Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan was simultaneously honest and confident in an interview with NFL Network this week, saying his team lacks depth but he has faith in general manager Doug Whaley to replenish the roster through the draft.
“We don’t have a whole lot of depth right now, so we’re going to have to do a great job in the draft, which we will," Ryan said. "Doug Whaley is an outstanding evaluator of talent. We have to hit in the draft, there is no doubt, but I think there are some opportunities there to help us. I don’t expect people to feel sorry for us because you don’t need to."
Ryan didn't sugarcoat the Bills' situation. After moving on from from defensive end Mario Williams and linebacker Nigel Bradham, the Bills need to find a way to replace two of their defensive starters from last season.
The draft is one possibility, and the Bills' recent track record should offer some encouragement. The team hit linebacker Preston Brown in the third round in 2014 -- he started 14 games as a rookie before regressing somewhat last season -- and the Bills found a second-round steal last season in cornerback Ronald Darby. Ryan also recently cited his history in 2006 with the Baltimore Ravens as one reason why he should have faith in his general manager to replace veteran players lost in free agency.
But Ryan is right: The Bills need to find immediate contributors in next month's draft. Linebacker is the most pressing need, and two of the draft's top linebackers -- Alabama's Reggie Ragland and Ohio State's Darron Lee -- have told SiriusXM NFL radio that they will be among the Bills' 30 pre-draft visits in the coming weeks. If a linebacker isn't a good fit for the Bills with one of their early-round picks, they will either need to scan free agency for a bargain signing or roll into training camp with their thin depth chart at the position.
Defensive line is another area where depth is needed. The Bills have one of the NFL's best defensive tackles in Marcell Dareus, and they should continue to get strong play from a healthy Kyle Williams, but they need a third big body to effectively run three-man lines in Ryan's defense. Jarius Wynn (who missed all of last season with a torn ACL) and Corbin Bryant (who replaced Williams in the starting lineup last season) are the top in-house options, but neither offers tremendous long-term upside. If the Bills want that sort of potential, they could select one of the several top "big" defensive linemen expected to be available in the first round of the draft: Louisville's Sheldon Rankins, Alabama's Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson, and LSU's Vernon Butler.
The Bills addressed their depth needs at tight end by signing Jim Dray and at safety by signing Robert Blanton, but other problem areas remain, including pass-rusher, interior offensive line, running back and quarterback.