For the first time in a very, very long time, the Buffalo Bills enter a draft without a clear-cut need on their roster. GM Brandon Beane has done a marvelous job building the team since he took over after the 2017 Draft, and his aggressiveness has been a hallmark of his roster construction in Western New York.
But contender status is fleeting in the NFL if free-agent periods and drafts aren't consistently good. Buffalo doesn't have a first-round pick yet boasts a rock-solid roster, so it's unlikely the Bills will be picking a franchise cornerstone type player like it's selected in the first round of the past three drafts -- Tre'Davious White, Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, and Ed Oliver. But that doesn't mean the 2020 Draft is unimportant for Buffalo.
All of this brings us to our "perfect draft" series we're running here at CBSSports.com throughout the week. For each of the NFL's 32 teams, we're pinpointed the proper plan of attack for the 2020 NFL Draft, walking you through each of the steps the franchises need to take to come away with an A-plus grade at the end of the weekend.
Step 1: Find more competition at the No. 2 CB spot
With White, the Bills have an All-Pro cornerback on one side of the field. On the other? Overachieving former undrafted free agent Levi Wallace, who had some hiccups in his second NFL season, 32-year-old Josh Norman on a one-year contract, and 28-year-old E.J. Gaines, who was in Buffalo in 2018 yet has missed 15 games over the past two seasons due to injury.
There's technically not a "hole" at No. 2 cornerback, but the Bills must look for more talent at that position behind the trio currently set to battle for that starting gig this summer. On a specific level, Buffalo's defensive scheme prioritizes toward instinctive, playmakers with awesome length and awareness over ultra-athletic, speedsters who excel in press man, although it's important to note Sean McDermott's coverage philosophy isn't as zone-heavy as many think. Per Sports Info Solution, the Bills were in zone 57% of the time in 2019, the 15th-highest rate in the league.
Because of the importance of the position and the need in Buffalo, Beane and his crew should use one of their first three selections (No. 54 overall, No. 86, or even No. 128 overall) in this draft on a cornerback.
Step 2: Add a developmental EDGE
While not boasting a player entering his prime fresh off an All-Pro distinction like the cornerback spot, the edge-rusher position's depth is more fortified with Jerry Hughes leading the way and grizzled veterans Mario Addison and Trent Murphy behind him. Even 2019 seventh-rounder Darryl Johnson flashed in limited action as a rookie.
But, similar to cornerback, Buffalo needs to aggressively pursue secondary options at EDGE behind their top player at that position, Hughes. He turns 32 in August and, although he's shown no signs of slowing down, most defenders lose a step or two as they get into their 30s. Speaking of that, Murphy is 30 in December and has mostly been a disappointment of a free-agent acquisition yet did come on strong down the stretch a season ago. Addison was quietly very productive in Carolina, however, he turns 33 in September.
Per SIS, last year, the Bills finished 17th in pressure rate (35%). And we know they love simply sending four rushers -- they did so 72% of the time, the seventh-highest figure in football -- so the pass-rushing ability of their down linemen is more vital for them than most teams.
Buffalo should use one of their first picks on an edge rusher who they feel comfortable deploying as a pass-rush specialist in a heavy rotation as a rookie who has the upside to assume full-time duties by 2021.
Step 3: Search for an RB3, depth at WR
The Bills looked to have hit a home run with their third-round selection of Devin Singletary in last year's draft. Behind him in the backfield depth chart sits veteran T.J. Yeldon, who barely played in his first season in Buffalo. Clearly, the Bills need to add another talented ball carrier to the running back room. And, no, the running back picked does not need to be at the opposite end of the size spectrum as the sub 5-8, 203-pound Singletary. The back's running skill set should far outweigh his stature, although given stops by Mike Tolbert, Chris Ivory, and Frank Gore's in Buffalo during the McDermott era, we probably should expect the Bills to lean bigger at the position.
At receiver, the Bills now boast one of the best trios in the NFL with Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley. While it'll be extremely difficult for any other wideout -- especially a rookie -- to get on the field for any reasonable amount of time in 2020, the Bills need to keep the future in mind at the position, and more depth at what's become a vital position in today's NFL should always be welcomed. For as sexy as a receiver pick is -- and will be even more so in this draft -- it's not a necessity for Buffalo to go in that direction with one of its first two selections. But if the right value is there, wideout shouldn't be ignored because of the presence of Diggs, Brown, and Beasley.
Step 4: Look for OL depth; target a future starting RT
There's a logjam on the right side of Buffalo's offensive line, and none of the players are phenomenal there. Ty Nsekhe is one of the better right tackles in the league when healthy, yet he dealt with an injury last season and turns 35 in October. Cody Ford flashed but mostly was a liability at right tackle as a rookie, and Jon Feliciano held down the right guard spot throughout the season respectably but was far from spectacular. Don't forget too, Beane signed a familiar face, right tackle/swing blocker Daryl Williams to a one-year deal.
Looking for someone to either push Ford at right tackle -- and with the long-term in mind given Nskehe's age -- or Feliciano inside at guard would behoove the development of Allen. We saw the 2018 first-round pick take a sizable jump in Year 2 due not only to the Brown and Beasley acquisitions but a revamped offensive line. Given the number of blockers Buffalo currently has signed that have starting experience -- nine -- selecting an offensive lineman isn't a drastic priority but should be on the radar later in the draft.
Step 5: Keep an eye out for a "big nickel" prospect
The Bills were in nickel defense -- five defensive backs on the field -- 76% of the time in 2019 per SIS, the third-highest percentage in football. It's their base alignment. And teams aren't just flexing a tiny slot receiver out in three-receiver looks anymore, where it'd be logical to frequently deploy a comparably sized slot corner.
Teams are using multiple tight ends to show a run-play look before sending both tight ends down the field to create size mismatches with smaller defensive backs and speed mismatches with linebackers. Buffalo designated former defensive assistant Jim Salgado as the club's "nickel coach" this offseason, so we know the franchise is very much invested in that defensive grouping.
A safety/linebacker hybrid who can hold his own against the run yet comfortably cover would be perfectly sensible for Buffalo and is likely what the scouting department is looking for at some point in this draft.
Mock Perfect Draft for the Buffalo Bills:
Round 2 - Curtis Weaver, EDGE, Boise State
Round 3 - Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
Round 4 - Michael Ojemudia, CB, Iowa
Round 5 - Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Oregon State
Round 6 - Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
Round 6 - Geno Stone, S, Iowa