Although the Buffalo Bills are without a first-round pick in the 2015 draft, they have a good nucleus of talent and a strong head coach presence in Rex Ryan. According to John Murphy of buffalobills.com, Ryan's message to the Bills' scouts has been simple: find the best players, and we will make it work.
Great coaches can make talent work because they'll build their scheme around that talent. The Bills already have some great talent, and they have the chance to use their cap space to retain key pieces like Jerry Hughes, Da'Norris Searcy and 2016 free agent Marcell Dareus. Each should be considered a priority because of their ability to impact the game.
Running back C.J. Spiller seems unlikely to return in 2015, and according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, general manager Doug Whaley has already expressed that the Bills will need to rely on their running game.
Regarding the 2015 class of running backs, Whaley told Sal Maiorana of the Democrat and Chronicle, "It's deep, it's one of those classes that we're excited about. There's some value in rounds 2-5 that you're gonna get some guys who will make an impact in this league."
Some of the best options in the middle rounds include Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Minnesota's David Cobb, Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Boise State's Jay Ajayi, among others. The Bills seem determined to add a solid back who can lead their offense despite a less-than-stellar quarterback situation. Expect them to address the position in the middle rounds of the draft, based off of this buzz.
50. Buffalo Bills — Duke OG Laken Tomlinson
The Bills' long wait without a pick finally is over, and they land a smart, savvy and tough guard here. If the Bills fill their OG need in free agency, you could see them go for a quarterback such as …
50) - HB Tevin Coleman, Indiana
- The two other names considered at this slot were Oregon offensive lineman Jake Fisher and Miami (FL) tight end Clive Walford, but neither could provide the potential impact that Tevin Coleman might be able to do in his first season in the league. Despite the running back position being a deep one, the Bills won't hesitate to select someone that fits their running style, and Coleman is exactly that. He's falling a bit at the moment due to an injury, but he has all the potential to be an every down running back for whatever team he plays for.
81) - TE Nick O'Leary, Florida State
- To spare you from having to scroll through 30 more names this early in the draft process, we'll skip straight to the Bills pick at 81st overall. The Bills are said to be in the market to add multiple tight ends, and not many offer the kind of package that Greg Roman and Rex Ryan may want than Nick O'Leary. As a tight end, he is limited athletically which means he will never stack up with the Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham's of the world. But what he does offer is an every down presence, one of the most consistent tight end targets in college football over the last three years and an incredible presence in the red zone. O'Leary is as smart at beating a defense as they come, and he shows up in clutch times. With a hard-nosed type of playing style, Rex Ryan will surely love what O'Leary brings to the table.
Buffalo Bills picks**
Round 2, Pick 50: Jay Ajayi, running back, Boise State
In our mock draft last week, the Bills got Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams, but he's now off the board. There's a deep tier of running backs after Gordon and Gurley, and one of them should be available for Buffalo here. Boise State's Jay Ajayi is one of the most complete running backs in the draft, and he had a productive career on the blue turf. If he's available, he'll be hard to pass up.* *
Round 3, Pick 81: Laken Tomlinson, guard, Duke
Bills coach Rex Ryan mentioned that the Bills could use help at both guard and tackle, so spending a day two pick on an offensive lineman would be a wise choice. Laken Tomlinson has been compared to Lions guard Larry Warford, who fell to the third round a few years ago. If Tomlinson does the same, Buffalo shouldn't hesitate to take him off the board.
Note: Picks in round 4-7 are subject to change when the NFL announces compensatory selections in March.
Round 5, Pick 129: Zack Hodges, edge rusher, Harvard
Even if the Bills are able to bring back Jerry Hughes, Rex Ryan still might be in the market for an edge rusher to groom. Harvard's Zack Hodges is by all accounts a film junkie, and at 6-foot-2-inches tall, 250 pounds, he projects as a pass-rushing linebacker at the next level. He could provide a bit of a different element off the edge compared to the players the Bills have on their roster.
Round 5, Pick 147: Tyler Kroft, tight end, Rutgers
The Bills could add a tight end in free agency, but even if they do, Greg Roman has been know to use multiple tight ends. After doctors re-injured Tyler Kroft's ankle at the NFL Scouting Combine, there's a chance he could slide a bit in the NFL Draft. His production never matched his talent at Rutgers because of quarterback play, but Kroft would be too good to pass up at this spot.
Round 6, Pick 178: Durell Eskridge, safety, Syracuse
Last week, Ibraheim Campbell of Northwestern was the safety we pegged to the Bills in this spot, so we'll go with a different name to keep an eye on here. With the possibility that the Bills are unable to retain Da'Norris Searcy in free agency, depth in the secondary could become a need. Durell Eskridge is a bigger player who ran surprisingly well in Indianapolis. In a weak safety class, he's worthy in the sixth round.
Round 7, Pick 209: Brandon Bridge, quarterback, South Alabama
We'll keep beating the Brandon Bridge drum between now and the NFL Draft in April. Without a first-round pick the Bills aren't going to find a quarterback in this draft who can help them right away. The most likely scenario is that Buffalo finds a quarterback in free agency and then drafts one it can develop. Bridge is an athletic quarterback with all of the tools to be a starter in the NFL. The problem is he's incredibly raw as a passer. That's why he's a seventh-round flier.
Free agents:** WR Marcus Easley, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Lee Smith, OL Chris Hairston, OG Erik Pears, DE Jerry Hughes, DE Jarius Wynn, LB Brandon Spikes, LB Stevenson Sylvester, LB Larry Dean, SS Da'Norris Searcy
Free agents of note: Searcy will hit the open market after a breakout season, and given the league-wide need for cover safeties, he's got a good shot at some serious money. Spikes is a one-trick pony, but it's a very good trick: He's an outstanding run-stopper, and he really showed that in 2014. Hughes, however, was an absolute revelation in Jim Schwartz's defense last season, grabbing 9.5 sacks and 61 total pressures. The Bills are extremely interested in bringing back Hughes, who could expand upon his pass-rush prowess in Rex Ryan's system.
Positions in need of improvement: Buffalo's recent signing of Richie Incognito is telling: The Bills need serious help along their offensive line, and if they're desperate enough to bring a player with Incognito's baggage on board, at least they're aware of it. Left tackle Cordy Glenn might have been the best player on the line last season, and he allowed eight sacks. With Kyle Orton retiring, the Bills must figure out if Manuel can be the long-term answer at quarterback. The results so far have been disconcerting. At running back, C.J. Spiller (who may decline a player option and become a free agent as well) and Fred Jackson don't bring the total package. Ryan inherits an outstanding defense, especially with Kiko Alonso returning from his 2014 knee injury, but the offense will need to be built up from scratch, with the exception of the receiver position.
Several teams looking for a pass rusher have been linked to Buffalo's Jerry Hughes. He is coming off a 10-sack season, but he didn't do much with the Colts after being a first-round pick in 2011. Some scouts think he might have exploded with the Bills because of the three other guys on that line -- Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams. You can't double them all. Even so, Hughes is only 26, which helps.
If you had to win a game tomorrow, who do you want coaching your team? Not five years from now, not five years ago. Tomorrow. That's the guiding principle behind my second annual coach rankings. This is not an exact science. No good coach has ever won without good players. No bad coach has ever gone 2-14 all by himself. Coaches are overpraised and underappreciated in equal measure. But time sorts coaches the way it does anything else. Patterns emerge. The passing years reveal who is lucky and who makes their own luck. Of course, the briefer the career, the more projection is required. That's where "inexact" comes back in. What effect does Chip Kelly seem to have made in two years? Are Gus Bradley's losses all his roster's fault, or is there something it appears he could be doing better? We're not positive, so we have to make an educated guess. With that settled, here's my stab at the league's 25 best coaches. This year's seven new hires are ranked separately.* *
1. Rex Ryan, Bills
Career Record: 46-50 (.479)
When it comes to developing quarterbacks, Rex Ryan finds himself along the same longitudinal lines as Lovie Smith. Ryan coaches up signal callers somewhere between Greenland and Baffin Island. He is an outpost of quarterback learning. When it comes to defense, however, Ryan is arguably without peer. Nemesis to Bill Belichick, Ryan schemes to overachieve like no other. When he does have the horses, no unit is more imposing. Ryan has the defensive horses in Buffalo. ... But if we're talking the strengths of 2015's seven new hires, Ryan's defensive prowess is the strongest.