BUFFALO, N.Y. — A quick scan down the Buffalo Bills’ depth chart last season shows a clear trend. The Bills had one player on offense who was a former first-round pick — quarterback Josh Allen — compared to seven defensive players who were had been first-rounders and played meaningful roles.

Since general manager Brandon Beane’s first draft with the team in 2018, Allen is the only offensive player the Bills took in the first round — although in 2020 the team traded away its first-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. That pick became receiver Justin Jefferson.

Before Allen, the Bills hadn’t used a first-round pick on an offensive player since wide receiver Sammy Watkins in 2014.

When the Bills’ playoff run ended with arguably the team’s worst loss of the year (a 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals), an argument could be made the team needed to give Allen more help and invest more on offense — especially at wide receiver — so the quarterback didn’t have so much riding on his shoulders. In 2022, Allen accounted for a league-high 84% of the Bills’ offensive touchdowns.

Despite that, could the Bills, sitting at No. 27, go defense again instead? Does taking another cornerback in the first round make sense for this roster? There’s a hole at middle linebacker after Tremaine Edmunds left via free agency and Beane has always put an emphasis on investing in the defensive front. How could addressing those positions early work again this year?


As far as holes on the Bills’ roster, no positions are more obvious than middle linebacker and wide receiver. Edmunds, the starting middle linebacker the last five seasons, is now in Chicago, and the team hasn’t addressed the position outside of re-signing Tyrel Dodson to a one-year deal.

“Between now and when we get to training camp, we will continue to add,” Beane said at the NFL league meetings. “… Dodson’s been in our system, Baylon Spector‘s been working out in Buffalo since the end of the season and Terrel Bernard last year, we played him more outside than inside, but we think he can come in there and compete. So I think however it will turn out, I think it’s gonna be an open competition.”

Inside linebacker has been devalued in recent years and multiple ESPN draft analysts have said that while there is talent at the linebacker position in this draft class, some talented players should still be there in the second round. Drew Sanders from Arkansas, Jack Campbell from Iowa and Daiyan Henley from Washington State are potential fits for the Bills.

If the draft board falls a certain way and the Bills can get their preferred linebacker late in the first round or even trade back, it could be a good way for Buffalo to address the need. In his latest mock draft, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected to the Bills to take Clemson LB Trenton Simpson in Round 1.


The Bills traded up two picks last year to take Kaiir Elam at No. 23 in the first round, and he is the leading contender to start alongside 2017 first-round pick Tre’Davious White, who returned on Thanksgiving last season exactly a year after he tore his left ACL.

On paper, it’s far from the Bills’ most obvious need. White is getting time to rest and Elam played his best football at the end of the year, earning a start in the final game.

Dane Jackson, who had mixed success starting 14 games — 12 passes defensed but was sometimes on the wrong end of big plays — is returning after signing a one-year deal, the team’s veteran safeties, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, are back and healthy, and nickel corner Taron Johnson gave up a completion on 64.5% of passes last season despite being targeted most on the team. Christian Benford, a sixth-round pick last year, started five games as a rookie, and the door has been left open for him to potentially shift to safety depending on the draft.

In ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s mock draft for Rounds 1-2, he predicted the Bills would select Iowa cornerback Riley Moss in the second round. Part of McShay’s reasoning was that a team like Buffalo — after drafting USC wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round of the mock — can afford to place value over need in certain cases. In this case, Moss is “a versatile playmaker with plus size and speed — he has good height, bulk and speed (4.45 40-yard dash at the combine).”

Someone like Moss would give the Bills needed depth — including with the potential to play safety, a position they could add to for the future — and assurance at a position where the Bills struggled to find consistency at the No. 2 spot last year. McShay described cornerback as one of the two deepest in the draft (in addition to tight end, another position the Bills will likely address).

Keep in mind, coach Sean McDermott has said growth in Year 2 is an important part of a player’s development, so the Bills will want to see how Elam takes a step forward.

Defensive line

Could the Bills do it again? In 2020 and 2021, the Bills used a first-rounder and two second-round picks at defensive end. It shouldn’t be ruled out with defensive end AJ Epenesa entering the last year of his deal and Von Miller making his way back from an ACL injury to his right knee. Defensive tackle is also an area the defense could use some young reinforcements.

Ed Oliver is set to play on his fifth-year option and Beane said they feel comfortable with his $10.75 million cap hit. DaQuan Jones, Jordan Phillips and Tim Settle will be important veteran presences on the line — particularly Jones, who had a strong first season with Buffalo and was missed when he was out with a calf injury in the final game of the season.

But with Oliver’s uncertain future, the team might want to invest here. Jones, Phillips and Settle will also be free agents in 2024, and the team clearly needs to start building at the position for the future.

What are the cons? For immediate needs, there are certainly more obvious places to look — wide receiver and linebacker, among them. The team has used so much draft capital on the front seven in recent years that addressing a position like defensive tackle again would seem more like luxury move depending on whether the right player were available.

With a roster like Buffalo’s that has a deceptive number of needs, there will be no shortage of options at No. 28 and that includes trading up or back. Or going defense yet again.

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Why Bills could go defense for seventh time in last eight first-round draft picks – Buffalo Bills Blog