By the end of the day on Monday, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft will have passed, and the pool of players will be set for teams to choose from in April. Without a ton of flexibility in the offseason due to a lack of cap room in 2016, the Bills will need to look to the draft to land an impact player for next season’s push to get back to the playoffs.
The strange thing, though, is that for a team with as much talent as they have, they also have some glaring holes on the roster that will need filling ahead of the season. There still needs to be answers to multiple questions in the offseason before their draft needs are finalized, but, with the deadline passing, it’s time to take a preliminary look at what they could be targeting come April.
Keep in mind, priorities and rankings can and will change as the offseason progresses, but all things considered, this is how I’d rank them today:
1) Edge Rusher
- Some will argue that an inside linebacker is needed more, but as it stands, one of the biggest issues for the Bills in 2015 was an overall inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. Mario Williams, who is more of a five-technique defensive end in the non-blended Ryan defensive scheme in 2016, will likely be released soon to free up cap space. The top priority should be to find a versatile, impact pass rusher at some point in the draft, with the 19th overall selection being a great time to do so. Jerry Hughes needs some help out there, and Manny Lawson isn't going to cut it.
2) Inside Linebacker
- If the Bills can re-sign both Richie Incognito and Cordy Glenn, that likely means that Nigel Bradham will move on from the Bills. Preston Brown regressed near the end of the 2015 season, which makes this perhaps even more of a need for the offseason. However, in the draft, inside linebackers do not have as much of a premium put on them as pass rushers, which is why this particular brand of the position can wait. If Bradham gets re-signed, this ‘need’ will drop down considerably.
3) Offensive Tackle
- Whether it was Seantrel Henderson or Jordan Mills, the Bills were plagued by poor play at right tackle all season long. Both players shouldn’t be above replacement, and it’s clear that the team is not comfortable with using former second-round pick Cyrus Kouandjio in a significant role. If the right player becomes available on the first two days of the draft, the Bills could make the move on one. This need will gain even more traction if Cordy Glenn gets signed by another team in free agency. At that point, considering the offense that they run, it could catapult into the top spot, or quite close to it.
- The Bills have three safeties on their roster who they would be comfortable with starting at this point in time. Aaron Williams, Corey Graham, and Bacarri Rambo all had their moments in 2015, but the position could use some new blood for a few different reasons. Williams still has to come back from his neck injury, and there was even some concern about whether or not he would play football again. Graham was below average in his first year of starting at safety, he’ll be 31 years old when the season starts, and the Bills could save $2.675 million by cutting him right now. Rambo had a stretch of fantastic play, but also had some not-so-stellar moments. With all the uncertainty, safety could deserve a strong consideration.
- Tyrod Taylor is going to be the starting quarterback in 2016, and he deserves it based on his initial season of starting for the Bills. However, the Bills — nor any team — should stop trying to look for their ‘franchise quarterback,’ unless they know for certain that that man is already on the roster. The Bills don’t know yet about Taylor, and they’ve said as much. One could even argue that quarterback should be atop the list every year until that player has been found. However, with how hellbent the Bills are at getting back to the postseason in 2016, it’s more likely that they look for plug-and-play type at a different position in the first round.
6) Defensive Line
- Even without Mario Williams, the Bills still have some nice pieces on their defensive line if they’re running a true 3-4. Marcell Dareus can play all three spots, Kyle Williams can play the five-technique — if healthy, Corbin Bryant could do the same, and they still have Jarius Wynn coming back from injury next season as well. Even still, if they can get their hands on a starter along that defensive line — whether it’s a nose tackle or a five-technique end — it would go a long way to helping fix the defense for the longterm.
7) Wide Receiver
- Even though wide receiver is still down on the list, it could still be a position that the Bills address on the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft. Much was lost after Percy Harvin went down with an injury and the Bills had to depend on a hobbled Robert Woods, as well as slot receiver Chris Hogan. Woods is entering the final year of his contract, and to this point, he’s been just an average starter through his first three seasons. If the right player is there, a good number-two wide receiver to pair with Sammy Watkins into the future may be to tempting to pass.
- This is the area of the ‘needs’ that can be addressed in Day Three, or with second and third-tier free agents. The Bills already have two good starting players at cornerback, but the depth at the position will need to have an addition or two at some point of the offseason.
9) Tight End
- Charles Clay is set in stone as the starter, but the Bills could use a better option behind him if they could find one. They do like MarQueis Gray, Chris Gragg, and Nick O’Leary, but they’ll still keep their eyes open.
10) Interior OL
- This will quite obviously change if the Bills can’t re-sign Richie Incognito this offseason. If they can, they appear to be content with the trio of Incognito, Eric Wood, and John Miller — despite Miller’s struggles in his rookie season.
11) Running Back
- Already with LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams on the roster, the Bills found another player they really like in Mike Gillislee. The chances that they add to this position early in the draft are the lowest, and for good reason.
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