Round 4, Pick 105: Duke Williams, SS, Nevada
Having released George Wilson earlier this offseason, the Buffalo Bills needed to add a strong safety in this draft to compete with and provide depth for Da’Norris Searcy. The Bills did so with a solid fourth-round addition in Nevada’s Duke Williams, who has the potential to challenge for the starting job.
He does not have great size, but he plays with physicality, is active in run support and is a solid tackler. He is effective in deep coverage, has good downfield range and has good ball skills.
Williams is unlikely to be a big-impact player, but the Bills do not need him to be. Playing next to one of the NFL’s premier safeties in Jairus Byrd, the Bills will be looking for stability, sound run-support and fluid pass coverage from their strong safety, and Williams has the talent to provide that as a fourth-round pick.
Round 5, Pick 143: Jonathan Meeks, SS, Clemson
As far as value as concerned, the Buffalo Bills’ fifth-round selection of Clemson strong safety Jonathan Meeks was their most puzzling decision.
While the Bills needed one strong safety, which they got in Williams, Meeks is a player who will likely be limited to special teams both based on the Bills’ roster and on his skill set. He is a physical hitter with good size for the position (6’1”, 209 pounds), but he struggles in pass coverage technique and does not have fluid hips for a safety.
If he turns out to be a significant special teams contributor, he could end up being a solid fifth-round pick, but the rotational safety was not expected to go any earlier than Round 7. Meeks projects as a third-string strong safety who may not have the all-around coverage skills to climb up the depth chart.
Round 6, Pick 177: Dustin Hopkins, K, Florida State
Drafting a kicker is often a criticized decision, but it is hard to knock the Buffalo Bills for making this selection. With Florida’s Caleb Sturgis off the board, Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins was the clear-cut best kicker available, and with a terrific leg and the ability to hit long kicks with accuracy, Hopkins has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best placekickers.
The questionable aspect of this pick, however, is whether the Bills actually needed a change at kicker. Rian Lindell has been a steady, consistent kicker for the Bills since 2003, and he continued to be reliable last year, making 87.5 percent of his kicks. That said, Lindell has only made five kicks beyond 50 yards in the past five years, so Hopkins would be a significant upgrade in the ability to kick long field goals if he wins the placekicking battle.
If the Bills felt they needed competition for Lindell, then they were smart to draft Hopkins, as there was a significant drop-off in kicker talent after Hopkins and Sturgis, and Hopkins has leg strength that the other top kickers on the rookie market could not offer.
Round 7, Pick 222: Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas
Chris Gragg is a very good athlete at tight end, but he lacks the size to be an in-line blocking tight end and is coming off an injury-riddled senior season.
For those reasons, Gragg fell to the seventh round, but given his athleticism and receiving ability, he could have some playmaking ability as a receiving H-back out of the backfield. But although the Bills are thin at tight end behind Scott Chandler, he will have to prove his worth and may have to beat out fellow H-back Dorin Dickerson for a roster spot and role in the Bills’ offense next season.
The Bills’ biggest reach of the draft was Meeks, who was considered a fringe draft selection and was not at a position of need at the point they drafted him at. Manuel and Goodwin were also selected higher than they should have been, but they should not be considered egregious reaches.
While most of the quarterbacks fell in the draft while Manuel was overdrafted in Round 1, the Bills had their sights set on Manuel and would have been at serious risk of losing him had they waited until Round 2. Given that he does have the most physical upside of any quarterback in the draft class, he could turn out to be the class’ best quarterback, and has athletic traits that the Bills wanted and that they would not have gotten from another top quarterback in the class.
The same can be said about Goodwin — while he is a raw playmaker whose ability to consistently catch the ball is in question, he is a truly rare athlete whose upside drew the Bills to select him in the third round, even though he belonged more appropriately as a Day 3 selection.
The Bills did not get any great steals in this draft, but they did get great value in Woods, who was the fifth receiver drafted but could turn out to be the class’ best wideout.
Coming into the draft, the Bills’ biggest needs were to rebuild their passing offense with a potential franchise quarterback and receiving playmakers. The Bills addressed those needs within the draft’s first three rounds, as they will stake their future in Manuel’s development while providing him with quality receiving targets in Woods, Goodwin and even undrafted free agents Da’Rick Rogers and Brandon Kaufman.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills addressed needs at inside linebacker and strong safety, but one area they failed to address was their pass-rush. While they did address that need on Monday by trading for Jerry Hughes, they would have benefited from adding an impact pass-rusher in the early rounds to help spark their ability to bring pressure off the edge.
Overall Grade: B-
The Buffalo Bills’ draft has been criticized heavily by some within the media mostly because of their reach on Manuel, but truthfully, they had a draft that could turn out very well.
While the draft class will ultimately be defined by Manuel’s success, which could be great or he may never materialize into a capable NFL starter, the Bills got other quality talent in this draft, especially with their second-round selections of Woods and Alonso. While they would grade out higher with the selection of Arthur Brown over Alonso, they did potential stars on both sides of the ball with those second-round choices.
Marquise Goodwin has very high upside, and although kickers are never popular choices, Dustin Hopkins could help them win games next season — much like unpopular 2012 choice Blair Walsh helped the Minnesota Vikings get to the playoffs — with his ability to make long field goals, if he wins the placekicking job.