Many of the seeds of this new Buffalo Bills era were planted back in 2016 at the Draft.
The Bills entered 2016 after a somewhat disappointing 8-8 season in Rex Ryan’s first season. Missing the playoffs is always bad but is even worse after Ryan shows up and expectations are high. Tyrod Taylor won the starting quarterback job so that was not a top target in 2016. Both he and LeSean McCoy made the Pro Bowl, Sammy Watkins had a great year and the line was solid so it seemed the Bills would focus on taking a top defender.
Owning the No. 19 overall pick was a nice change after not having a pick until No. 50 overall in 2015. It seemed as if there weren’t too many holes and the team would take a leap forward in Ryan’s second season.
Round 1 (Pick 19)
Current Team: Buffalo Bills
The Clemson product was taken by the Bills with the No. 19 overall pick. Based on the draft slot and the rest of the players taken after him in the first round, it is hard to fault the Bills for this pick. Injuries marred his first two seasons but Lawson survived the roster purge and made it through the 2018 season. He has combined for 76 tackles, 10 sacks, and 20 QB hits in his first three seasons. His name came up as potentially being someone to trade before the 2018 season. Lawson responded by appearing in a career-high 14 games and being a part of the rotation on defense.
He is not a star player, yet he is the only member of the 2016 draft class to remain on the team in 2019. That is alarming and also a testament to the team’s belief in him. At least at this point in time.
Round 2 (Pick 41)
Current Team: Kansas City Chiefs
The Bills were clearly excited about drafting Alabama’s Reggie Ragland. The team traded out of the No. 49 spot to move up to No. 41 to get him. This trade also saw the Bills send a fourth-rounder to the Chicago Bears. Expectations were high and were then shattered when Ragland tore his ACL in the summer and ended up missing the entire 2016 season.
Enter the new staff and front office in 2017 and Ragland was traded to Kansas City before the season even began. Ragland has carved out a nice start to his career with the Chiefs, recording 130 tackles in his first two seasons. He is just the first of many examples of Bills players to be moved once the team got a restart in 2017.
Round 3 (Pick 80)
DT, Ohio State
Current Team: Miami Dolphins
The Bills continued to draft players from big schools by taking Washington in the third round. The Ohio State product was drafted at No. 80 overall, but that slot meant the team was hoping he would at least be a starter still in 2019. Instead, he was traded after one game in 2018. Washington appeared in a total of 31 games with the Bills and recorded 3.5 sacks, 56 tackles, and 10 tackles for loss. Tight end Austin Hooper, who has made a Pro Bowl, was drafted one spot after Washington.
Another player who could have been taken is Kendall Fuller, who was drafted No. 84 overall. Washington wasn’t a total bust, but it was clear he was not going to stick around now that Brandon Beane was choosing his own guys.
Anyone from Doug Whaley’s time was going to be let go if there was no intention of signing them to a second deal.
Round 4 (Pick 139)
QB, Ohio State
Current Team: Los Angeles Chargers
Cardale Jones made himself a legend at Ohio State with the way he stepped in and led his team to a national title during the 2014 season. The legend died down a bit in 2015 but Jones’ stock was still high enough for the Bills to take him in the fourth round. He was not expected to play at all in 2016 as Tyrod Taylor and EJ Manuel were in front of him.
Alas, he made it into the game in Week 17 when Manuel was benched and proceeded to go 6/11 for 96 yards and an interception. As is the case with a lot of players from the Doug Whaley regime, Jones was traded away in 2017.
Round 5 (Pick 156)
Current Team: Indianapolis Colts
The Arkansas running back made the roster and ran for 94 yards on 27 carries during the 2016 season. He even found the end zone once. Yet he was released in 2017 after the roster purge continued with Brandon Beane in charge.
Round 6 (Pick 192)
Current Team: Free Agent
The wide receiver out of TCU dealt with injuries and never appeared in a game with the Bills. The team let him go in the summer of 2017.
Round 6 (Pick 218)
Current Team: Carolina Panthers
The cornerback made the roster and actually played in 15 games, starting three. He did not record an interception but did have three passes defended. He was traded to Carolina before the start of the 2017 season.
The fact the Bills only have one player from the 2016 draft class still on the team is a bit alarming. The initial high grades begin to fade when you realize the team that went to the postseason in 2017 wasn’t really helped by the draft class from the year prior. Shaq Lawson is a nice piece but could still be let go this year. After him, the rest of the class didn’t do much on the field other than bring some draft picks back in return. So looking back the new grade would be a C+.
The 2016 draft class is a forgettable one for the Bills. The team needed a boost and instead didn’t get much, leading to a 7-9 and the firing of Rex Ryan after only two seasons. The only positive is that a weak class allowed for change to come and the Bills responded by making the postseason in 2017.