Making the case for the Buffalo Bills to draft Zion Johnson in first round

Zion Johnson should be one player that the Buffalo Bills look at closely at the Senior Bowl (Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
Zion Johnson should be one player that the Buffalo Bills look at closely at the Senior Bowl (Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Draft week is finally here. And with the Buffalo Bills slated to pick No. 25 overall in the first round, here’s a prediction as to who the team may select.

The Buffalo Bills are one of the teams in the league who enter the 2022 NFL Draft with few holes to fill.

With arguably the best quarterback in the game in Josh Allen, youthful and experienced edge players in Greg Rousseau and Von Miller, as well as established vets at power positions like left tackle Dion Dawkins and cornerback Tre’Davious White, the Bills could bolster an already formidable roster.

White’s torn ACL has been a topic of discussion this draft process, especially when factoring in former starting CB Levi Wallace having left for Pittsburgh this offseason. Bills Mafia has clamored for Wallace’s replacement, and a player to hold things down for White early on in the 2022 season, as the latter will be just over nine months post-op for Week 1.

But there’s also been a contingent of fans hoping for the next great Bills running back to join the fray. The days of selecting Marshawn Lynch, Willis McGahee, or C.J. Spiller as offensive centerpieces are definitely behind the team, especially now that “higher priority” positions on the team are already filled.

Picking late in the first round, though — just eight picks before the second — is an RB in play?

The Buffalo running game has taken a dip since LeSean McCoy’s stretch from 2015 to 2018. A part of that may be the guard play, especially at various points of the 2021 season. Maybe the Bills address the interior offensive line then?

Or what about adding another wideout? Of course, having Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and newly added slot receiver Jamison Crowder, is a lot to work with. But would the Bills want to double down on something that’s already a strength?

Decision time is almost here. There’s a lot to discuss, but here are my thoughts on what the Buffalo Bills may do.

Prediction for the Buffalo Bills’ first-round pick at No. 25: Zion Johnson

Johnson has been one of the rising stars in this 2022 class. As he came over from Davidson after two seasons, the Maryland native became a three-year starter at Boston College. Johnson’s zenith came last season as a senior, as he was named first-team All-ACC and was a first-team All-American.

Then came Senior Bowl week, as Johnson showed to be one of the top o-linemen down in Mobile, Alabama. Even dominant UConn defensive tackle Travis Jones had issues getting past his teammate in one-on-one drills throughout the week.

I think there are several factors to consider for this pick. First is the obvious hole at cornerback. This has to be the most immediate need for the defense and it must be considered that the Bills have gone defense with four of their five first-round picks in the Sean McDermott-Leslie Frazier era.

But two factors are sticking with me here: 1) Buffalo is one of the heaviest zone teams in the league, and 2) this is a deep CB class in the draft. Zone systems do need corners that are viable for sure, but they’re not the priority in that type of scheme.

Something of note as well: outside of White, the Bills have not drafted a defensive back in the first round since McDermott and Frazier came over in 2017.

Andrew Booth Jr., Kaiir Elam, Roger McCreary, Tariq Woolen, and Kyler Gordon could all be available in the second round. Each has even been mocked in the first round at some point, so clearly they’re being viewed in high regard. Plus, with other top CBs like Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr. projected to go in the first, other DBs are likely to slide in the round.

Now safeties like Daxton Hill and Lewis Cine could be in play too. And it makes sense to bring them in for their skills, especially when considering the issues the team is having with Jordan Poyer’s contract. But having either would mean the team could be taking a player who may have to play a specific role in year one and is possibly playing limited snaps as a rotational player.

What about wideout? There are a lot of names who could slide to No. 25, like Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, or Jahan Dotson. But is it worth taking them that high? I’m not quite sure.

Even with dynamic players at the top of the list, the wide receiver position is starting to feel like running back. If the Bills don’t go WR in Round 1, names like Skyy Moore, John Metchie III, or Christian Watson could all be available later on.

Speaking of running backs, of course, there’s the tantalizing idea of taking Kenneth Walker III or Breece Hall. I like both players and, personally, feel like the former has a similar elusive skill set to McCoy in his heyday. Hall reminds me of the traditional, old-school three-down backs, and he could also transform the Buffalo Bills running game in a hurry.

Is that worth taking at No. 25? I wouldn’t mind either guy going that high. But you know what else helps the running game? Adding a high-level player at offensive guard. The long-term possibility of adding him could help the Buffalo rushing attack, as it hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Shady McCoy in 2017.

I think one other factor with Johnson falling to No. 25 is just how this draft class is shaping up. With a deep class of edge rushers, a litany of wideouts, a strong offensive tackle group, and a few QBs mixed in, most teams may not be prioritizing an offensive guard.

Plus, Johnson’s biggest competition for the best guard in the draft — Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green — is a player who will most likely play inside in the NFL, but has the versatility to go out to tackle. And Johnson may not have his name called until fellow IOL Tyler Linderbaum is picked, as teams look for their version of Creed Humphrey.

But of all things considered, as a true guard prospect, Johnson may be the best player at his position in the draft. Imagine selecting the top prospect at a position that deep into the first round?

I think the state of the Bills’ o-line plays into things here as well. The team has Rodger Saffold in the fold on a one-year deal, and Ryan Bates is back after starting in the final five games of the season, including the postseason. Both are still serviceable players, but one is 33-going-on-34 (Saffold), while the other (Bates) just cracked the starting lineup for the first time during his third year as a pro in 2021.

Even with Bates back on a four-year deal, the Buffalo Bills could always upgrade and make Bates their sixth man on the o-line. Adding Johnson could give the team another viable player up front for Allen, as he comes off a season where he tied for the fourth-most hits amongst QBs in 2021 (64).

Must Read. 4 teams the Bills need to watch in the first round. light

Johnson just screams of being a “McDermott guy” coming from a pro-style, power-based program like BC. Don’t be surprised if the former Eagle becomes a Bill come Thursday.