from another team but bad enough throughout his entire body of work to allow the Bills front office to leave the offer unmatched. He went to Miami on an expensive deal that he didn’t live up to, which might be the best thing he ever did for Buffalo.
10. QB E.J. Manuel – Pick 16, 2013
This one shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Manuel is one of the least successful members of the infamous 2013 QB draft class. It wasn’t that much of a surprise, seeing as Manuel was the first QB off the board at pick 16. A draft without three QBs in the top five is rare, and one without a single QB in the top 15 is downright unheard of. Manuel was a huge bust long before his tenure with the team ended, blessed to be outshined in his pinnacle of poor performance by Peterman, permanently. After being released in 2016, he signed with the Raiders for one year, spent a year unsigned, joined KC for their 2019 postseason run in February, and retired three months later to join the ACC Network in television.