Sean McDermott says some Bills draft picks must be ready to help right away


Staff member

The days of the figurative redshirt year for most Buffalo Bills players drafted after the first round could be over.

Be ready, receiver Keon Coleman. Get up to speed, safety Cole Bishop. Learn fast, defensive tackle DeWayne Carter. Prepare quickly, tailback Ray Davis. The Bills are going to need you in Week 1.

“The interesting thing is we’re going to have to depend on some of these young guys in this draft class to help us and play this year,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott told me earlier this week. “Getting them acclimated to the life in the NFL and getting them adjusted to the NFL schemes is going to take some time.”

Time, yes. But the clock is operating at a faster pace. The Bills’ transition away from multiple veterans to a roster that will lean on young and rookie players is the current normal. It represents a shift.

In McDermott’s first seven seasons (2017-23), the Bills made 44 draft picks after the first round, and only three played at least 75% of the offensive/defensive snaps as a rookie:
2017: Receiver Zay Jones (15 games/10 starts, 792 snaps, 79%).
2021: Right tackle Spencer Brown (13 games/10 starts, 726 snaps, 76%).
2023: Right guard O’Cyrus Torrence (17 games/17 starts, 1,164 snaps, 100%).

In Bills coach Sean McDermott's first seven seasons, only four of the team's 44 draft picks in Rounds 2-7 have played at least 75% of the snaps as rookies. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Just missing the cut were left tackle Dion Dawkins (74% in 2017) and receiver Gabe Davis in (73% in ’20).
Other notable play-time percentages were cornerback Taron Johnson (57% in ’18), right tackle Cody Ford (69%), tailback Devin Singletary (67%), tight end Dawson Knox (64% in ’19) and cornerback Christian Benford (62% in ’22).

Other players, though, used their rookie season to acclimate themselves to the NFL game.
Linebacker Matt Milano checked in at 41% in 2017, defensive end A.J. Epenesa 31% and tailback Zach Moss 45% in ’20, defensive end Boogie Basham 39% in ’21, tailback James Cook 25%, linebacker Terrel Bernard 11% and receiver Khalil Shakir 29% in ’22 and linebacker Dorian Williams 20% last year.

By Year 2, Milano, Cook and Bernard were starters and Shakir a key rotational player.

This year, Coleman and Bishop could be Week 1 starters and Carter and Davis key players at positions that use a rotation.
In general about this year’s 10-player draft class, McDermott said: “I feel like a lot of the players had really good intangibles and have a little bit of an edge to them, and you can see that on the film.”

After the Bills drafted Coleman and Bishop in last month’s second round, they visited the Bills’ facility and spent time with McDermott.
“You talk about personalities – both Keon and Cole have them, but they’re different,” McDermott said with a laugh. “I’m really looking forward to getting around them and getting to know them and see what they bring onto the football field.”

Quick hits​

1. Remembering Collier. Former Bills coach Joe Collier died earlier this week at his home in Littleton, Colorado, and it reminded me of a story Bill Belichick told the week of the Denver-New England game in 2020. Belichick was the Broncos’ assistant special teams/defensive coach in 1978 (the media guide also listed him as “director of films”) when Collier was the defensive coordinator. “I learned to see the game through the eyes of Joe Collier,” Belichick told the Denver media. “Joe was very skilled at analyzing offenses and what they did and when they did it. … It was a tremendous experience, and I learned a lot that year about serving in a 3-4 defense and the way Joe taught it.”

2. Different hiring philosophies. The NHL is the land of the retread coach, including the Sabres, who gave Lindy Ruff his fourth chance (second tour in Buffalo). Seven current NHL coaches are on at least their third different job, including the New York Rangers’ Peter Laviolette (six!) and Dallas’ Pete DeBoer and Florida’s Paul Maurice (five apiece). Compare that to the NFL, where no coach is on his third job; nine coaches are leading their second organization, six of whom won a Super Bowl or reached the title game with their first team.
3. Remaining free-agent board. According to the industry website Over The Cap, 11 free agents who played at least 80% of their team’s snaps last year remain available (none played for the Bills last year). Included are plenty of defensive backs – cornerbacks Patrick Peterson (2023 with Pittsburgh), Ahkello Witherspoon (Los Angeles Rams), Steven Nelson (Houston) and Stephon Gilmore (Dallas) and safeties Quandre Diggs (Seattle), Justin Simmons (Denver) and Tashaun Gipson (San Francisco). All but the 29-year-old Witherspoon are at least 30 years old.

4. Schedule release. The NFL will unveil its schedule on Wednesday (May 15), the latest date since the league shifted its release date from April to May. (The last 10 years: April 21, April 21, April 14, April 20, April 19, April 17, May 7, May 13, May 12 and May 12.) Pushing it back a few days suggests the league is trying to figure out how to maximize the December television windows in which Saturday games are played and there will be games on Christmas Day (Wednesday). A new wrinkle is the College Football Playoff first-round games (one on Dec. 20 and three on Dec. 21). The NFL should challenge the tripleheader with games. Last year, if the 12-team CFP was used, the first-round games would have been Liberty-Florida State, Missouri-Oregon, Ole Miss-Georgia and Penn State-Ohio State. The NFL would have dusted every one of those games in the television ratings save for maybe Penn State-Ohio State.