Well, we're four days away from the NFL draft, or the “annual selection meeting” as they like to call it. For me, it’s like waiting for the tax season to be over. I see it as a necessary annoyance. I love the draft so much I left the country for the week.
Last week, Bills general manager Brandon Beane presided over the customary pre-draft media presser, a fun exchange in which the GM fields questions while not trying to lie even more blatantly than the President.
Beane acknowledged that predicting the draft, in which many analysts pretend to have a strong opinion on guys they’ve never seen play, has become something of an obsession among fans and media.
“I know there is a lot of stuff out there. Everybody has a mock so you don't know what people are making up and what their intel is,” Beane said.
Everybody doesn’t have a mock. I don’t do one. I leave that up to the “experts.” No one knows what the Bills will do, though sometimes it’s fairly obvious — like the fact that they had to get a franchise quarterback last year after deciding not to take a shot at Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson the year before.
At times, it seems like the flavor of the week with the Bills’ top pick. For awhile, it was a wide receiver. Then there was a run on mocks that liked them taking an offensive tackle, or a defensive lineman or edge rusher. Lately, there’s been a trend toward taking a tight end with the ninth overall pick next Thursday.
That about covers it. My educated guess? They’ll go for a defensive lineman with their first pick — a three-technique tackle or a rush end. Beane said he’ll take the “best player,” which is generally the case. I don’t recall any GM ever drafting someone in the first round and saying, “We took this guy, but he’s not the best player.”
I could be wrong. If my predictions weren’t wrong close to half the time, I’d be gambling in Vegas for a living. But logic and observation lead me to conclude that the most likely pick for this franchise at this time is a young stud to fortify the defensive front.
More specifically, it’s the the right pick for this head coach. Let’s not forget, Sean McDermott was given the most power of any head coach in Bills’ history when the Pegulas hired him early in 2017, and it’s his football vision that drives this operation.
McDermott ran the draft in 2017, when he was hired before a real GM. It was McDermott who traded back to get extra picks and delay the quarterback decision for a year, and who took a young cornerback, Tre’Davious White, with the first pick. Every new head coach since Marv Levy has gone defense with the first pick of his first draft.
Last year, after grabbing Josh Allen, they moved up to get Tremaine Edmonds, a young and dynamic inside linebacker who could anchor the middle of the defense for a decade or more.
So McDermott, an old school coach who believes you can win with defense, has added a young stud to the back and middle levels of his defense. That leaves the front, specifically a tackle or end who can rush the passer. They haven’t drafted a pass rushing D tackle or end — in any round — since McDermott arrived.
This draft is loaded with those kind of players. It’s been called “off the charts great” by some experts, with the likes of Bama’s Quinnen Williams, Houston’s Ed Oliver, Nick Bosa of Ohio State, Josh Allen of Kentucky, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Rashan Gary of Michigan all potential top 10 choices.
Beane wouldn’t concede the off-the-charts characterization. “I’d have to really go back and look,” he said. He admitted the defensive line group was “solid.”
The need isn’t urgent for the Bills. Beane said he has no “glaring holes” on his roster after spending the last couple of months filling them in free agency. Most were to help the offense: The top nine in total salaries were on offense — three wide receivers, five offensive linemen and a tight end.
It’s pretty clear what the plan is here. You spent almost all your resources in free agency on the offense. Now McDermott, whose vision of defense rules, gets to add another young jewel to his defense — this time, at the level which hasn’t yet been addressed since the “Process” got under way.
Kyle Williams, one of the best penetrating D tackles of his era, has retired. Jerry Hughes has been inconsistent in recent years; he’s 31 and in the final year of his contract at a cap hit of $10.4 million. Shaq Lawson is also in the last year of his deal and the Bills might not decide he’s worth an extension.
Keep in mind, Hughes and Lawson are two of the few remaining players from the Rex Ryan regime. McDermott and Beane have been methodically weeding those players out and constructing a roster of their own making, with defensive players chosen by the head coach.
It’s not glaring, but the one position yet to be addressed is a defensive lineman who can get after the passer, a high draft pick for the first level to go along with White and Edmonds.
McDermott will get his man. I have to think they have one or two players in this draft identified as franchise-changers for the D line. It wouldn’t shock me if they even traded up to get him.
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.