Maiorana: Buffalo Bills leave 2018 draft with just one starter

Sal Maiorana
Democrat and Chronicle
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ORCHARD PARK – If you were paying attention this weekend, the Bills actually selected seven young men after Josh Allen in the NFL Draft who will come to Buffalo hoping to live out their NFL dream and, the Bills hope, help the team continue the upward ascension that began with a surprising playoff appearance in 2017.

However, as I look at this 2018 draft class, it strikes me that there’s a pretty good chance only one of these players will be a starter on Sept. 9 when the Bills open the season against the Ravens in Baltimore.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, presents Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds with a Buffalo Bills jersey during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Outside of Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who was Buffalo’s second first-round choice, it’s tough to see any other player capable of winning a starting job on offense or defense, at least not in the early portion of the season.

This is not to say the Bills had a poor draft. Not at all, because quite frankly, we aren’t going to know whether they did or not for at least a couple seasons. Grading any draft in the hours, days, weeks, and months after it has concluded is a foolish and meaningless exercise, and shame on any of the draftniks who do it. You need at least a year or two to flesh things out.

But outside of Edmunds, barring any real surprises in the coming months, I think he’s going to carry the draft class flag onto the field by himself at M&T Bank in Baltimore on Sept. 9.

This, of course, was exactly the case media and fans who were not on board with trading up to pick a quarterback were trying to make in the lead up to the draft. 

The Bills began with six picks in the first three rounds, including five in the top 65. Had they kept those picks, they quite possibly could have ended up with three, four, maybe five players who could have pushed for, and won, Week 1 starting jobs. Instead, Brandon Beane did what most of us expected him to do – he used a bulk of that draft capital to trade up and pick who he hopes will be the Bills’ franchise quarterback for the next decade-plus.

And then, even after he managed to keep the second of his two first-round picks in his pocket in the Allen trade, it wasn’t good enough for him. He felt the need to jump up six spots from 22 to 16 to grab Edmunds.

Beane chose two players he coveted, but it came at a cost as he parted with two second-round picks and one third. After taking Edmunds at No. 16, he had to watch 79 players go off the board before he was able to pick Stanford defensive tackle Harrison Phillips near the very bottom of the third round on Friday. 

Stanford Cardinal defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (66) looks across the line during the second quarter against the San Diego State Aztecs at Qualcomm Stadium on Sept. 16, 2017.

On Saturday, Beane had five picks and he used them to select defensive backs Taron Johnson of Weber State and Siran Neal of Jacksonville State, Virginia Tech offensive guard Wyatt Teller, and wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud of Clemson and North Carolina's Austin Proehl.

Of the post-first round group, Phillips looks like a nice player, but it’s unlikely that he’ll beat out either Kyle Williams or Star Lotulelei in 2018. Johnson could compete to be the nickel cornerback, and Teller may have a chance to win a starting job over either Vlad Ducasse or Ryan Groy on the offensive line. The others seem destined to be primarily special teams contributors

As I’ve said all along, I was all for Beane doing this. You have to pay the price to get a franchise quarterback, and he was in prime position to get that done in this draft. He couldn’t pass it up. The only issue I have is that if it had been me making the pick at No. 7 when he convinced Tampa Bay to trade down, Josh Rosen would have been the choice, not Allen.

Allen, who now has the distinction of being the highest-picked quarterback in Bills history, was considered the least likely of the top four quarterbacks in this draft to be a Week 1 starter. The Wyoming standout may have the most intriguing physical ability among Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield, but he needs work in many facets of the game, not the least of which is his struggles with accuracy, and reading the full field.

Weber State Wildcats defensive back Taron Johnson speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center.

Who knows, he might turn out to be the best of the bunch; Beane sure hopes so, but unless Allen shocks us all in OTAs, mini-camp, training camp and the preseason games, my guess is that AJ McCarron will take the field the first time the Bills possess the ball in Baltimore.

So, assuming the draft class isn’t going to fill some of the needs the Bills still have, what can they do?

Beane has repeatedly said the roster construction doesn’t end with the draft. Players will come available in the next few months like they always do – post-June 1 releases, training camp cuts, etc., perhaps trades – and it will be incumbent on Beane and his lieutenants to be ready to pounce when they do.

The Bills still need another linebacker, unless they really believe 35-year-old Lorenzo Alexander is a full-time player. Beane and Sean McDermott keep bringing up guys currently on the roster like Julian Stanford, Ramon Humber, Deon lacey and Tanner Vallejo as candidates. Sorry, that list is not moving me.

McCloud most likely isn’t going to make an impact at receiver, though he could factor into the return game. If Beane is satisfied with Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater and Kaelin Clay, among others, that’s a concern.

When we look back on this draft, “the trade up for a quarterback” debate will always fuel the discussion. You know where I stand, and I applaud Beane for doing it. But it will only be viewed as a success if two things happen: Beane picked the right quarterback, and the Bills overcome the loss of those valuable draft picks that could have been used to fill out the roster with higher-end talent.


Buffalo Bills draft picks: Round-by-round look at their selections

► Welcome to Buffalo Josh Allen! Bills select quarterback with their first pick

► Roth: Beane's reputation riding on hope he picked the right Josh for his quarterback

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills No. 7 overall pick pick Josh Allen

► Bills trade up to No. 7 in first round, swapping picks with Tampa Bay

► Bills make another huge trade up to select Tremaine Edmunds at No. 16 overall in NFL Draft

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills No. 16 overall pick Tremaine Edmunds

► Bills pick of Josh Allen did not seem to resonate positively among fan base

► Bills turn to the defensive line and picked Harrison Phillips in 3rd round

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills pick Taron Johnson

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills pick Siran Neal

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills pick Wyatt Teller

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills pick Ray-Ray McLoud

► 5 things to know about Buffalo Bills pick Austin Proehl

►Maiorana: Buffalo Bills leave 2018 draft with just one starter


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