The Buffalo Bills were one game away from the Super Bowl in 2020 and are set to return 21 of 22 starters with the lone change in the lineup representing what the team views as an upgrade at wide receiver where they released John Brown and replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders. The Bills are running it back and enter the 2021 NFL Draft with no glaring holes to fill. As with every team, there are opportunities for upgrades and long-term needs to be mindful of, but general manager Brandon Beane has set himself up well to let the board fall to him and put the finishing touches on a roster that is primed for another deep postseason run.
With that in mind, let’s examine what those final pieces could be in this seven-round mock draft.
Round 1 (No. 30 overall): Jayson Oweh, EDGE, Penn State
The Bills’ defense regressed in 2020, and while much of that was injury-driven, the unit didn’t do a good enough job rushing the passer. Oweh needs development to maximize his immense physical upside and turn his traits into more productivity, but he’s more than a worthwhile swing for a franchise that is in a position to take a risk. For the Bills to take down the Kansas City Chiefs, they have to make Patrick Mahomes more uncomfortable. The current starting defensive end duo of Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison is aging and Oweh can help add much-needed youth to a premium position.
Round 2 (No. 61 overall): Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
Tre’Davious White and 2019 seventh-round pick Dane Jackson are the only two cornerbacks on the Bills’ roster that are under contract beyond the 2021 season. Levi Wallace is back as the assumed starter opposite of White—and while he’s a reasonable option, he’s absolutely upgradeable. His physical limitations restrict the Bills’ coverage options and reduce the amount of man coverage Buffalo can responsibly play. Campbell needs to develop his coverage instincts, but his physical upside in terms of size, length, and athleticism make him appealing. Sean McDermott has a long history of maximizing talent in the secondary and Campbell could be his next success story.
Round 3 (No. 93 overall): Kendrick Green, IOL, Illinois
The Bills’ rushing attack transitioned from more of a gap-heavy scheme in 2019 to a higher percentage of zone runs in 2020. Jon Feliciano is back at right guard, but the structure of his recent three-year extension makes it more of a year-to-year deal. Mitch Morse is entrenched as the starting center, but there were rumblings that he could have been a cap casualty this offseason before he restructured his deal and gave the Bills a more favorable “out” of his contract after the 2021 season. Cody Ford is the projected left guard and despite being a high pick in the 2019 draft, has proven next to nothing about his ability to be a consistent and reliable starter. The need for reinforcements on the Bills’ interior offensive line is obvious and Green’s projection to a zone blocking run scheme makes him an appealing candidate. He has plenty of experience in college at all three interior spots and the Bills value position flexibility with its offensive linemen—not to mention he has a wrestling background, which Sean McDermott always loves in players.
Round 5 (No. 161 overall): Ambry Thomas, CB, Michigan
Given the short- and long-term needs at cornerback, it would be unsurprising to see the Bills invest multiple selections on the position. Thomas opted out of the 2020 season but he was terrific in 2019 where his athleticism, competitiveness, and ball skills shined. He is more than willing to come downhill and fit the run and plays a physical brand of football overall. Thomas is versatile in the coverage techniques he can perform. He could be the successor to Taron Johnson at slot corner in 2022 when his contract is up and provide needed competition in 2021.
Round 5 (No. 174 overall): Darrick Forrest, S, Cincinnati
With Dean Marlowe now a member of the Detroit Lions, the Bills lost its top backup behind its elite starting safety tandem of Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. Forrest is an underrated prospect that is versatile in the alignments he can function in and comes from a disciplined, assignment-driven defensive scheme at Cincinnati. He’s a terrific athlete with 36 starts at the college level under his belt. He could provide instant depth and special teams ability while being groomed as a starter down the road.
Round 6 (No. 213 overall): Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa
If the Bills don’t make an earlier investment on a wide receiver, Smith-Marsette is the perfect guy to target later in the draft. He could provide the Bills with a field-stretcher for the receiving corps and he was a dynamic kick returner for Iowa—the Bills have a need in that area with the departure of Andre Roberts. Brandon Beane speaks highly of the Iowa program and Smith-Marsette fits the style of receiver that Buffalo has gravitated toward post-Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes.
Round 7 (No. 236 overall): Forrest Merrill, IDL, Arkansas State
Defensive tackle is a sneaky need for the Bills, especially at 1-technique. Star Lotulelei is set to return after opting out of the 2020 season which will provide a boost, but the options behind him are slim. Merrill is an older prospect, but the role he could potentially fill for Buffalo is quite clear. He can give the Bills a big-bodied run-stuffer that can provide depth behind Lotulelei on early downs.