1. GM Brandon Beane trading up, trading back or staying put in the first round?
This is a tough one to call, but with the 30th pick in the first round just about everything is on the table for the Bills. GM Brandon Beane and his personnel department will have to let the draft come to them sitting so low in round one to get a read on what talent could fall to them and what positions look most promising in offering the best value.
Draft analysts have suspected that there could be good value at the edge rusher position and at cornerback at the bottom of round one, but it's just a projection.
Beane indicated in his pre-draft press conference that they don't necessarily need to land a day one starter with their top pick.
"I think there's some guys we have on the board, where we're going, `This guy's one heck of a player, but he's not going to start Day 1, but we will count on him and maybe in a year he's going to be the starter,'" said Beane. "We'll have a player that's on the last year of their deal, and he'll kind of back up that player, learn from him, compete with him, but we don't necessarily expect him to start. We'll think long term more than short term. But we'll see how it goes. It'll be a good player."
If Beane doesn't like what's shaping up to be on the board when it's Buffalo's turn, a move from their spot at 30 could happen. Beane's history indicates he may consider a climb up the board. In the three drafts over which he has presided for the Bills he has usually traded up, having done so for Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, Cody Ford and Dawson Knox.
There have been reports that the Bills are exploring opportunities to trade up into the early 20s in an effort to land Clemson RB Travis Etienne, but it would take a good deal of draft capital to make such a move.
Moving back from their pick at 30 is obviously another option, and over the last three years there has been an average of four trades between picks 20 and 32 in the draft as teams with high second-round picks often look to move into the bottom of round one to beat teams at the top of round two to a prospect they covet.
Even sliding back as few as five or six spots to pick 35 or 36 on day two could land the Bills an additional fourth-round pick, a round in which they currently do not have a selection.
"I do think Brandon Beane's phone could be ringing," said Pro Football Focus draft analyst Mike Renner of teams wanting to get into the bottom of round one. "I do think if the top tier of cornerbacks are off the board, I think you can get value and fill out the roster better by moving on to day two. I would endorse that wholeheartedly."
2. Atlanta's decision impacting QB needy teams like New England
Some see the Falcons pick at four as the first real pivot point in the draft. With three quarterbacks expected to fill the top three draft selections on the board, Atlanta could be the first NFL club that doesn't take a passer.
"All signs point to Kyle Pitts," said Pro Football Network draft analyst Tony Pauline. "I think a quarterback makes sense and has been part of the conversation all along. But from where we sit I think quarterback would be a bit of a surprise. And if they don't take Pitts it would be an even bigger surprise. They want to trade out, but I don't think anyone is going to give up the draft capital necessary to move up to the fourth pick in the draft."
That figures to trigger teams like the Broncos and Patriots to get on the phone to look for ways to climb the draft board, knowing Justin Fields and presumably Trey Lance are still on the board.
Knowing Cincinnati at 5 and Miami at 6 won't take a quarterback it will prompt teams like Denver and New England to find a trade partner in the top 10.
"The Patriots want a quarterback," said Pauline. "If they can't get one of the quarterbacks they like at the top of the draft they may move back to the bottom of round one and take (Stanford QB) Davis Mills. In my mock draft I have them taking Trey Lance from North Dakota State because I think the Niners take Mac Jones. But that pick at seven with Detroit is in play for New England to get the quarterback of their choosing."
It's been reported that New England has been in trade discussions with the Carolina Panthers about their pick at 8 in the event they wanted to make a move up the board.
That might spur Denver at pick 9 overall, and in the market for quarterback competition for Drew Lock, to try and move up the board to beat New England to the punch. And the Broncos do offer the Lions something that the Patriots can't, a pick that still sits in the top 10.
"If Detroit doesn't want to move as far down as New England, I could see them sliding back just to nine with the Broncos getting their pick at seven moving up two spots and taking Justin Fields," said Pauline. "They see him as a vastly more athletic version of Dak Prescott. They like Mac Jones, but probably won't get him, so after that they like Justin Fields."
Scroll through to view photos of the top prospects that draft analysts have projected the Bills to take with the 30th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
3. More trades!!!!!
As popular as the discussion has been about the jockeying for quarterback prospects at the top of round one, there also figures to be some healthy shuffling in the middle of the first round.
With the top 10 selections expected to be largely offensive players, teams in the middle of the round will be jockeying to land the best defensive players in the class.
"I think we'll see teams moving around between picks 15 and 25," said NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah.
With several teams in that range of the draft in need of defensive talent Jeremiah and other draft analysts expect to see teams trying to leapfrog one another for premium scheme fits.
4. Cornerbacks coming off the board in high numbers
While it's widely anticipated that the top two cornerback talents in the draft, Alabama's Patrick Surtain and South Carolina's Jaycee Horn will be off the board within the top 15 picks, there isn't a clear cut indication on how quickly the rest of the cornerbacks believed to be in the top tier will come off the board.
What is clear is you designate as many as 16 teams picking ahead of the Bills as being in need of cornerback talent. That could precipitate a run on the draft's top cover defenders.
"I think Bills fans should absolutely concerned if they're hoping for a corner down at 30," said SI.com NFL draft analyst Connor Orr. "I think Patrick Surtain and Jaycee Horn are going to higher in the top half of the round. But then the second run probably starts at 22 with the Titans. They've been all over the cornerback market, and teams that could look at corner after that are the Jets, Steelers, Jaguars, Saints and Packers. The Bills may get lucky and one slips to them depending on scheme fits, but it's uncertain."
If the corners in that top tier are already off the board it could prompt the Bills to trade down and out of the first round unless there is quality value at one of their other perceived need positions (edge rusher, offensive line).
5. Limited information on prospects making the draft more unpredictable
With no NFL combine in this pre-draft process due to the COVID pandemic the most important missing piece for league personnel departments in the run up to the draft has been the comprehensive medical reports on more than 300 prospects.
"People aren't freaked out about the football side of the evaluation," said Jeremiah. "People are majorly freaked out about the medical stuff."
"It's not just about not having to combine, we have to remember that area scouts have not been on the road in the fall, to talk to the trainers and strength staff and get all these little details about who's really spending time in the weight room and who's spending time with treatment getting better and taking care of their body," said NFL draft analyst for 'The Athletic,' Dane Brugler. "So there are a lot of pieces of the puzzle that we usually have in a normal draft process that we don't have this year with the combine being the big one.
"They tried to supplement that with each prospect going to a local medical facility to get a full evaluation, and about 150 players have gone to Indianapolis here the last three weeks to get a more thorough evaluation with NFL doctors. But it's late in the process and I think it's fair to say we're going to see a lot of teams draft conservatively, and it's not just the medicals, it's the character stuff too."
That could hurt a super talented player like University of Miami pass rusher Jaelen Phillips, who on his ability alone would likely be a top 10 pick, but whose concussion history and brief retirement from football will give teams pause.
6. Teams could sacrifice late round picks to move up in early rounds
This is simply an issue of numbers. The 2021 draft class offers a significantly smaller pool of players. Last year, there were 1,932 prospects eligible to be drafted. This year there are 657.
It's due mainly to the NCAA granting an extra year of college eligibility to players due to the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted the college football season. Many players who may have considered declaring for the draft returned to school for another year.
"We had so many kids go back to school," said Jeremiah. "That's what's going to impact the bottom half of the draft. That's why everybody that I talk to around the league just says, 'We don't know what the heck we're going to do without sixth and seventh round picks.'"
In a normal draft year with 1,800-plus prospects there is depth to the class that can make picks as late as rounds five and six valuable if your college scouting department is doing its due diligence.
But with the class so thin in terms of numbers it could prompt some NFL general managers to part with a good amount of their day 3 draft capital, especially if their draft board is all but dried up.
"You're going to see a bunch of teams trying to be aggressive in rounds two and three and they'll be parting with these day three picks like nothing," said Jeremiah.
Some GMs are hoping to convert those day 3 picks into draft capital for 2022.
"Next year's class, those sixth and seventh round picks are going to be really valuable," Jeremiah said. "A lot of those kids went back, so it's going to make next year's draft really, really deep."