BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
The Buffalo Bills made seven total selections in the 2014 NFL draft. The team wheeled and dealed over the course of the three-day draft and added a wide receiver, three offensive linemen, two linebackers and a cornerback.
Buffalo’s aggressiveness in the first round shows that the team is in a win-now mode. The Bills have a clear objective this season: make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The theme going into this draft was getting EJ Manuel help. On paper, the draft was a success. The team added the top wide receiver in the class while bulking up an offensive line that gave up 48 sacks in 2013. In addition to their draft picks, Buffalo also traded for Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce Brown, a player the Bills have coveted for more than a year. Manuel has all the weapons you could ask for.
We take a look at each of the Bills’ selections and assess how well the team did in addressing their needs and maximizing value.
Round 1, Pick 4: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Buffalo stressed the need to get EJ Manuel help, and the team showed that they meant it by trading up for the most talented offensive player in this year’s draft. Buffalo had a talented group of receivers heading into the draft, but lacked a true No. 1 wideout. It’s clear the team believes Watkins is that guy, as they traded away their first-round pick in 2015 as well as next year’s fourth-round pick to move up and draft him.
If Watkins is the playmaker that the team believes he is, it’ll be worth it. Watkins is an explosive athlete who has terrific hands and is someone who is hard to bring down in space. The wide receiver plays much bigger than his height (6’1″) and will be a day one starter.
Due to the team’s logjam at receiver, the Bills traded veteran receiver Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional fourth-round pick one day after drafting Watkins.
Round 2, Pick 44: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
Kouandjio is a first-round talent who fell in part due to medical concerns in regards to his knees, but Bills general manager Doug Whaley seemingly didn’t have any concerns about the tackle and drafted him early in round two.
“I can’t comment on other teams,” Whaley said in a press conference Friday. “We have supreme confidence in our medical staff and we look at not only our medical staff and what they came back with, but his resume. The guy didn’t miss practice and he didn’t miss games. We’re comfortable with it.”
Kouandjio is a powerful blocker who stands at 6’7″ and 322 pounds. The former Alabama tackle is a strong run blocker but has struggled against speed rushers in pass protection. Cordy Glenn, Buffalo’s left tackle, had similar concerns and has improved upon this greatly since being drafted. Expect similar results from Kouandjio.
At this point, Kouandjio is the odds-on favorite to win the right tackle job in training camp.
Round 3, Pick 73: Preston Brown, ILB, Louisville
Preston Brown’s value was all over the place according to several draft sites, but Buffalo liked him and that’s all that matters. The inside linebacker is strong in run defense and was called a “thumper” on draft night. Brown believes that his tackling the best part of his game.
“I think tackling is one of the best things I do. It’s one of the main parts of the game,” Brown told BuffaloBills.com. “You’ve got to be able to tackle, especially if you’re going to be a linebacker. I try to be around the ball as much as I can and get forced fumbles anyway I could when I was around the ball.”
The biggest knock on Brown is his athletic ability. Many draft analysts think Brown is a liability in coverage. Due to this fact, some draft analysts believe Brown is a two-down linebacker. That’s yet to be seen, but the Bills needed to upgrade their run defense. In 2014, Brown can spell Brandon Spikes and get eased into the speed of the NFL game.
Round 4, Pick 109: Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
The Bills brought in six cornerbacks for predraft visits, including Cockrell, so you could see that the team hoped to add depth to their secondary.
One thing Cockrell will add to the Bills defensive backfield is size, Bills director of player personnel Jim Monos said in a press conference Saturday.
“That is what jumps out right away: his size. You love his size and he’s played there and competed well every year there. He’s a winner, has ball skills, has good speed. Every guy we’ve taken so far has been a part of winning program and that is a big thing we’re stressing.”
Cockrell was one of the best cornerbacks available at this point in the draft. The cornerback has terrific ball skills, is strong in coverage and is likely to contribute on special teams this season. After sustaining multiple injuries to their secondary in 2013, Buffalo was wise to add depth to the position.
Round 5, Pick 153: Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
This may have been the best value pick in the entire draft. Many draft analysts saw Richardson as a second-round prospect.
Richardson became the second massive lineman added by the Bills in this year’s draft (6’5″ and 329 lbs.) and he is someone who will fight for a starting job immediately. In the fifth round, Richardson was the best lineman available. He’s powerful and uses his hands well to push defensive linemen back.
Jim Monos praised Richardson for his power.
“He’s a big mauler type guard who can gain movement. We just love his power and his strength. This guy has played against some of the top competition and played in the Senior Bowl. We followed him and it’s just another big guard for us.”
Richardson should see plenty of playing time in his rookie season. This pick helped solidify Buffalo’s offensive line.
Round 7, Pick 221: Randell Johnson, LB, Florida Atlantic
Buffalo spent one of their last picks on Johnson, a linebacker who didn’t have much communication with the Bills throughout the pre-draft process, but was apparently the team’s best player available at pick 221.
At Florida Atlantic, Johnson said he had multiple roles.
“They used me everywhere,” Johnson said during a conference call Saturday. “They used me for blitzing, stopping the run, for coverage. In all types of schemes I was everywhere. I wasn’t just a one-player person. I was all over the field.”
Johnson isn’t likely to see much playing time as a linebacker. To make the team, he’ll have to be outstanding on special teams.
Round 7, Pick 237: Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
Henderson is a prototypical offense tackle who stands at 6’7″ and 331 pounds. In terms of talent alone, Henderson was seen as a second-round player. However, off-field issues caused Henderson to fall. He had issues with marijuana at Miami and after telling teams he put it in his past, he failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Doug Whaley was apparently very straight-forward with Henderson, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak.
Doug Whaley on Seantrel Henderson: “We talked to him. He knows he has one shot.”
— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) May 10, 2014
If Henderson keeps his head on straight, he might end up being a bigger steal than Richardson was in round five.
It’s apparent that Buffalo is trying to add as much bulk as possible to their offensive line. Henderson said all the right things after being drafted by Buffalo.
“Everybody pretty much knows about my past and I was very truthful about my past and I am just looking forward to moving on and becoming a professional,” Henderson told BuffaloBills.com.
Buffalo took a similar risk on wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers last season as an undrafted free agent. Rogers’ lack of effort at training camp led to his release. Whaley is a man of his word, so Henderson will have to show up focused and determined if he wanted to stick in Buffalo.
The Bills hit a proverbial home run in terms of draft value. Buffalo added the top wide receiver in the draft class as well as three offensive linemen who had Day 2 grades from multiple draft evaluators.
Some of these players have red flags in terms of injury concerns or off-the-field transgressions. However, the Kouandjio, Richardson and Henderson picks were terrific in terms of value.
The only pick that may get knocked in terms of value was Preston Brown, but he could be the heir apparent at run-stopping middle linebacker whenever Brandon Spikes departs from the team.
Buffalo said their primary goal was adding help for EJ Manuel. After adding the most explosive player in the draft and three massive offensive linemen, it’s safe to say, “mission accomplished.” Adding Brown via trade was another strong move for the Bills.
Defensively, the team needed to add help at linebacker and defensive end, while adding depth to their secondary. The Bills did add two linebackers in the draft, but only Brown is a safe pick in terms of making the team. Defensive end was not addressed, so the Bills are apparently satisfied with the players currently have. Secondary depth was addressed in Cockrell, who the team likes for his size and smarts.
Overall Grade: B
I’m not a fan of giving a draft class a grade until they’ve played for about three years, but this grade is based on the value of the players they added as well how well they addressed their needs.
In a few years, this draft class could easily be seen as one of the best in the league if all of the players with red flags thrive on the field. The grade could also drop significantly if any of the players’ bodies don’t hold up injury-wise or if players succumb to their past transgressions.
That being said, this draft class will be exciting to follow in rookie workouts and training camp. Come September, we’ll know how much of an immediate impact the players can actually have, dependent upon their playing time and where they stand on the team’s depth chart.