Article by Kendall Mirsky, Producer of The Air Raid Hour.
As a 23 year old born in Rochester, New York, I have been following the Buffalo Bills for about 18 years. Unfortunately, that means that I experienced the dreaded 17-year playoff drought. All I knew before Josh Allen were the various Buffalo Bills teams led by inconsistent quarterback play. J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Tyrod Taylor, and of course everyone’s favorite, Nathan Peterman.
During these underwhelming seasons, you get used to the idea of giving up on the season and looking forward to the draft. Consistently having high draft picks and a mediocre roster means that a 1st round draft pick is expected to be an immediate impact player in his rookie season. Even since Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane’s arrival, the Buffalo Bills have expected these kinds of immediate contributions from their top draft picks. For example, players like Tre’Davious White, Zay Jones, Dion Dawkins, Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Ed Oliver, and Cody Ford have were expected to contribute early. The reason, roster construction and the trajectory of rebuilding the Buffalo Bills since Brandon Beane’s arrival.
Some of the recent Buffalo Bills draft picks I listed above panned out well, others haven’t, and the jury is still out on a couple of them. The moral of the story is that this 2021 Buffalo Bills roster doesn’t have any glaring holes where we expect a rookie to come in to start. Would it be nice for a 1st rounder to go in and take the starting role away from a veteran on the roster? Of course, but it is no longer an expectation or a need.
This dynamic enables the Buffalo Bills to draft the best player available in this 2021 NFL Draft and look to the future on what the roster may need beyond 2021. Additionally, in past years the Buffalo Bills might have been forced to draft someone with a higher floor because they needed him to produce in his rookie year. Still, now the roster is constructed in a way where the Bills can gamble on someone with a high ceiling. This is because that prospect can marinate behind veterans on the roster for the first half of his rookie season.
Looking ahead, the Buffalo Bills have some notable names entering free agency after this upcoming season. Levi Wallace, Taron Johnson, Harrison Phillips, Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison, and more will be free agents after 2021. Additionally, Star Lotulelei has a potential out in his contract after this season. Even without knowing who will be a free agent next year, it’s evident that the Buffalo Bills need to address cornerback and the edge position in this draft. However, with this knowledge, it seems even more apparent that the Bills should give themselves flexibility in their decision-making for the next offseason by drafting for those needs this year.
Prospects like Asante Samuel Jr. become extremely appealing because his positional flexibility to play on the boundary or in the slot could make him a potential successor to Taron Johnson or Levi Wallace. This isn’t to say the Bills won’t re-sign Johnson, but if he plays himself out of the Bills’ price range, then there’s already a cheap alternative on the roster.
Furthermore, we already know that the Bills need to get younger at edge defender. Still, by drafting an edge this year, he can learn behind two well-decorated veterans at the position in 2021 and fill the void that they leave on the roster in 2022.
Next is the 1-tech defensive tackle position. This is an area that people want to be improved this year because of the inconsistencies against the run. With Phillips, Butler, and maybe even Lotulelei set to leave the Bills in 2022, there will be a need to add some beef to the defensive line’s interior. Even since his last year in college, Ed Oliver has not been able to be his best self. Oliver had to play nose tackle when the Houston Cougars switched schemes in 2018. He came to Buffalo as a rookie and had to acclimate to the next level. This past year he had to take on more of the 1-tech responsibilities because Lotulelei opted out. Defensive Tackle is a sneaky need for the Buffalo Bills in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.
Lastly, another sneaky need for the Buffalo Bills in the 2021 NFL Draft is on the offensive line’s interior. We all know that the jury is still out on Cody Ford. He could be a bust, but he could also be a late bloomer, and this year should give us the answer. On top of Ford, the Bills re-signed Jon Feliciano. The contract was structured so that the Bills could get out of it after this year. The Bills should focus on adding potential starting level competition to this position group. Then make Ford and Feliciano earn the starting guard roles this year and give the Bills decision-making flexibility next off-season.