On the Clock - Inside the draft room - How value and need aligned for the Bills

Posted May 5, 2016

Our exclusive behind the scenes account of what went on in Buffalo's draft room on day one and two of the 2016 NFL draft.

Buffalo’s personnel department was under the gun on draft weekend. With salary cap constraints limiting their acquisitions in free agency, the Bills had to find starters with their first three draft choices. In an atypical draft GM Doug Whaley and company capitalized on opportunity and went three-for-three on day one and two of the 2016 NFL draft. was given exclusive access to the Bills draft room to provide details on how Buffalo acquired what could be a franchise altering draft class.

Don’t jinx it
“Don’t worry I’m not going to say it,” said Bills general manager Doug Whaley.

It was 9:48 pm on night one of the 2016 NFL draft. Inside Buffalo’s gleaming new draft room, the latest investment by owners Terry and Kim Pegula, the sliding offensive tackle from Ole Miss, Laremy Tunsil was just announced as the pick for Miami at 13th overall. But the Bills had their eyes on another player who in their estimation was sliding as well.

Head coach Rex Ryan had just shot a look at Whaley across the head table in the front of the room after Whaley said that they might have a chance. Ryan didn’t want Whaley to utter the player’s name that they all coveted. No one wanted to jinx the chance to land him.

That player was Clemson defensive lineman Shaq Lawson, a prospect the Bills expected to be off the board no later than the 12th pick to the defense-needy New Orleans Saints.

“He was in our mix from the get go,” said Bills Director of Player Personnel Jim Monos of Lawson. “We were thinking he would be gone.”

“We had a cluster of about three players that we realistically thought we’d have a chance of eyeing with our pick,” said Whaley of Buffalo’s choice.

But Lawson wasn’t one of them.

Not five minutes before Miami’s pick at 13, Whaley was on the phone with the Denver Broncos, who were desperately trying to move up the board in round one from their pick at 31. They presumably felt they had to leapfrog the Jets at 20 to take Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch.

Leading up to the draft Whaley made it clear the Bills were open for business. However, with Lawson still on the board it was going to take a lot for Buffalo to move out of their spot at 19.

“You listen and then you have to weigh what they’re offering you and how far you’re going down to how big of a drop there is in the talent level of the players you’ll be eyeing at a lower spot,” Whaley said. “When it came down to it we just felt that Shaq Lawson and what he brings to our team is not worth all the picks that we would’ve accrued by moving down.”

Buffalo wanted a first-round pick in addition to Denver’s pick at 31, but it wasn’t going to be part of the Broncos offer. It was then that Terry Pegula and Doug Whaley jointly decided that if one of Buffalo’s top two options at 19 was still on the board they would not trade out of the pick. Only a whale of an offer would change that.

In the meantime Oakland at 14 took West Virginia safety Karl Joseph off the board.

Whaley had warned of a lack of consensus in the league as to who the top 10 talents in the class were. So although UCLA LB Myles Jack had not taken up a position in the top 15 to help push other defensive talent down the board, there were already three offensive tackles and four defensive backs pushing more of the defensive front seven players down to Buffalo.

At 9:55 pm Cleveland took Baylor WR Corey Coleman and Detroit followed with the predictable choice of Ohio State OT Taylor Decker.

Atlanta had a linebacker need, but they took the second safety off the board in Florida’s Keanu Neal, putting Indianapolis on the clock. The Colts were a team Whaley knew needed help up front.

“Pass rushers are hard to find and I know through the draft process the Colts were going to make a concerted effort to get players up front on the offensive and defensive lines, so we were holding our breath,” said Whaley.

Indianapolis did go front line, but on offense with Alabama center Ryan Kelly.

“That’s it, we’ve got him,” said Ryan softly in reference to their target Lawson, as he put both of his hands in the air with an ear to ear grin.

Before the Bills turn their card in with Shaq Lawson, Buffalo’s phone rings. It’s Dallas Director of Player Personnel Stephen Jones calling. He wants the Bills pick at 19. Senior Vice President of Football Administration Jim Overdorf takes the call, but Jones is only offering their second and third-round pick to move all the way up from pick 34 in round two. Overdorf declines the offer and hangs up the phone.

“We looked at it and for us to trade away from a player of Shaq’s caliber teams would have to start with a one next year,” said Whaley. “No one was willing to pay that price, so in the end I think we won. Yes, it would’ve been great to have two ones next year, but for our team this year the greatest benefit was us picking Shaq Lawson.”

Planning a move
As the first round moved along another player Buffalo had in their cluster of considerations at 19 was still on the board. Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, for whatever reason was sliding. The Bills wanted to get back into the bottom of round one, but knew with pick 49 it would be difficult. Still, they gave it a shot.

The Bills called Carolina at 30 and Denver, who had been calling them earlier about getting up to 19, from their pick at 31. Predictably the price was steep. Carolina dismissed Buffalo’s inquiries and the Broncos were still trying to move up themselves, which they did in a deal with Seattle at pick 26.

RELATED: Bills trade efforts rewarded with prized LB Reggie Ragland

“We were pretty far down in the second round so it was hard to get up there,” said Monos. “We didn’t want to give up too much, and teams were asking for a lot. So we kept trying until it fit.”

Doug Whaley called Cleveland with the first pick in round two more than once to see what kind of trade package could be arranged for their selection at 32. After a few phone calls Whaley and Browns Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown agreed to talk again on Friday.

As round one closed Buffalo’s top personnel men huddled up at the head table. It was quickly decided with Ragland still on the board that on Friday they would reach out to every other NFL club at the top of round two until they could find a willing trade partner.

Relentless pursuit
The start of day two of the draft was still seven hours away, but the Bills were already working the phones trying to find a team willing to move out of the top 10 of round two. Cleveland’s asking price was just too high for Buffalo to meet. They were adamant about receiving a first-round pick in return.

Unfortunately Tennessee, Dallas and San Diego were not interested in moving out of their picks at 33, 34 and 35. That was a problem because Baltimore at 36 was viewed as a viable threat to take Reggie Ragland off the board and Buffalo wanted to be in front of them.

“Baltimore with the connection of (general manager) Ozzie (Newsome), he played at Alabama, they have (former Alabama linebacker) C.J. Mosley there,” said Whaley. “We thought that was a team we had to get ahead of to get Reggie.”

San Francisco, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and the Giants were all listening, but it was clear to the Bills that with all the talent still on the board it was going to be hard to get those clubs to move down and out of the top 10.

As round two opened Friday night the Bills were still on the phones. Jim Overdorf, who had spoken to Chicago about their pick at 41 earlier in the day, called them back to see if they were willing to move down. Not on the phone for more than a minute or two Overdorf relayed to Whaley that the Bears were willing to deal. As long as Ragland was on the board, Buffalo would call Chicago and consummate the trade.

Cleveland took Oklahoma State pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, Tennessee took Clemson DE Kevin Dodd and Dallas took Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith. After San Diego took Arkansas TE Hunter Henry, Baltimore moved out of their pick at 36, sliding back two spots in a deal with Jacksonville.

Baltimore was still sitting in front of Buffalo at 38 and even worse Jacksonville now at 36 was a concern with respect to Ragland. The Jaguars had an inside linebacker need.

“That was one of the teams for Reggie to possibly go,” said Monos. “When we saw that trade go down we were like, ‘Well, let’s see.’”

The Jaguars did take a linebacker, but it was UCLA’s Myles Jack, who had fallen a long way down the board himself. The draft room noticeably exhaled when the pick was announced.

San Francisco traded out of their spot at 37 in a deal with Kansas City, but they took Mississippi State DL Chris Jones.

Despite having a deal in place with Chicago at pick 41, the Bills were still trying to do better. Whaley called Tampa Bay at 39 to see if they could make a deal there feeling Ragland was not going to last much longer.

The Buccaneers listened and didn’t give Whaley an outright ‘no,’ but Buffalo’s GM wasn’t optimistic about a deal happening there.

Another trade occurred as Baltimore traded back again in a deal with Miami for the pick at 38. Whaley walked over to the board that had every roster in the NFL and quickly scanned the Dolphins defensive personnel.

“No, they’re not taking a linebacker. They’ve got Kiko and Jelani Jenkins,” he said. “We should be good there.”

The Dolphins take Baylor CB Xavien Howard putting Tampa Bay on the clock. The Bills aren’t certain what direction the Bucs will go after taking a cornerback in round one. They believe an edge rusher is what they have in mind.

Fortunately another prospect in the class was sliding. Tampa Bay took Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence.

The Bills immediately call Chicago to execute the trade they had previously discussed.

Buffalo completed the deal giving up pick 49, their fourth-round pick at 107, and a fourth-round pick in 2017. The Bills moved up eight spots to pick 41 even though the Giants were on the clock at 40.

“At that point we had two players pegged so we knew no matter what we were going to get one of those two players,” said Whaley. “We felt comfortable making the trade then knowing we couldn’t lose.”

New York took Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard and the room burst into a subdued celebration. Whaley signaled to call Ragland on the phone and told the Bills draft table in Chicago to send the card in with Ragland’s name.

“Hey Reggie, it’s Doug Whaley with the Bills,” he said. “You ready to come to Buffalo? We took the ACC Player of the Year in round one, now we’re taking the SEC Player of the Year in round two. We’re going to have a killer defense.”

Blake’s No. 1
The Bills knew they’d be sitting and waiting a while before they were on the clock in round three holding the 17th pick.

“We had to wait, but we had (Adolphus Washington) as the top rated guy in our stack,” said Whaley. “We knew there were a couple of other guys in that stack that if Washington was gone that we’d be comfortable picking at number three.”

The run on defensive ends began right at the top of the round as four were taken in the first nine picks. Four defensive backs and four offensive linemen also went in the top half of the round. It left the Ohio State defensive lineman there for the Bills to grab at pick 80.

But before Buffalo was on the clock the phone did ring a few times. A few clubs were looking to move up.

“There was nothing of substance. They were just feeling us out,” Whaley said. “They were asking if we were going to make a pick or willing to listen. I said, ‘If you’re going to offer something do it now because we have a guy that’s sticking out like a sore thumb that we really want.’”

Adolphus Washington had a second round grade for the Bills. Getting him in the middle of the third round was seen as an enormous value. No one however, was as excited as new defensive line coach John Blake, who had Washington as his number one defensive lineman.

Not long after Washington was picked Blake was escorted into the draft room by Rex Ryan to issue a loud and appreciative thank you to the personnel department for taking Washington.

“I think at that point we had four or five guys we would’ve been happy with,” said Monos. “With Washington we were ecstatic because of his pass rush ability.”

Trio of top 50s
It doesn’t happen often, but the Bills were extremely fortunate to have their primary positional needs entering the draft match up seamlessly with some of the best prospects on their board.

“I told the Pegulas, ‘Don’t get used to this. This is not how it happens,’” said Whaley. “I always say don’t get married to a player because you don’t know if they’re going to be there, but everybody has their favorites. To check off our wish list with guys who were our favorites? That’s just unheard of.”

“We got three of our top 50 players with those picks,” said Monos. “That is unusual, but we do have expectations for that. When you set your top 50 the challenge is whether you can get three of those guys on that list, and we did.”

Three players who are likely to start as rookies come September.