Buffalo Bills: This season will be about the 2017 draft class, not 2018

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Buffalo Bills made big moves in the 2018 draft by acquiring their franchise quarterback and a physical specimen at linebacker, but the 2018 season will be defined by the team’s 2017 draft class.

It was well documented that the Buffalo Bills had missed the playoffs the prior 17 years and had generally been a laughing-stock around the league up until last season. Sweeping changes across the organization, plus reshaping the entire roster, helped the team break the drought and take the pressure off for the foreseeable future.

Going into the offseason, the biggest question mark was the quarterback position. The team addressed that early in the NFL Draft this past April as they traded up to take Josh Allen out of Wyoming with the No. 7 overall pick. They then moved on to address another glaring need at middle linebacker, again trading up to the No. 16 pick and selecting Virginia Tech’s Termaine Edmunds.

Following selections such as Harrison Phillips, Wyatt Teller and Taron Johnson could all play parts this season in rotational roles. Siran Neal, Austin Proehl and Ray-Ray McCloud will all likely serve as depth players in their first year.

Despite the quality and opportunities for players this coming season, 2018 will be more about the draft class of 2017. That group is the first draft class to play in the playoffs in 17 years for the Bills, and making the playoffs is all they know. The way they play, and the way they lead, will be the foundation of how the team progresses over the next several seasons.

From last season, five out of the team’s six picks could be starters come September 9. Of those, first round pick Tre’Davious White has already established himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL after one season and is the star of the group. He, along with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, make up one of the best young secondaries in the NFL. White will be relied on as a shutdown corner and to take the next step as an elite corner in the league.

The first of two second-round picks in 2017, Zay Jones has a lot to prove. Once healthy, he should be the team’s starting receiving option across from Kelvin Benjamin.

While he holds the NCAA record for career receptions and receptions in a season, Jones had a disappointing rookie season. Inconsistencies in the offense and at the quarterback position certainly didn’t help Jones, but he needs to show that he can continue to develop and become a more reliable option on a growing offense.

Due to Dion Dawkins‘ emergence as a quality left tackle in year one, the team was able to trade away Cordy Glenn. He too will be expected to take another step and show why the team was able to move one of the best left tackles in football. He is now the anchor of the offensive line due to the retirements of Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. Buffalo needs him to take the next step.

The Bills had no picks in either the fourth or fifth rounds, but the team found got a steal with their first pick in the fifth. Linebacker Matt Milano will be the full-time starter alongside Edmunds this season and after he was inserted into the starting lineup last season, the defense took another step forward. His importance to the team is vastly underrated as his mobility and athleticism can do so many things in McDermott’s offense.

As for the team’s second fifth-rounder, he could be the biggest surprise of them all. Quarterback Nathan Peterman has impressed throughout training camp thus far and is currently in the pole position to be QB1 come training camp.

After last season’s debacle against the Los Angeles Chargers, it appeared Peterman would never get a chance again. However, it seems that the coaching staff has been impressed with his play. If he is the starter come September, his play and how long he plays well will determine if the team makes it back to the postseason and when we may see Josh Allen under center.

Sixth-rounder Tanner Vallejo will most likely be a depth player and special teamer this season. His role could increase with injuries ahead of him.

While the 2018 draft class has much more hype surrounding them, just one of those picks is a starter as of right now in Edmunds. Otherwise, Phillips is the only other player expected to get consistent playing time and the ETA of Allen’s first snap is unclear.

Over the long-term, those three may have a much more significant impact on the course of the franchise – specifically Allen. Meanwhile, 2018 will be about the progression of the team’s second-year players.

Next: Bills 2018 Position Battles: The battle at quarterback

All those players know as professionals is winning, playoffs and the process. This coming season we will get a better idea of how long we can expect those three things to continue.