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Seven draft picks can make the 2021 Buffalo Bills roster

Only two days away from the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills and members of Bills Mafia are ready to get this show on the road. There isn’t much left to talk about when it comes to the draft. However…

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Only two days away from the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills and members of Bills Mafia are ready to get this show on the road. There isn’t much left to talk about when it comes to the draft. However, there is a narrative going around that I would like to push back on. This is the idea that seven draft picks can’t make the 2021 Buffalo Bills roster.

To be fair to all the people that have put this idea out there, I agree that it would be extremely difficult for seven draft picks to make the roster. On the other hand, it’s not right to shut the door on the idea completely. The Buffalo Bills currently hold seven draft picks without a fourth-round pick, but instead two selections in the fifth round.

Draft philosophy

A lot of people have brought up the idea of trading up in the second round because it’s unlikely that players drafted past the fifth round will even make the team. Therefore, in that line of thinking those late-round draft picks are only useful as trade assets. However, trading up in the second round is expensive. Hypothetically, the Bills could trade up with the Raiders at pick 48, but to make it a fair trade, it would cost the Bills their picks at 61 and 93. Personally, I’m not trying to lose a third-round draft pick to move up thirteen spots in the second round.

Given the nature of the NFL Draft, not every pick pans out. There is a positive correlation between the pick used on a player and the hit rate on those picks. For example, players selected at pick 48 overall historically have a better hit rate than those picked at 61st overall. With that being said, it’s only a marginal increase in the probability of success, not a guarantee.

Generally speaking, it’s better to have seven picks and only hit on four as opposed to only making four picks and hitting on two. Additionally, if we think Beane is so good at evaluating talent, why wouldn’t we want to give him as many chances to hit as possible? Isn’t Josh Allen’s mega-deal coming soon? It would be nice to have some of these 2021 draftees really kick it into gear by the time Josh’s contract is on the books in 2023. The more contributors on rookie contracts the better.

Buffalo Bills Late Round Pick Success

Furthermore, the Buffalo Bills have yielded some roster worthy talent in round five and beyond since the arrival of McDermott and Beane. For instance, just last year the Bills drafted Tyler Bass and Dane Jackson in rounds six and seven respectively. One beat out a veteran for the starting kicker gig and the other showed enough flashes to merit discussion as the potential CB2 in 2021. Going back further, in 2019 the Buffalo Bills drafted Jaquan Johnson in the sixth round while taking Darryl Johnson and Tommy Sweeney in round seven. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate complication from covid, Sweeney likely would’ve joined both Johnsons on the active gameday roster last year.

Yes, I understand that it’s extremely unlikely for Brandon Beane to hit on all seven draft picks. However, if he does, all seven could absolutely make this roster and I’ll show you how. Although there’s an element of wishful thinking on my behalf, my final “Mock Draft Monday” that I posted on Twitter yesterday can help me prove my point.

Edge Rusher

In the first round, I selected Joe Tryon, edge rusher out of Washington, who the Buffalo Bills have been linked to him. Even if you don’t like Tryon, substitute him with another edge rusher prospect and the argument is the same. The bottom line is it’s obvious that an edge can make this roster. Yes, it may require a cut to someone like Darryl Johnson. On the other hand, don’t rule out the possibility of Mario Addison being a post-June 1st cut despite the pay cut he agreed to this off-season.

Cornerback #2 Competition

In the second round, I selected former Syracuse Cornerback, Ifeatu Melifonwu. Another player that the Buffalo Bills have met with. We are all aware of the need to get more athletic at the Cornerback position. Melifonwu can bring that athleticism to the position group. Keeping six Cornerbacks on the roster is about what is expected. The Buffalo Bills only have five on the roster right now. Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, Dane Jackson, Taron Johnson, and Cam Lewis. This tells me that not only could a boundary corner make the roster, but perhaps another could beat out Cam Lewis for the backup Nickel Corner job. More on that later though.

1-Tech Defensive Tackle

This is where it gets tricky. In the third round, I selected former North Carolina State defensive tackle, Alim McNeill. McNeill has not met with the Bills to public knowledge, but he is a very appealing run defender. Since Sean McDermott’s arrival to Buffalo, the run defense has been streaky, to say the least. A youthful injection to the defensive tackle position would be a two-pronged upgrade. McNeill could eat up double teams in the run game to free up players like Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds, and/or Matt Milano. Additionally, McNeill is a great athlete for his size and can get after it as a pass rusher.

There are five defensive tackles currently on the roster. Therefore, if McNeill were to make the team, it would likely require a cut. Although Butler agreed to take a pay cut, he’s still someone that could be cut if he doesn’t compete during training camp. His dead cap hit in 2021 would be $3.5M. However, the savings would be $1.8M, which makes it more of a possibility. It may not be Butler that’s cut, but it’s not unreasonable to say a 1-tech Defensive Tackle could out-perform Harrison Phillips and/or Justin Zimmer in training camp.

Interior Offensive Lineman

I picked Kendrick Green, but the argument for an Interior Offensive Lineman doesn’t have to be based around a particular prospect. Right now the starting Guards are Cody Ford and Jon Feliciano. The jury is still out on either of these Guards as mainstays on the offensive line. Beyond that, the Buffalo Bills tendered Ike Boettger and signed Forrest Lamp in free agency.

Boettger or Lamp would likely be the two competing with someone like Kendrick Green. Since Boettger was tendered as a restricted free agent, his contract is funky. Long story short, Boettger only makes money if he can make the team. Nothing is guaranteed to him. Furthermore, Lamp was signed on a very team-friendly deal. His dead cap hit would be only $350k while saving $707.5k on the cap. So if either Boettger or Lamp loses the battle with a rookie, it won’t be a tough financial decision to cut them.

Safety

With my second pick in the fourth round, I grabbed former Cincinnati Bearcat, James Wiggins. Safety is another position that doesn’t need to be framed around a specific prospect either. After losing Dean Marlowe this offseason, there’s a lack of depth at the Safety position. Behind Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, it’s only Jaquan Johnson, Siran Neal, and Josh Thomas.

As much as I like both Johnson and Neal as younger safeties on our roster, they are upgradable. If a safety prospect can make solid contributions on special teams, it could push Johnson or Neal off this roster. Wiggins could do that and actually find himself on the field for a decent amount of snaps as part of three Safety packages.

Wide Receiver

A mid-to-late round rookie Wide Receiver making the roster is another tough argument to make. However, after losing Andre Roberts in free agency, there’s an open competition for the kick and/or punt return duties. In my mock draft, I selected former South Carolina Wide Receiver, Shi Smith. Out of the top six Wide Receivers currently on the roster, the last two to make the team are probably Isaiah McKenzie and Isaiah Hodgins.

Although McKenzie had a great 2020 season and re-signed with the Buffalo Bills, the contract he signed isn’t too hard to move on from. The 2021 dead cap would be only $350k and the savings would be over $600k. Furthermore, the Bills could add a rookie Wide Receiver without kick and/or punt return prowess. In that case, there’s still a possibility that rookie could out-perform Isaiah Hodgins in training camp.

Nickel Corner Depth

The last pick I made in this mock draft was former Boise State Cornerback Avery Williams. Williams was actually best known for his return abilities, which is just another way he could make this roster as a late-round pick. As mentioned before about the Cornerback position, there isn’t a lot of depth. The Nickel Corner niche is specifically lacking depth.

Behind Taron Johnson, it’s Cam Lewis as the next man up. No slight to Cam Lewis, but I have no reason to think a rookie can’t beat him for the backup Nickel Corner position. All we’ve heard so far is that he’s been good in practice. He got a shot last year when Taron Johnson was struggling, but Lewis suffered an injury quickly after getting his opportunity.

Honorable Mentions

The seven positions I broke down were only chosen as examples because of my final mock draft Monday post. However, there are other positions with the potential to upgrade at the depth level. For instance, there is no clear and obvious Swing Tackle. If an Offensive Tackle is drafted, they have a reasonable path to make the roster. Additionally, it could be argued that a rookie Running Back and/or Tight End would have a reasonable path to make the roster.

There are plenty of prospects that I think have a realistic shot to make the 2021 Buffalo Bills roster. For weeks now, Judge Mathes and Tilt Money have been breaking down these prospects. Yesterday was the last Air Raid Hour show prior to the 2021 NFL Draft. It begins with an hour and a half of your regularly scheduled programming. Then we transition into the second half as we were joined by the members of the Buffalo Fanatics Podcast Network, Nap Knows Buffalo and The 585 Report.

This three-hour mega-episode covers various topics including the Travis Etienne rumor mill, seven draft picks making the roster, and much more. Stick with us for a wild ride featuring a three-person snake draft, a mock draft, and betting favorites for various draft superlatives. If you didn’t catch us live you can view the replay linked or embedded above. This is the last chance to get familiar with some prospects prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.

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