Ranking the last decade of Bills draft classes

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The first NFL Draft of a new decade is officially one week away. Taking a look back at the last decade of drafts for the Buffalo Bills, the 10 classes feature a ton of ups and downs, huge hits, and brutal misses. 

Seems fitting considering where the Bills were to start out the 2010s, among the worst teams in the league. Yet, as each draft passed by, one could slowly see the competence starting to seep in. 

Fast forward through multiple regime changes, it appears Bills general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott may finally have Buffalo among the most well-run organizations in the league. 

Beane and McDermott have had a lot of early success in their three drafts. The same couldn't always be said for former regimes run by Buddy Nix, Doug Whaley, or Rex Ryan. 

Going through the process of ranking the draft classes of the 2010s among each other, there was a focus on what each player did for the Bills, rather than their overall success with all teams they played for.

It looks good for a front office if they identified a talent, and they went on to be that player regardless of team. However, if they didn't find that success in Buffalo or get the Bills some value through a trade, how can it be considered a successful pick?

Here's how each class is ranked:

 

1.) 2017 NFL Draft
Round 1: Tre'Davious White - CB - LSU
Round 2: Zay Jones - WR - East Carolina University
Round 2: Dion Dawkins - OT - Temple
Round 5: Matt Milano - LB - Boston College
Round 5: Nathan Peterman - QB - Pittsburgh
Round 5: Tanner Vallejo - LB - Boise State

Oddly enough, the draft that nobody knew who was calling the shots between Whaley and McDermott actually looks like the best class of the decade right now.

Yes, the Bills traded out of the pick that ended up being Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but the trade gave Buffalo an extra third and a 2018 first round pick, and they still grabbed Tre'Davious White with the Chiefs' 2017 first round pick. White is now in the conversation for best cornerback in the NFL. 

Zay Jones and Nathan Peterman were brutal misses, but Dion Dawkins and Matt Milano are key, core pieces to the team now. The Bills are talking with both players about contract extensions this week. 

 

2.) 2019 NFL Draft
Round 1: Ed Oliver - DT - Houston
Round 2: Cody Ford - OL - Oklahoma
Round 3: Devin Singletary - RB - Florida Atlantic
Round 3: Dawson Knox - TE - Ole Miss
Round 5: Vosean Joseph - LB - Florida
Round 6: Jaquan Johnson - DB - Miami
Round 7: Darryl Johnson - DE - North Carolina A&T
Round 7: Tommy Sweeney - TE - Boston College

It might be a bit of a stretch to rank the 2019 class No. 2 after just one year, but it looks like such a promising group of players. Not to mention, the fact that this list doesn't include a lot of impressive draft classes.

Ed Oliver at ninth overall looks like a steal. In his rookie year, he already became one of the most efficient pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league. 

Speaking of efficiency, that was Devin Singletary's middle name in 2019 as he became the featured running back in the backfield.

Dawson Knox needs to fix the drops, but it is clear how much upside there is in his abilities as a receiving tight end. The amount of difficult catches and big plays downfield he had as a rookie should excite fans. 

If Cody Ford can bounce back in Year 2 as a solid starter, either inside or out, this was a home run class. 

 

3.) 2018 NFL Draft

Round 1: Josh Allen - QB - Wyoming
Round 1: Tremaine Edmunds - LB - Virginia Tech
Round 3: Harrison Phillips - DT - Stanford
Round 4: Taron Johnson - CB - Weber State
Round 5: Siran Neal - S - Jacksonville State
Round 5: Wyatt Teller - OL - Virginia Tech
Round 6: Ray-Ray McCloud - WR - Clemson
Round 7: Austion Proehl - WR - North Carolina

Depending on what happens with Josh Allen, this class could move up to No. 1 on the list, or it could fall to the bottom.

After two years under center, there has been a lot of promise in his game, but a lot of improvements need to be made in Year 3 to take that next step.

It has been good enough combined with a perfect linebacker for the modern NFL in Tremaine Edmunds, a solid slot cornerback in Taron Johnson, and role players on defense in Harrison Phillips and Siran Neal, to get in the top-three of this list. 

 

4.) 2011 NFL Draft
Round 1: Marcell Dareus - DT - Alabama
Round 2: Aaron Williams - DB - Texas
Round 3: Kelvin Sheppard - LB - LSU
Round 4: Da'Norris Searcy - S - North Carolina
Round 4: Chris Hairston - OT - Clemson
Round 5: Johnny White - RB - North Carolina
Round 6: Chris White - LB - Mississippi State
Round 7: Justin Rogers - CB - Richmond
Round 7: Michael Jasper - DT - Bethel University

The 4-12 2010 season wasn't enough to get the Bills quarterback Cam Newton in this draft, but this class did ok on all three days.

Say what you want about Marcell Dareus and how his stint with Buffalo ended, but he had 28.5 sacks in his first four seasons. That included a 7.5-sack and 10-sack season back-to-back. It's safe to say people would be just fine with those numbers for Oliver, no? 

Aaron Williams didn't pan out at cornerback, but he became a really solid starting safety before injuries cut his career short. In his first season as a safety in 2013, Williams had 82 tackles, four interceptions, and 11 passes defended. 

Kelvin Sheppard got the Bills Jerry Hughes in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts, so that pick worked out in a different kind of way. Even later picks like Da'Norris Searcy, Chris Hairston, and Justin Rogers saw time as starters too. 

 

5.) 2012 NFL Draft
Round 1: Stephon Gilmore - CB - South Carolina
Round 2: Cordy Glenn - OT - Georgia
Round 3: T.J. Graham - WR - North Carolina State
Round 4: Nigel Bradham - LB - Florida State
Round 4: Ron Brooks - CB - LSU
Round 5: Zebrie Sanders - OL - Florida State
Round 5: Tank Carder - LB - TCU
Round 6: Mark Asper - OG - Oregon
Round 7: John Potter - K - Western Michigan

This class saw many players that were solid starters in Buffalo, but they went on to have better careers elsewhere. Stephone Gilmore is seen as a top-two cornerback in the NFL with the New England Patriots, but he was a really good starter with the Bills as well. 

Cordy Glenn was a six-year starter at left tackle, and then the Bills were able to trade him to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for a swap of first round picks in 2018. That gave the Bills the 12th overall pick rather than 21st overall. They then moved up to the seventh pick to select Allen. 

Nigel Bradham also went on to have a better career with the Philadelphia Eagles, however, he surpassed 50 tackles in all four seasons as a starter with the Bills. That included a 104-tackle season in 2014, where he also had 2.5 sacks and an interception. 

A tough pill to swallow in this class was the third round selection of T.J. Graham. There were probably a few better options available. Does the name Russell Wilson ring a bell? 

 

6.) 2014 NFL Draft
Round 1: Sammy Watkins - WR - Clemson
Round 2: Cyrus Kouandjio - OT - Alabama
Round 3: Preston Brown - LB - Louisville
Round 4: Ross Cockrell - CB - Duke
Round 5: Cyril Richardson - OG - Baylor
Round 7: Randell Johnson - LB - Florida Atlantic
Round 7: Seantrel Henderson - OT - Miami

The deepest wide receiver class in NFL history saw the Bills trade a future first round pick to move up for Sammy Watkins. That was a brutal mistake as Watkins wasn't (and isn't) close to the player that Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, DaVante Adams, and a dozen others have become. 

The Bills could have drafted those players without giving up any picks, especially not a first rounder. 

In fairness to Watkins, he did have at least 900 yards receiving in two of his three seasons with the Bills. He also had 15 touchdowns in his first two years. He has actually had his best statistical seasons in Buffalo. 

With the draft classes left to rank, this class still isn't nearly as bad as some of the others. Preston Brown was a fine starting linebacker. They even got two years out of seventh round pick Seantrel Henderson as a starter. 

Still a pretty bad haul. 

 

7.) 2015 NFL Draft
Round 2: Ronald Darby - CB - Florida State
Round 3: John Miller - OG - Louisville
Round 5: Karlos Williams - RB - Florida State
Round 6: Tony Steward - LB - Clemson
Round 6: Nick O'Leary - TE - Florida State
Round 7: Dezmin Lewis - WR - Central Arkansas

Ronald Darby had a killer rookie season with 68 tackles, 21 passes defended, and two interceptions. He struggled in Year 2, however, and then was shipped off to Philadelphia, where he struggled on the field and with health for three years.  

John Miller started in at least 12 games during three of his four seasons with the Bills. Karlos Williams had nine touchdowns in his only season in 2015, but we all know how that story ended.

 

8.) 2013 NFL Draft
Round 1: EJ Manuel - QB - Florida State
Round 2: Robert Woods - WR - USC
Round 2: Kiko Alonso - LB - Oregon
Round 3: Marquise Goodwin - WR - Texas
Round 4: Duke Williams - DB - Nevada
Round 5: Johnathan Meeks - DB - Clemson
Round 6: Dustin Hopkins - K - Florida State
Round 7: Chris Gragg - TE - Arkansas

It was the draft that every team knew to avoid a quarterback in the first round... except for the Bills. It may go down as the worst quarterback class of all-time. Yet, Nix and Whaley didn't listen and selected E.J. Manuel. It only took Manuel one year before eventually losing his job to Kyle Orton, a quarterback that chewed tobacco on the sidelines and had the nickname "Uncle Rico". 

But hey, we'll always have "his" game-winning drive against the Carolina Panthers during his rookie season when he check-downed his way to the end zone, right? 

Robert Woods was always underrated and underutilized in the offense. That was a good pick.

Kiko Alonso was a Rookie of the Year finalist before missing his entire second season due to a knee injury. He did get the Bills running back LeSean McCoy in the blockbuster trade with Philadelphia, so that counts for something. 

Can't forget what an awful pick Marquise Goodwin ended up being in the third round. 

 

9.) 2016 NFL Draft
Round 1: Shaq Lawson - DE - Clemson
Round 2: Reggie Ragland - LB - Alabama
Round 3: Adolphus Washington - DT - Ohio State
Round 4: Cardale Jones - QB - Ohio State
Round 5: Johnathan Williams - RB - Arkansas
Round 6: Kolby Listenbee - WR - TCU
Round 6: Kevon Seymour - CB - USC

This is the draft where Rex Ryan tried to re-shape the defense in his image after destroying the elite defense that was in place when he took over in 2015.

Shaq Lawson was only a good starting defensive end in his final, contract season in 2019. He had just 10 sacks in his first three seasons. 

Reggie Ragland missed his rookie season due to a knee injury and then was traded to Kansas City. Adolphus Washington lasted just three seasons in the league.

Can't do much worse than this class... or can you? 

 

10.) 2010 NFL Draft
Round 1: C.J. Spiller - RB - Clemson
Round 2: Torell Troup - DT - Central Florida
Round 3: Alex Carrington - DE - Arkansas State
Round 4: Marcus Easley - WR - Connecticut
Round 5: Ed Wang - OT - Virginia Tech
Round 6: Arthur Moats - LB - James Madison
Round 6: Danny Batten - DE - South Dakota State
Round 7: Levi Brown - QB - Troy
Round 7: Kyle Calloway - OT - Iowa

Hard not to burst out laughing reviewing this class, while feeling slightly embarrassed for ever supporting a team that had this bad of a front office.

Where do we begin? First, Nix takes a running back in C.J. Spiller at 10th overall, despite already having Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson on the roster. Even after Lynch left was traded to the Seattle Seahawks, Spiller surpassed 1,000 rushing yards just once. 

Hilariously enough, Spiller was the best pick of this draft. Torell Troup, Alex Carrington, and Marcus Easley followed. Laughably inept.  

Let's at least give Arthur Moats his due. He did end Brett Favre's record of most continuous starts at 297 games. 

 

The later years of the 2010s had some successful draft classes, but it is safe to say the decade, as a whole, was extremely disappointing when the draft rolled around.

Here is to hoping the 2020s go a lot better. Early indications say it will.