Bills Building Impressive Defensive Nucleus In Recent Drafts

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

I know it's hard when discussing the Bills, but forget about Buffalo's offense for now. The Bills have built an exceptional defense, loaded with outstanding draft picks that form an exciting nucleus that could make it one of the NFL's best units for years to come.

How good has Buffalo's defense been this year? The numbers tell the story:

  • 3rd fewest yards allowed per game
  • 3rd fewest yards allowed per play
  • Top-10 in rushing yards allowed per game and play
  • 6th fewest passing yards allowed per game
  • 3rd fewest passing yards allowed per play
  • 3rd most sacks in the NFL

With Sean McDermott, a defensive-minded head coach in charge, Buffalo has drafted wisely on the defensive side of the football, with hits on picks both early and late in the draft. While McDermott's tenure will ultimately be judged on the success of Josh Allen, the defense is set up to compete now and in the future. Let's examine Buffalo's outstanding young building blocks on defense added since McDermott was hired in 2017.

The First Rounders

Tre White, Buffalo's first-round pick in 2017 and the first of the McDermott era, has been a lights out defender. PFF's Rookie of the Year last season, White graded with an "elite" 92 overall grade. As a rookie, White racked up 69 tackles, 18 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble while making game-changing plays that directly resulted in Bills' victories. His scoop-and-score against the Falcons, forced fumble against the Bucs, and interceptions against the Chiefs and Dolphins were paramount to those wins and Buffalo snapping its 17-year playoff drought.

The No. 27 overall selection in 2017, White is already a true No. 1 corner in the NFL. In only his second season, White is relied on to shadow opponents' No. 1 receiver and Buffalo is allowing the third fewest passing yards per play and game against its coverage. He's one of the NFL's brightest young defensive stars and a steal for Buffalo at the end of the first round.

After years in Carolina enjoying the likes of Thomas Davis and Luke Keuchly patrolling the second level, McDermott got his guy at linebacker with Buffalo's second first-round pick in 2018 in the form of Tremaine Edmunds.

A rare physical specimen, Edmunds is 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds with 34.5-inch arms. Oh, and he happens to run a 4.54 40-yard dash with an 83" wingspan. Did I mention he just turned 20 years old? Dude's a monster!

It hasn't been all perfect for Edmunds so far in his rookie season, but he is flashing brilliance. His size and physicality is an asset playing into the line of scrimmage while his length and athletic ability is showing up in coverage when working into passing lanes. He's shown steady week-to-week progress with his processing skills and has the makings of a dynamic playmaker in the middle of Buffalo's defense.

Edmunds is already producing at a high level for Buffalo, tallying 47 tackles, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, 2 tackles for loss and 5 pass breakups across his first 6 NFL games. Entering Week 5, Edmunds was the only player in the NFL with at least 35 tackles, 5 pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles. He's a rising star that's already making all the calls at inside linebacker for an exceptional Bills' defensive unit. Buffalo has their quarterback... of the defense secured.

Mid-Round Hits

It's hard to build a true nucleus with only 2 draft classes but when you hit on mid-round picks like Buffalo has it becomes possible.

Pairing with Edmunds on the second-level is 2017 fifth-round pick (No. 163 overall) Matt Milano. Earning five starts as a rookie last season, Milano flashed playmaking potential which is fully materializing in 2018. Currently graded among the top-1o linebackers in the NFL this season for PFF, Milano has 42 tackles, a sack, 3 fumble recoveries, an interception, 3 pass breakups and 6 tackles for loss so far this season. He is playing fast and providing Buffalo outstanding range and urgency from the second level. The Edmunds-Milano duo at linebacker for Buffalo is among the most exciting young combinations in the NFL.

It's only been 6 games but it appears the Bills have hit on another Day 3 pick, this time in the form of 2018 fourth-round pick (No. 121 overall) cornerback Taron Johnson. One of my favorite sleepers in last year's class, Johnson won Buffalo's starting slot corner job and has performed admirably. A top-15 graded corner for PFF, Johnson is excelling in coverage like a seasoned pro. He is matching up in the slot, offering the versatility to pattern-match in man coverage while showing terrific awareness with his spacing as a zone defender. He is a physical and aggressive run defender that already has a sack, forced fumble, interception and 2 pass breakups this season.

While not as featured as Milano and Johnson, 2018 third-round pick defensive tackle Harrison Phillips has already factored into Buffalo's defensive line rotation while fifth-round pick Siran Neal is performing well on special teams and has a sack on defense.

Bottom Line

The Bills' defensive draft selections are panning out and combing with established veterans (Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, Lorenzo Alexander) and free agent pickups (Trent Murphy, Star Loutulelei, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer) to form one of the NFL's best units.

The defense is in good hands for whenever Buffalo is able to figure things out offensively. With that said, there are plenty of questions to be answered when it comes to Buffalo's vision on offense but the process is easy to trust when it comes the defensive side of the football.

Written By:

Joe Marino

Chief Administrative Officer

CAO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.