The 2017 NFL Draft was the first under head coach Sean McDermott and nearly all of the Buffalo Bills’ draft picks made immediate impacts in their rookie seasons. Looking to the 2018 draft, it will be general manager Brandon Beane’s first shot at running a draft, but what can last year’s draft tell us about what is to come this year?
It is almost time – the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft kicks off tonight and while we are all excited to see who the Buffalo Bills will take to mold the future of the franchise, we can take a look back at last year to see what type of player makes a McBeane draft pick.
While general manager Brandon Beane was not yet a member of the Bills front office, it is rather apparent that Sean McDermott ran the draft as Doug Whaley and his staff were on their way out. Once Beane came in, however, you could see that there was a clear plan in place and his moves followed suit to what McDermott had started at the draft.
Looking back at the six selections from last year’s draft, you begin to see patterns. Certain things are true about each player that the team took that allows us to project who they may draft this year. I recently wrote an article with my ideal draft haul for the upcoming weekend and many if not all of those players have some of the traits I will discuss below.
Before we get into those traits, this is how the Bills made out last season:
- Tre’Davious White/Cornerback/LSU – Senior
(TRADE) – Bills trade No. 10 to Chiefs for No. 27, No. 91 and a 2019 first)
- Zay Jones/Wide Receiver/ECU – Senior
(TRADE – Bills trade No. 44 and No. 91 to Rams for No. 37 and No. 149)
- Dion Dawkins/Tackle/Temple – Senior
(TRADE – Bills trade No. 75, No. 149, and No. 156 to Falcons for No. 63)
- Tanner Vallejo/Linebacker/Boise State – Senior
In reviewing these six picks and how the team got to them, we can get a look ahead for what to expect this week.
The first thing that stands out to me is that every player that the Bills drafted last season was a senior. That showcases to me that McDermott values production and maturity over most things and while a player may be picked a little high, they will take them because of their proven success.
White had four years of starting experience at LSU while Jones set the NCAA record for career receptions and receptions in a season. Both also earned All-Conference honors along with Dawkins, who also started as a true freshman. Each of the six players they took had experience and a proven track record over several years.
That means a lot to me when selecting a quarterback this year. Someone like Baker Mayfield is a senior, put up incredible numbers for three consecutive seasons and has been a starter for the last three seasons as well. Josh Rosen has been a starter since he stepped foot on UCLA’s campus and Sam Darnold has had production in his last two seasons.
This regime values production at a high level, no matter the level of competition. White played in the SEC, one of the toughest conferences in the country. Meanwhile, Jones and Dawkins played in smaller conferences but still put up great numbers.
I think that the team will lead towards taking players that have production in college over one-year standouts because the production means that they have a baseline of play and can continue to grow.
Each of the first three picks for the Bills came via trade last season, and that speaks volumes about what is to come. The two biggest topics of this draft have been what quarterback are the Bills going to take and how will they get him? With six picks in the first three rounds, the team has ample ammo to move up to the top of the draft to select their favorite prospect at the position.
Even though Brandon Beane was not yet with the organization last year when the draft went on, he carried on the team’s theme of moving away players to bring in assets for this draft. It shows to me that even before they had a chance to work together in Buffalo, Beane and McDermott were on the same page.
What it also shows me is that the team will do whatever it takes to get a guy that fits what they want to do. For example, the team wanted Zay Jones and moved up to get him. They then traded back into the second round to get Dion Dawkins – both who are set to be starters this year and were starters more often than not last season. By drafting those two and moving around, the team wound up with no third of fourth-round picks and they were without a sixth as well.
There is a willingness to move assets and thus be comfortable with not having picks for more than round at a time. I think that shows a lot about how far up the Bills would be willing to go to select a quarterback or any player they desire. They did a lot of moving last season without a ton of draft capital and can now make major moves with some of the most capital in the draft.
When it comes to adding players to the roster, the team values high character players. Other than one off-the-field issue with Dawkins in college, the 2017 draft class is full of character rich players but also ones that have personality.
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Tre’ White, Zay Jones, and Dion Dawkins are three individuals that have plenty of personality, but they also aren’t distractions. To me that means that as long as these players aren’t getting in trouble or have a minor incident in their past, they don’t have an issue taking them. Granted Jones has had an issue this offseason, but that was after the team had already drafted him.
I believe that the Bills want players that are fully dedicated to football and making a difference on and off the field. Just because a player may have personality does not automatically take them off their board.
Many people confuse personality for character issues, and I think that this regime has no problem identifying a difference between the two.
While players like Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield have had “off-the-field issues” because of their personalities, they aren’t bad people. They have made mistakes, but if you listen to Rosen talk he is extremely charismatic and every answer he gives is well thought out. Despite the general thought about these two, it seems like the Bills have a good grasp on finding players that have a balance of character and personality.
A lot of the time you hear draft analysts say “take the best player available,” and that works to a certain extent. However the Bills last season appeared to have a very specific plan when it came to drafting players. They wanted players that fit what they wanted to do.
Tre’ White is not the biggest or fastest corner, but he perfectly fits the defense that McDermott wants to run. The same can be said about Matt Milano, who played safety in college before moving to linebacker. His ability to cover and use his speed to get to the football and make plays fit perfectly into what the team wanted to do on defense, and he is now a starter.
White and Milano are very similar to Josh Norman and Thomas Davis who played under McDermott in Carolina. White and Norman are similar size and have similar skillsets while Davis also played a linebacker/safety hybrid in college, just like Milano.
Dion Dawkins was also viewed as a guard or at best a right tackle, but the Bills plugged him in at left tackle and in their scheme he was a better than average starter. Meanwhile, drafting Nathan Peterman reflects how the team wants a more traditional pocket passer – perhaps showing who they may desire in this draft.
It appears the team is very strategic in making their moves and don’t just take the best player available, but they use their picks and make trades to navigate the draft and select the right players for what they want to do. Five of the six picks the team made last year ended up starting at least a game, and many of them made huge contributions.
You can appreciate a team with a plan and the willingness to execute that plan to find the players that best fit them and not what looks good to an analyst to get the best draft grade.