Who should the Bills target in the draft?
By Louis Damiano
The Buffalo Bills own the 30th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. It is the first time in franchise history that the Bills will be picking in the 30s. It’s new for both Bills fans and GM Brandon Beane who will have to wait a while before they make their first selection.
Cornerback for Buffalo is not a huge need, but when you look across the depth chart it is one of the positions that can certainly use an upgrade. Sean McDermott used his first pick as Buffalo Bills head coach on corner Tre’Davious White. But since McDermott and Brandon Beane have arrived, they have only drafted two players at the position. White taken in the first round in 2017, and then 2020 seventh-rounder Dane Jackson who has impressed in his short stint thus far.
It has been a revolving door for McDermott and Beane trying to solidify the cornerback two-position opposite White. We have seen EJ Gaines and Shareece Wright back in 2017 split reps. In 2018, we saw the Bills sign Vontae Davis only for him to retire at halftime during Week 2, which led to undrafted free agent Levi Wallace earning meaningful reps. The Bills have given Wallace competition ever since. In 2019, the Bills signed Kevin Johnson to a one-year deal and then this past season it was Josh Norman who competed with Wallace.
The Bills brought back Wallace this offseason on a cheap deal for 1 year at $1.75 million. Dane Jackson will be part of the competition, but the Bills have yet to bring anybody in this offseason from outside the organization. Luckily for the Bills, cornerback looks to be a position of strength in this year’s draft and the Bills will have plenty of options at pick 30 and in rounds 2 and 3.
Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
If there is one thing you can take away from the Championship game in Kansas City, the Bills needed more speed. Enter Greg Newsome II, who recently ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at Northwestern’s pro day. In the six games he played in 2020, he recorded 12 tackles, one interception, and a team-high 10 pass breakups which earned him third-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten status.
Newsome is a guy who fits with the Bills schematically. He profiles as a strong zone corner who is able to recognize routes and make quick breaks on the ball. A lot of draft experts rave about his work ethic and football intelligence which makes him a cultural fit in Buffalo as well.
If there is one hiccup with Newsome it’s durability. He has missed time in all three of his seasons at Northwestern. In 2020, he played in the team’s first 6 games during a shortened season but injured his groin in the Big Ten Championship game, and then sat out for the team’s bowl game as he turned his focus toward the NFL draft.
Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
Asante Samuel Jr is the son of four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel. If there is one thing that sticks out with Samuel, it is his willingness as a run defender to stick his nose in there and tackle. His competitiveness in that area is one that McDermott and Beane covet. Samuel does have some versatility to his game. He has experience and success playing both in the slot and outside on the boundary.
He is not the biggest guy in the draft measuring at 5’10”, 180 pounds with a 4.45- second 40-yard dash. Unlike Newsome, Samuel projects to be best suited in a man-heavy defensive scheme. Samuel has loose hips and quick feet which makes it very difficult for receivers in man coverage to get separation from him.
Samuel to the Bills at 30 could be a slight surprise considering his success in man coverage and need for development in zone. Samuel has all the tools to be a successful corner in any system because of his scheme and coverage versatility and if there is one coach who knows corners, and knows how to develop them, it’s McDermott.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse
A former All-Massachusetts running back in High School, Ifeatu Melifonwu fits the Bills with his size and speed to a tee. Melifonwu measures in at over 6 feet 2 inches tall weighing 212 pounds and possesses 32-inch arms. He is a guy who many say can be a cornerback playing in a safety’s body.
The Patriots added Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in free agency, and the Dolphins could potentially pair Mike Gesicki with Kyle Pitts if he falls to the Dolphins at 6. The Bills know they will be facing a lot 12 personnel this season, so they will need more size and physicality in the secondary to cover two tight end sets.
Schematically he is almost a perfect fit for what the Bills are looking for, he profiles to best fit in a zone coverage scheme. With his size and speed, there is the idea that he could become that “big nickel” and a player that can play anywhere in the secondary
which is what McDermott has been looking for. Dean Marlowe who played in that role at times signed with Detroit last week, so that could be a sign that the Bills will be looking for a player in this year’s draft to replace him.
Melifonwu started all 11 games for Syracuse in 2020, finishing with 55 tackles, three for loss, one interception, and nine pass breakups which earned him third-team All-ACC honors. Melifonwu did go to the Senior Bowl, and according to Ryan Talbot of Syracuse.com, the Bills had a “real good meeting’ with him.
The Bills could take him at 30 or trade out of the first round and take him in the second round. I would be surprised if the Bills would be able to snag him with their second-round pick at 61. A trade up from 61 would be the most likely scenario.
Paulson Adebo, Stanford
A player once considered a lock to be a first-round pick after his 2 productive seasons at Stanford, is now seen as more of a 2nd or 3rd round pick which could be great value for the Bills. Adebo is a player who has been very productive when on the field.
As a redshirt freshman in 2018, he started 12 of 13 games and tied for the FBS lead with 24 passes defended recording 20 pass breakups and four interceptions. He also earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors recording 64 tackles.
In 2019, he earned All-Pac-12 honors again leading his team with four interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft. Adebo is a player known for his ball skills. He is looked at as more of a playmaker than a lockdown corner. He has the size and speed the Bills look for and does have the ability to play in both man and zone.
One of the Georgia CBs
Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell have been looked at as top players at their position in this year’s draft. Both profile to best fit in a predominantly zone coverage scheme.
Stokes is the fastest cornerback in this draft clocking a 4.29 40-yard dash at Georgia’s pro day. He ran a 10.39-second 100-meter dash in a state meet and won the 200 meters in high school. But on film, it is easy to see he doesn’t utilize his speed during games. Stokes in 2020 was a second-team All-SEC selection leading Georgia with four interceptions, two of which he took to the house.
Stokes is not like others on this list as he struggles to be competitive in the run game and make plays on balls through the air which is what could make him available to the Bills on day 2.
Campbell, who Pro Football Focus ranked ahead of Stokes is a player who is not afraid to tackle missing just 5 throughout his entire collegiate career. Campbell is very raw, and a player that would not have to start right away and can learn and develop from the guys currently in the secondary.
Campbell has all the tools to be a successful corner with his athleticism, size and speed. He played the entire 2020 season which answered any durability questions, but he must improve on his ability to make plays on balls in the air.