The Buffalo Bills 2014 NFL Draft class received a lot of flack, namely because of what they traded away to move up in the first round, but also because they didn’t address safety and tight end, two of their bigger needs. Despite this, I think they could get decent production out of this draft class on the field this fall, and not just from their big name first rounder.
Obviously Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson) is going to be expected to produce this fall, and not just because the Bills gave up an additional first and fourth to acquire him. He was the most dynamic receiver in an historically deep class for pass catchers, and has the skill set to be the explosive playmaker on the outside the Bills are looking for to pair with second year QB E.J. Manuel. He’s got the deep speed to stretch the secondary, but also has the ball skills underneath needed to turn short gains into long ones.
Watkins should be the teams number one option by the time week one rolls around. Mike Williams, whom the team recently traded for, has struggled in camp and is far from a lock to even make the final roster, much less contend for number one duties. Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Marcus Easley are still young and developing, and none offer the complete package Watkins does. You can take it to the bank that the Bills staff are going to be doing everything in their power to get the ball to Watkins and let him do his thing.
Second rounder Cyrus Kouandjio (OT, Alabama) is another rook who’ll be expected to not only start, but produce immediately this fall. RT has been a sieve in recent years and Kouandjio has been the best offensive lineman on one of college footballs historically great offensive lines in recent years. He’s got the athleticism to develop into a top notch pass protecter, but he already has the skills and nastiness to be a run blocking force on the right side. His top competition will be 31-year old journeyman Erik Pears, who should be best suited as a backup swing tackle.
Many criticized the value of drafting Preston Brown (LB, Louisville) in the third round, because everyone thought he’d just be a backup to recently signed Brandon Spikes in the middle. As the affable Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Manny Lawson has recently moved down to DE, opening up the strong side ‘backer spot, which perfectly fits Brown’s skill set. He’s strong against the run and is a downhill, attacking presence against the pass, but struggles mightily in coverage, largely due to his lack of range. For this role and in this defense, he’s a very good fit and could also find himself in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Fifth rounder Cyril Richardson (G, Baylor) could also see some time as a reserve inside swing man. The depth on the interior of the Bills line is deplorable and Richardson is an absolute mauler in the run game. He’ll need some time to get in shape and drop some excess poundage, but he offers high upside.