The Need: The Bills began the McBeane Era with a brand-spanking-new defensive backfield. Veteran Aaron Williams? Retired. Corey Graham? Ronald Darby? Gone to Philly. Nickell Robey-Coleman? Rams. Gilmore? Deflatriots. None of them has played better than the Bills’ current DBs. The safeties in McDermott’s defensive philosophy would need different skill-sets to disguise coverages, ably explained here by Cover 1. The Bills look like they have their long-term starters in Hyde and Poyer. Therefore, the need will be safety depth. Hard hitter Trae Elston backs up Poyer at FS and filled in as the starter when Hyde was injured. Of Elston’s 18 tackles for the season, 11 came in one game against Oakland. October addition Shamarko Thomas, former Syracuse safety, backs up Hyde at SS. He was the Steelers’ RD4 pick in 2013 who spent time backing up Jamal Adams for the Jets. The need for safety depth would likely be filled after the Bills’ RD1-2 picks.
The Archetype: Hyde and Poyer were the first two free agent signings for the Bills. Sean McDermott credited Hyde for his versatility; for example, Hyde played safety and cornerback, and played on special teams, returning punts. Both Hyde and Poyer have been ball hawks. Hyde already had eight picks, even before he made waves at One Bills Drive. His diving interception in the Bills-Falcons game showed athleticism, discipline, and alertness. Solid football intelligence and “zone eyes” make his turnovers possible. Another trait both players display is communication. McDermott said of his safeties, “They’re battle-tested, flying all over the field“. One would have to think that experience and durability again will rule the day for safeties under McDermott and Frazier. You’ll see no “one-year wonders”. Coach Frasier mentioned consistency when speaking of Micah Hyde. Pro Football Focus agrees, saying, “Nothing will pop out on the stat sheet for Hyde but his consistency is notable.” We’ll use Hyde’s resume of four seasons with 33 starts as a benchmark when looking at the draft crop. Finally, productivity in tackling is a factor; I’ll look the sum of each player’s 2-digit-tackle games over three years, 2015, 2016, and 2017 (That’s the number in parentheses after the player name).
What players in the 2018 NFL Draft fit the Bills’ archetype?
Minkah Fitzpatrick CB/S Alabama (0) (RD1#9 on my Big Board)
6-0, 203, 4.52
Fitzpatrick moved to safety after Eddie Jackson’s season-ending injury in October 2016. He’s going to get himself drafted in the top ten due to his athleticism and versatility; Fitzpatrick’s likely one of the top two corners and top two safeties, doubling his value on many teams’ boards. He’s a dynamic playmaker who allows his defensive coordinator to disguise coverages (and that’s a trademark of McDermott’s defense). Fitzpatrick’s INT’s (and he’s had 9 of them) often go to the house; he has had four pick-6s in his career. On the downside, we’re not likely trading up for Minkah, given our needs. Besides, Fitzpatrick does have another year of eligibility. If the Bills add a defensive back with one of their first four picks, then it’d be Blanding or Watts without a trade-up. I just don’t see us opting to ignore DT or QB in a draft rich with both. Get one of each in Free Agency, then we’ll talk. Alabama has been scouted once by the Bills.
Fit For The Bills: B+
Quin Blanding SS/FS Virginia (18) (RD1#19 on my Big Board)
6-1, 205, 4.58
Blanding is an immediate fit due to his production on the field: He ranks No. 2 in the ACC and No. 10 in the FBS with 10.0 tackles per outing, and Blanding’s 120 total tackles rank highest among DBs, as of this writing. Sure tackling has been a stumbling block for the Bills of late, so his technique and output will appeal to Bills brass. Consistency over time is a Bills mantra, and Blanding has ranked second in tackles in the ACC 3 seasons in a row, and he is in line to do it again. He has only 8.5 tackles for loss over his career, but that’s due to scheme. Virginia switched to a 3-4 front this year, moving Blanding closer to the line like McDermott has done with SS players in the past. Maybe the 3-4 is a deal-breaker. Curiously, Virginia has not been scouted by the Bills yet.
Fit For The Bills: A
Armani Watts Texas A&M (9) (RD2#58 on my Big Board)
5-11, 200, 4.49
Watts is electric (sorry, couldn’t help myself). He has four years of consistent production with 313 tackles, with a hammy in 2016 affecting his production. Mostly due to the Aggies’ defensive scheme, Watts has the Tackles For Loss that Blanding does not, and he’s done it against SEC offenses. Watch Watts’s overtime INT against Arkansas, and you’ll covet this kid. The Bills want players to come up big when it counts, and that’s what Watts does. Texas A&M has been scouted once by the Bills. They’ve likely looked at Christian Kirk and Watts, both second-rounders in my book, so the timing seems almost right.
Fit For The Bills: A
Marcus Allen SS/FS Penn St (7) (RD3#95 on my Big Board)
6-1, 205, 4.57
No relation to “the real Marcus Allen”, as this one says, this Nittany Lion has been a star in the PSU secondary. His function is that of a second linebacker, a perfect fit with what McDermott’s defense likes to do. Logging stats for four years at Pegula’s alma mater, Allen is a stalwart against the run (110 tackles), but he’s no liability against the pass (17 TFL, 5 FF, and 10 PBU in his career). He’s best in a zone scheme where he can come up quickly with the big hit and use his big hands to get the ball loose. Known for his energy, instincts, versatility, and accountability, all archetypal qualities, Allen could wear the red, white, and blue on Sundays in Orchard Park, especially if he lasts to RD3. Penn State has been scouted twice by the Bills.
Fit For The Bills: A+
Ed Paris S/CB LSU (0) (RD7#253 on my Big Board)
6-0, 210, 4.52
First off, I don’t expect Ed Paris to declare for the draft in 2018. Ed Orgeron says Paris will return to LSU next fall with a medical redshirt. On the flip side, though, Paris is a former teammate of Tre’Davious White. He moved to S from CB this fall, checking the “versatility” box for McBeane. By moving to Safety, Paris replaced the Jets’ RD1#6 pick, Jamal Adams; they were the two top Safeties in the 2014 signing class. The Tigers liked Ed’s work at CB, and Paris seamlessly transferred his fluid hips to the Safety position. LSU has been scouted twice by the Bills, and don’t you just love Paris in the fall? Just don’t think it’s this fall.
Fit For The Bills: A
Day 3 Fits:
Andrew Wingard Wyoming (21) (RD5#170 on my Big Board)
6-0, 207, 4.57
While Wingard hasn’t been seen officially, there’s a connection to the Bills: His defensive coordinator was fan-favorite Bills safety Jim Leonhard, who has since moved on to be defensive coordinator of the Top 6-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. Maybe the Bills sign Leonhard and draft Wingard? Signing both coach and player just happened with Zay Jones and his ECU coach, Phil McGeoghan; it can happen again. Wingard literally turned out to be a “win guard” with a game-sealing INT to beat LSU (although he was penalized in the game for a late hit), and notched a personal-best 17 tackles against Colorado State. Wingard’s stats show three years of consistency. He has another year of eligibility, but I love Wingard’s “warrior” mentality. That should resonate with McDermott. He’d be an early day 3 or even a RD3 acquired-pick option. Wyoming has not been scouted by the Bills yet. If he declares early, Fit For The Bills: A
Dominick Sanders Georgia (0) (RD5#184 on my Big Board)
6-0, 189, 4.58
This free safety has been a vital cog in the past four Bulldogs defenses, logging game 50 of his college career as of this writing. That’s a big move upward on the McBeane-O-Meter. Add to that Sanders’s toughness and grit, and it starts to make sense, especially if he lasts to Day 3. Sanders’s pass defending is excellent, including an astounding 15 career INTs for a ridiculous 342 yards. The sticking point for the Bills could be Sanders’ tackling. If he can show he’s improved over time, then Sanders could become a value pick in RD4. Georgia has been scouted twice by the Bills.
Fit For The Bills: A-
Van Smith SS Clemson (3) (PFA#337 on my Big Board)
5-11, 195, 4.60
“Do your job”. “Be 1/11th of the defense”. You’ve heard McDermott say this message time and time again. Van Smith does his job, and he fits the zone scheme extremely well. Watch #23 find and fill the gap; he’s doing his job. Smith can pack a wallop as he establishes his launch point quickly to set up his tackle. He was instrumental in the Clemson-Florida State game with 5 tackles, 1 TFL, and the key INT. The fact that Smith isn’t the best man safety will work to the Bills’ advantage should he drop to RD7, as he’s a stout zone defender. I’d see Smith learning from Pro Bowl SS Micah Hyde for a few years, then stepping up and stepping in. Clemson has been scouted once by the Bills.
Fit For The Bills: A-
Donovan Wilson SS/CB/hybrid Texas A&M (0) (RD6#208 on my Big Board)
6-1, 206, 4.52
Playing opposite Armani Watts, would the Bills grab a matched set to apprentice under Dr. Poyer and Mr. Hyde? Wilson has the size and versatility the Bills always look for. He’s versatile, has thrived in a hybrid nickel-back “Honey Badger” role, taking over for Justin Evans (Bucs, RD2#18), making Wilson a box SS or cover CB on any given play. That should interest McDermott and Frazier (or Frazier’s replacement…heh heh). Wilson’s stats drop him below Sanders and Wingard for me, but his size is better. I could see a charging (or standing) buffalo on his helmet this April. Texas A&M has been scouted once by the Bills.
Fit For The Bills: B+
Taylor Rapp** Washington (0) (PFA#299 on my Big Board)
6-0, 202, 4.59
Budda Baker (Cards RD2#8) had to be replaced in the Huskies’ backfield, and Washington succeeded with Taylor Rapp. He was named the PAC12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and notched 52 tackles and 4 INT in that centerfielder role that Washington plays. I don’t expect him to declare early, and his 2 years’ additional eligibility may be a deal-breaker for McBeane, even if he did leave Husky Stadium for the NFL. His role, his toughness, and draft spot would make sense, though for DB depth. You could say that Rapp has great experience for a sophomore, as he started 10 games as a freshman both in high school and college. McDermott may be willing to forego the experience requirement in exchange for Rapp’s toughness should he declare. Washington has been scouted once by the Bills.
Fit For The Bills: B
D’Cota Dixon SS Wisconsin (1) (PFA#331 on my Big Board)
5-10, 198, 4.56
Dixon’s perseverence, love of God, and likeability put him ahead of most safeties who could declare on the personality scale. Be sure you read or watch his story. Dixon makes my list because he entered Wisconsin as a CB, switched to LB, and switched again to SS after an injury in 2014. He’s big-play SS who made a big-time, game-clinching INT vs LSU to seal the Badgers’ win. Dixon has the experience on his side to impress McDermott if his compelling story doesn’t already top out the meter. His 60 tackles tied for 4th most in 2016. Wisconsin has not been scouted by the Bills, but he’d be a good pick on day 3.
Fit For The Bills: A+