The defensive tackles will be one of the position groups reporting to the NFL Combine Friday, and the consensus opinion is that it's the deepest class in decades. What does that mean for the Bills? In a word, options.
"It's a defensive draft," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "The best interior defensive line talent I've seen since maybe I started doing this. We're seeing with the Super Bowl winning Denver Broncos what started about five years ago. All the NFL teams were talking about finding people on defense who can affect the pass offense because it's a pass first league. What you saw with Von Miller and that defensive front of Denver is what teams have been trying to build for the last four or five years. It's so deep on defense with the defensive tackles and corners, it's going to be a good year for those groups."
Most draft analysts believe anywhere from 10 to 12 defensive tackles could come off the board in round one. And while that is certainly a high number NFL talent evaluators believe there will still be plenty of capable talent in the three rounds that follow.
"What you're going to see happening with that interior defensive line group is this is how good it is," said Mayock. "You could wait until the third or fourth round this year and get a defensive tackle that in past drafts was a first or second rounder. So a lot of teams are going to wait until the third or fourth round to get that defensive tackle they need because he'll still be on the board, and you'll get a second rounder instead of fourth rounder. So it gives you an opportunity to look at other positions."
That might prove to be a good approach for the Bills. After admitting this week that they could make an argument to take a prospect at almost any position and claim it's a need, waiting on a defensive lineman is an option that GM Doug Whaley doesn't dismiss
"I think that is something you weigh into your decision making," Whaley told Buffalobills.com. "That's where you ask, 'Is this guy such an impact player that you don't want to pass, or do you think you can get a guy that's a little bit less of an impact player later on in the draft and address another area?'"
Of course holding pick 19 in round one and knowing the caliber of talent that will be available will be supremely enticing. With Kyle Williams on the back side of his career and the future of Mario Williams on Buffalo's roster up in the air, there are some diverse defensive line talents that could fortify Buffalo's defensive front immediately.
"The deepest position in the draft is the defensive lineman class," said NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks. "So many guys on the inside that could come in and play right away. You can't miss if you take a defensive tackle early."
What only enhances the defensive line depth in the 2016 class is the fact that some of the better defensive ends in the class are capable of playing the five technique in a 3-4 defensive scheme like Oregon's DeForest Buckner, Florida's Jonathan Bullard, Clemson's Kevin Dodd and Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah.
"Let's just say that Mario Williams is not there and they have to replace him," said Brooks. "They have to find someone on the edges that can complement and really allow Jerry Hughes to do his thing on the backside. A defensive end like a Kevin Dodd from Clemson could be a guy that is big and physical that could do some things. Jarran Reed also from Alabama an inside guy. Sheldon Rankins from Louisville who can play on the inside. Even Emmanuel Ogbah from Oklahoma State who is a little stiff but had a lot of sacks. They need to find someone that can get them double digit sacks to help Jerry Hughes, but also set the edge in the run game."
"How about Sheldon Rankins at No. 19," asked Mayock. "We keep talking about what a pass-first league this is, and it certainly has become that. So anybody that can create immediate interior pressure has got higher value than he did five years ago. Rankins is one of those kind of guys. Rankins to me is intriguing."
Bills head coach Rex Ryan hasn't been shy about taking defensive linemen early in drafts when he's had a first-round pick. From 2011 to 2013, Ryan, as head coach of the Jets, took three defensive linemen in round one each time selecting Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Sheldon Richardson (in 2013 New York had two first-round picks).
"I think it's a very talented group," said Ryan of the 2016 defensive tackle class. "How deep it is we'll find out. I think it's strange because the last couple of years we've seen great wide receiver groups and this one tilts back to the defensive line. But I'm excited about seeing all these guys and where we're picking. We have a first round pick this year and that's always exciting."