Buffalo Bills NFL Draft History: Re-Drafting the first round picks since 2010

Greg Rousseau, Buffalo Bills (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Greg Rousseau, Buffalo Bills (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /
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Buffalo Bills
Shaq Lawson, Buffalo Bills (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

Buffalo Bills 2016 First Round Pick: Shaq Lawson

The only first-round pick in the Rex Ryan era, Lawson came in with a tough position to succeed right away after suffering a shoulder injury that required surgery just a month after he was drafted. The Clemson product would eventually get up to speed, but he had highs and lows in getting there.

As I often share, the numbers don’t bear it all for Lawson. Despite never getting to seven or more sacks, Lawson has brought a more all-around game to the table.

From 2017 to 2019, his PFF grades were 65.3, 76.5, and 68.2, respectively, as he posted 48 QB hits in that span. He also had 46 total pressures in his final two seasons in Buffalo, including career-highs of 25 pressures and 13 tackles for loss in 2019.

But the past two seasons have been a mixed bag for Lawson. He posted a 70.9 grade in 2020, but that mark dropped down to 58.6 in 2021. Maybe that was the case because he was playing on one of the worst teams in the league with the Jets.

Lawson has decided to come home this offseason, as he rejoined the Bills to be a part of one of the deepest defensive lines in football. He’s got some unfinished business with the team as the Bills prepare for a championship run.

And even if he’s just a veteran presence in that, Lawson brings a level of value in his return to Buffalo.

Was this the right pick? 

Maybe No. 19 was a bit high for Lawson, but it’s hard to call him an outright bust. One of his biggest flaws has been getting to the QB; Lawson has totaled 21.5 sacks in his career (an average of 3.6 per season).

I think the bigger issue is that Lawson was miscast. He was selected to play defensive end in Ryan’s 3-4 system when he had the skills more suited to play 4-3 strong-side end. That’s why it makes sense that he’s played better in McDermott and Frazier’s four-man fronts.

So was he the right pick? Maybe not. But he’s been a far more formidable player than most metrics would suggest.

Who could the Buffalo Bills have taken?

As for players taken after Lawson on the edge, Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon have both emerged as Pro Bowl-level players, despite being third- and fifth-round picks, respectively.

Ngakoue’s 55.5 sacks since 2016 are tied for eighth in that span. Judon has earned three straight Pro Bowl selections, totaled seven or more sacks in four of the last five seasons, and is coming off a 2021 season where he had 42 pressures and a career-high 12.5 sacks.

Other notable picks after Lawson include three-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion DT Chris Jones, two-time All-Pro CB and NFL interceptions leader Xavien Howard, two-time All-Pro WR and 2019 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas, and two-time All-Pro and NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry.

The toughest pill to swallow on all those future All-Pros was that they were all selected in the second round or later.