Bills rookie class delivers encouraging results in 2017

Posted Jan 15, 2018

Here's a look at what Buffalo's 2017 draft class did as rookies this past season and their outlook for 2018.

Bills head coach, Sean McDermott, constantly advocated winning in the present and future during his first year in Buffalo. True to his word he ended the team’s 17-year playoff drought and in the process, gave his first rookie class significant playing time. 

“It’s exciting that a lot of young guys played. We were following through the year how many young guys we had playing, rookies, versus what other teams were doing and our guys were trending very high compared to the league,” said General Manager Brandon Beane. “There’s no substitute for playing time in real games. Not only did we get real games, we got a postseason game. You can’t simulate postseason experience. That’s huge as we build this thing going forward.” 

Round 1, Pick 27 (No. 27 overall) Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU:
White was the fifth and final cornerback taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He exceeded everyone’s expectations and is now a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“I feel like the first year, I had a great year,” he said. “There are some things I still need to work on, but it was a great start. I feel like for years to come this team will be hell for the rest of the league.”

2018 Outlook: He led all corners with 1,092 defensive snaps played. White was among the league leaders in pass breakups (18) all season and led the rookie class in that category. He showed he’s a perfect fit for Buffalo’s zone-based scheme. He’s in line to be the team’s top corner for the foreseeable and if his current trajectory keeps pace, there could be multiple Pro Bowl selections in the making.

Round 2, Pick 5 (No. 37) Zay Jones, WR, ECU:He was the fourth wide receiver taken in the 2017 draft and was the first selected in the second-round. His rookie year had its hiccups, but that’s how it usually goes for first-year players.

The three WRs taken before Jones were all top-10 picks. However, that trio of highly-coveted players all failed to record a single touchdown in the regular season. Meanwhile, Jones tallied two TDs in those 16 games.

2018 Outlook: In 15 games (10 starts), he recorded 27 receptions, 316 yards, and two TDs. He showed he’s more than capable of making plays in this league. Jones’ snaps should remain the same, if not increase next season. Look for his numbers to see an uptick in his second season. 

Round 2, Pick 31 (No. 63) Dion Dawkins, T, Temple:
He was drafted purely as an offensive lineman, without any clear distinction whether or not he was a guard or tackle. After 11 starts and appearing in 74-percent of the team’s offensive snaps, Dawkins dominated wherever he lined up and proved any doubters that he couldn’t protect the quarterback’s blind side wrong.

“That was my goal because coming in there were doubts, ‘Dion is a guard, Dion’s a right guard, Dion’s a left guard,’ but I knew what I was capable of,” he said. “I kept confident in myself and did what I had to do to show that I was a left tackle.”

2018 Outlook: Dawkins’ opportunity blossomed when Cordy Glenn’s season was cut short due to injury. He went on to start the final nine games at LT, including one playoff game. He finished the season as the second-best rookie tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. With Glenn set to earn over $10 million next season, who knows how Dawkins future could be impacted. Regardless, he’s expected to be a fixture somewhere on Buffalo’s starting offensive line. 

Round 5, Pick 19 (No. 163) Matt Milano, LB, Boston College:
This fifth-round pick made the most of his opportunities in his first year in Buffalo. He didn’t play a single defensive snap until Week Four, when Ramon Humber suffered a thumb injury. By Week 13, he took over as a starting outside linebacker. Milano’s planning on securing that role in his second season.

“Definitely. I hope so,” he said. “I’m going to try to have a great offseason. Do a lot of work. There are a lot of things I have to get worked on.”

2018 Outlook: He finished the regular season with 44 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one fumble recovery, one touchdown, and one interception. Sean McDermott’s selection paid off, as Milano showed he’s a solid fit in the team’s 4-3 defense. The Bills have questions marks at LB heading into the offseason, but Milano isn’t one of them. 

Round 5, Pick 28 (No. 171) Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh:
In his first NFL game, the Pitt prodigy completed 7-10 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown. It was a small sample size, but it was good enough to earn him the starting job the following week.

Peterman will want to forget about what happened next, as he threw five first-half interceptions. Those INTs were a mix of dropped passes, miscommunication, and poor decisions. He was replaced by Tyrod Taylor in the second half and had to patiently wait for his next opportunity.

2018 Outlook: Peterman’s final start of 2017 came in Week 14, as Taylor was battling an injury. He went 5-10 passing, for 57 yards, with one touchdown and no INTs in an overtime win over the Colts. Unfortunately, he had to leave the game after suffering a concussion, but Buffalo went on to win that pivotal game. Peterman’s chances of starting next season are slim, but he’ll continue his development as an NFL QB. 

Round 6, Pick 11 (No. 195) Tanner Vallejo, LB, Boise State:
He was Buffalo’s final selection in the 2017 draft, but saw significant playing time serving as a special teamer. Vallejo was inactive in Week One, but dressed for the remaining 15 games of the season.

2018 Outlook: Drafted as a linebacker, he only saw 13 defensive snaps on the season. Though, he was a regular on the special teams unit, which is a phase of the game Sean McDermott doesn’t take lightly. In total, he tallied five tackles on special teams in his rookie year. Expect a similar role for Vallejo in 2018, as the team will continue to develop him as a LB.