Last offseason, the Bills tried to strengthen their team around quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in hopes of ending their playoff drought. They grabbed some promising players in the draft, but the season still went south and it’s harder than ever to ignore the fact that the team doesn’t have the franchise quarterback that’s a prerequisite for championship contention. Consider that a teaser for the first of the draft needs we’ll discuss in this space.
Quarterback: Swapping Fitzpatrick for Kevin Kolb may actually be the textbook definition of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but it was important for them to admit defeat after giving Fitz a big contract so they could make finding a new signal caller the priority it should have always been. The Bills have met or will meet with just about all of the top prospects at the position in this year’s class, with special attention being paid to Ryan Nassib because he played for new coach Doug Marrone in Syracuse.
The question is whether he’s worth the eighth pick in the draft or if the Bills should be looking for a surer thing up top while relying on Marrone’s offensive acumen to help develop someone selected later in the process. Or, should things work out, just take Nassib early in the second round or trade up to take him late in the first.
Linebacker: Flipping between defensive schemes in recent years has left the Bills short on linebackers who can fill the top spots on the depth chart. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine says that the team will run multiple fronts, which means they’ll need more versatility than holdovers Nigel Bradham and Kelvin Sheppard or newly signed Manny Lawson bring to the table. Barkevious Mingo of LSU could be such a player in the first round, although the disparity between his physical gifts and on-field production remains concerning.
Wide Receiver: Stevie Johnson has one spot locked down, but it’s a big question mark behind him on the depth chart. The Bills let Donald Jones and David Nelson walk and haven’t added anyone to a thin group with little experience. That’s going to make the job more difficult for whoever winds up playing quarterback. There isn’t a receiver who appears to be worth taking with eighth pick, but prospects like Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins and Baylor’s Terrance Williams could make sense for the Bills in the second round as they try to flesh out their offensive attack.
Guard: The Bills fielded a strong offensive line last season, but lost Andy Levitre to a huge contract with the Titans and did struggle to find a consistent answer at right guard when Levitre was here. We’d say that the overall strength of the line and the dire straits at the previously discussed sports makes this need less significant than one you’d need to fill with the eighth pick, but you don’t always get things to play out the way you like.
North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack may be too good for the Bills to pass up in the first round, especially since it isn’t like having a great offensive line is going to be a weakness if that’s how things wind up for the Bills. Whatever happens at quarterback and receiver, the Bills are going to ride Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller hard next season. Getting one of the best offensive linemen in the draft would be a good way to make that course of action pay off.