With the 2023 NFL Draft just days away, we set out to ask the experts about the three best positions the Bills should target in the first round. Buffalo has the 27th overall pick on night one, so it's tough to tell who will be available and if those players left align on correct value along with Buffalo's needs/wants.
Since the grades on this draft class vary depending on who you're talking to, we didn't get a clear-cut answer on just three positions the Bills should target at No. 27. Draft analysts agreed on two positions, but the third garnered a variety of answers.
One reason might be because the Bills are at a place where they just don't have several "needs" on their roster. Another might be because of the way the board has changed for many analysts and experts over the last few months. For example, early on, Texas running back Bijan Robinson was getting mocked to the Bills a bunch, now many have him going way before the Bills are on the clock.
"I think pick 27 is an interesting spot because we'll probably see some runs on positions that the Bills have a need at," ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller explained. "So, I rank their needs as inside linebacker to replace Tremaine Edmunds, wide receiver, corner, interior offensive line and then maybe running back. I know they're probably not too keen on drafting another running back but I still think it's an area that they could address."
"They lost a couple wideouts, as well as a running back and the big one was their starting linebacker," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on the Move the Sticks podcast. "So, if you're looking at these needs, wideout, another weapon to add to this offense here, the linebacker position to replace Tremaine Edmunds and you look at maybe some defensive tackle as well."
As you can see, there's some overlap here in terms of which positions the Bills should target at No. 27. So let's dig a little deeper into why five positions make sense for Buffalo on night one according to the experts.
With the Bills losing starting middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds to free agency, there's now an obvious hole on the roster. The question is do the Bills want to fill that spot through the draft or use what they already have on their roster? Perhaps it's both?
General manager Brandon Beane has said the LBs on the current roster deserve a shot at the open spot.
"I think we got some young guys that have waited their turn and their opportunity," Beane said in his pre-draft press conference. "I'll start with Tyrel Dodson who has been here for a while in our system, knows it, and I think he filled in admirably when Tremaine missed time."
Beane also mentioned Terrel Bernard, Baylon Spector and A.J. Klein as other players who will get an opportunity as well.
Several analysts believe it would be smart to target a linebacker in the first round to add to what the Bills already have. With where the Bills sit, many think they'll have the opportunity to take the best LB in the draft.
"The way this draft lays out, the Buffalo Bills should be the first team to take a linebacker," NFL analyst Bucky Brooks explained on the Move the Sticks podcast. "If you honestly look at it, you're more likely to find comparable value at receiver in the second round than you would find a comparable linebacker in the second round because there's a huge drop-off."
Many believe that linebacker value drops after a few prospects in Drew Sanders, Jack Campbell and Trenton Simpson. Here's what the analysts think you could get by drafting one of them
"Jack Campbell is the easiest transition from Tremaine Edmunds," CBS Sports NFL draft analyst Chris Trapasso believes. "I think you wouldn't really see the defense miss a beat to have that type of player."
"He's moreso your prototypical middle linebacker that just comes downhill and he's a firecracker when he steps downhill," ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid said. "But, also he's an underrated player in pass coverage too. I think that's one of the underrated aspects about him."
Campbell, 6-5 and 249 pounds, played in 43 games and started in 28 during his time at Iowa. The LB won the Dick Butkus Award in 2022, which is given to the top linebacker in college football. In four seasons Campbell totaled 305 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, 15 passes defensed, five interceptions and three forced fumbles.
With Sanders, the experts think you get upside in his ability to go get the quarterback.
"I think Drew Sanders would provide a lot of intrigue and kind of a new wrinkle to the defense because he would provide outside pass rush on third downs," Trapasso shared.
"My player comp for Drew Sanders was Tremaine Edmunds so not only are they similar athletically, they're both around 6'5 and they got this great length, but Sanders is where the game is going," Miller shared. "He had nine and a half sacks last year, three forced fumble, an interception, like he does everything for Arkansas."
Sanders, 6-4 and 235 pounds, played in 36 games and started in 15 over his three seasons in college football. He was a unanimous All-American in 2022 and racked up 103 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 13.5 TFLs, three forced fumbles, six passes defensed and one interception.
In ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr’s latest mock draft, Kiper thought Simpson out of Clemson could be a good fit for the Bills.
"(He's) got tremendous speed to the football, runs in a 4.4 range," Kiper said. "He looks like almost a combination safety, inside linebacker, so you can do so many things within your defense. I think he would be a guy that would fill a void there."
Simpson, 6-2 and 235 pounds, ran a 4.43 at the NFL Scouting Combine in March. The Clemson LB played in 37 games and started in 27. During those three seasons, Simpson totaled 164 tackles, 22.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and five passes defensed.
There's always the argument that quarterback Josh Allen can continue to elevate his game with more weapons. That's why many people have mocked the Bills a wide receiver at No. 27.
"I think a need that would impact the Bills the most in terms of wins and losses would be drafting a wide receiver," Trapasso said. "But I think it's still a pretty deep class and there will be a lot of them available later in the first and into the second and third…I think offense matters more than defense in today's NFL and helping Josh Allen have those weapons around him as much as possible is more important."
Knowing that there's value for wide receivers on Day 2 is good because if the Bills pass on a playmaker on night one, there's most likely going to be one available for them on Friday night. If they choose to go with a wideout in round one because top names are slipping, or whatever the case it may be, here are some names that the experts think make sense in Buffalo.
Wide receiver Zay Flowers out of Boston College is a hot name because of his ability to play in multiple spots.
"I think the vertical threat that he brings, he's played outside left, outside right, both slots, he has lined up in the backfield," Miller said of why he could fit in blue and red. "He's just one of those do it all wide receivers that is not only a vertical threat but also an underneath weapon. So, I think he would be your best bet to pair with Gabe (Davis) who is obviously a bigger guy and a really good deep threat and Stefon (Diggs) who's a true number one."
Flowers, 5-9 and 182 pounds, earned All-ACC First Team honors in 2022. The WR ran a 4.43 40-yard-dash at the Combine. He played in 48 games at BC and set a single-season school record with 12 receiving touchdowns in 2022. In his four seasons, Flowers snatched 200 catches for 3,056 receiving yards, scored 29 receiving touchdowns and averaged 15.3 yards per catch.
If Flowers isn't there, then what about TCU's Quentin Johnston who has quite a bit of length compared to what is known as a smaller wide receiver class.
"They need to be better after the catch," Trapasso said of why the Bills should target Johnston. "It's not to say that Zay Flowers is not good after the catch, but Johnston is just a different animal at almost 6'3 and 210 pounds. He can stiff-arm linebackers and absorbs contact very well…they need to have someone that can catch a slant and take off bouncing off three defenders in the process, and I think Johnston is the best yards after the catch receiver in this class."
Johnston, 6-3 and 208 pounds, earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors in 2022. He played in 32 games over his three years with TCU. During that time, Johnston totaled 115 receptions for 2,190 receiving yards, scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 19 yards per catch.
Wide receiver Jordan Addison out of USC is a wideout who has frequently been mocked to the Bills since March. With him, you get a great route runner.
"Jordan Addison would mesh well as well, especially if you're looking at someone who's going to be a true slot," Miller shared. "Addison was more of that at Pitt than he was at USC. He's a little bit small, not incredibly fast but he's just a great route runner."
Addison, 5-11 and 173 pounds, won the Biletnikoff Award in 2021 as the nation's top wide receiver. He played in 35 games during his three total years at Pitt and USC. In those games, the WR racked up 219 receptions for 3,134 receiving yards, scored 29 receiving touchdowns and averaged 14.3 yards per catch.
The Bills believe in building up their team through the trenches, and they've done that in free agency by signing players like OG Connor McGovern, OG David Edwards, DT Jordan Phillips and DE Shaq Lawson. But you can never have enough protection for Josh Allen, right?
Offensive line has been the most mocked position to the Bills at 38 times with interior offensive line being the favorite. Offensive guard O'Cyrus Torrence, 6-5 and 330 pounds, out of Florida has been mocked to the Bills 18 times, which is the most out of any offensive lineman and the second most of any player regardless of position.
"I think Torrence is the one that makes the most sense, not only to protect Josh but hopefully to get the running game going," Miller shared. If Bijan's (Robinson) not there and you can't manufacture a better run game by upgrading at running back, you got to improve the offensive line…(he's) somebody who's just going to physically dominate at the point of attack. He's the only guy to slow Jalen Carter down, so there's a lot of really impressive stuff."
Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright, 6-5 and 333 pounds, has been projected to the Bills a couple of times in the first round. Although, several mock drafts in the last few weeks have Wright off the board long before the Bills are set to pick. CBS Sports and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis selected Wright to the Bills at 27 in his mock draft from the end of March.
Buffalo continues to fortify the offensive line. Wright provides immediate competition for Spencer Brown at right tackle.-- Davis
Other players that could check the box for the Bills at offensive line are a couple guys who have been seen coming off the board more in the second round than the first as of late.
"I think Steve Avila (6-3 ½ and 332 pounds) from TCU is right there in that mix as well and he's played guard, left guard and center," Miller said. Mitch (Morse) is obviously really good in the middle, but I think Avila gives you a lot of a lot of versatility…the other one would be Cody Mauch (6-5 and 302 pounds) from North Dakota State. He played tackle for them, but a lot of teams see him as a guard, and I think he could fit that style. He's just super physical, a very good athlete."
Defensive line hasn't been a favorite position in the mock drafts, but it certainly makes sense for the Bills at No. 27, especially if a prospect starts to fall. Beane even pointed out in his pre-draft press conference that if they were to target a position it would be defensive tackle because they have several players on short contracts.
"If they are like we need a defensive lineman, they should pick one early because as you get later into this draft, it's not very good at that spot," Trapasso said.
That's especially the case for defensive tackles in this year's class.
Two defensive tackles who have been mocked to the Bills in the first round are Michigan prospect Mazi Smith and Clemson's Bryan Bresee. One analyst thinks Bresee offers more upside at that spot than Smith.
"I have him graded as my 17th overall player, so I really liked Bryan Bresee," Trapasso shared. "His high-level flashes, I think are part of why he was the number one overall recruit. And if you look back at mock drafts last May, the way too early mock drafts, he was in the top 10 of everyone's mock drafts. It was like, 'Hey, this guy is maybe not the next JJ Watt but has that type of athleticism at a very unique size that he could play up and down the line of scrimmage.'
"He's not that 300 plus pound player that the Bills have seemingly liked upfront beyond Ed Oliver. But yes, I think he can be a very good player in the NFL. He's still very young. And really from his freshman season, we saw him as like, 'Wow, this guy is going to be a first-round pick.''
Bresee, 6-5 ½ and 298 pounds, was the nation's former No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school. The DT played in 26 games and started in 21 but missed some time due to a torn ACL in 2021. He racked up 50 total tackles, nine sacks, 15 TFLs, five passes defensed and one interception in his three seasons at Clemson.
Smith, 6-3 and 323 pounds, earned First-Team All-Big 12 honors in 2022. The DT played in 35 games over his career with 28 starts. Smith totaled 88 tackles, six tackles for loss, a half a sack, four passes defensed and one forced fumble in his four seasons with Michigan.
The only other defensive tackle that has been mocked to the Bills multiple times is Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey. Although, there are plenty of mock drafts that have Kancey going before the Bills are set to pick. Kancey, 6-1 and 281 pounds, earned First-Team All-American honors and ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2022. In his 37 games played he racked up 92 total tackles, 34.5 TFLs, 16 sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble.
The last position that has popped up a bit and a position who some analysts have pointed out as a place that needs depth is defensive back. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde are back for this season but what about their future?
Alabama defensive back Brian Branch has been a favorite name with the Bills in the mock drafts but his name showed up a lot less since Buffalo re-signed safety Jordan Poyer.
Charles Davis did pick Branch to the Bills in his mid-April mock draft that you can see on NFL.com.
The alarm bells rang after Branch ran an underwhelming 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. But the Bills see a stud on tape who makes plays from multiple positions. He's in line to fortify what could be the last run of "The Hyde and Poyer Show" in Buffalo. – Davis
Branch, 6-0 and 190 pounds, earned All-American honors in 2022. The DB played in 40 games in three seaons with Alabama and totaled 172 tackles, 19.5 TFLs, 27 passes defensed, four interceptions and four sacks.
Another name that's popped up twice in the mock drafts at No. 27 to the Bills is South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith.
NFL Network data analyst Cynthia Frelund picked Smith to the Bills in her mock draft from the end of March.
I am aware that the Bills have a strong defensive back group. I am also aware of needs at other positions. I am also, also aware that Leslie Frazier is taking the season off and Buffalo's defense might not look the same with Sean McDermott calling the plays. However, this is a team that used at least five defensive backs on more than 90 percent of plays last season, enduring a lot of injuries. Cam Smith at Pick 27 would be a nice upside selection. His change of direction speed ranked in the top 10 percent of FBS players, which helps contextualize his 15 pass breakups and four interceptions off just 70 targets. – Frelund
Smith, 6-1 and 180 pounds, ran a 4.43 at the NFL Combine and earned Second-Team All-SEC honors in 2022. He played in 33 games in his four years at South Carolina and racked up 91 total tackles, 24 passes defensed, six interceptions and 3.5 tackles for loss.
So, there you have it. Lots of options in terms of position groups the Bills should or could target at No. 27 according to the experts. The two positions that definitely had the most crossover among analysts were linebacker and wide receiver.
Here's just another example to prove how all over the place experts have been with projections/grades this year---in the almost 150 mock drafts we tracked last year, only 26 different players were mocked to the Bills. In the 155 mock drafts we've tracked so far this year, 44 different players have been projected to the Bills in the first round. Pretty crazy, right?
Only time will tell who the Bills select with their first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Until then, have fun with the mystery of this year's first round. Oh yeah—don't forget the Bills could always trade up or out of night one.
"If I was in Vegas right now putting money down I would say if we were going to do anything, it'd be more likely to go back than go up," Beane shared in his pre-draft presser.
Happy draft week, Bills Mafia!