<
>

Doug Whaley, Rex Ryan are big winners from Bills' draft

The Buffalo Bills' seven-man 2016 draft class is receiving high marks, and for good reason: The team filled several holes on its roster while still getting good, and sometimes great, value for where it selected.

With rookie minicamp set to begin Friday, here are three winners and three losers from the Bills' draft:

WINNERS

Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan: Buffalo's general manager and head coach were facing some heat by the end of last season. Why? Whaley's roster did not perform to the level many expected after their big spending last offseason, and Ryan's defense fell well short of where the talented group finished in 2014. The speculation about their futures was so fierce that owner Terry Pegula had to release a statement confirming that both of his top decision makers would be back in 2016. With little salary-cap space, Whaley wasn't able to improve his roster through free agency, which placed further importance on this draft to take some pressure off him. He hit a home run, and in doing so Whaley provided Ryan with some of the draft's best defensive prospects. The Bills still have plenty of work to do on the field this fall, but the public mood around the team has noticeably improved since late December.

QB EJ Manuel: Yes, the Bills selected Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones in the fourth round. But anyone who followed the Bills before the draft knew that the team was likely to add a quarterback. Manuel comes out as a winner because the Bills passed on selecting Paxton Lynch in the first round, and then passed up a chance to draft Christian Hackenburg or Connor Cook in the second round. All three of those quarterbacks would have posed a greater threat to Manuel's hold on the No. 2 job. Instead, Jones is the clear-cut No. 3 quarterback. That will give Manuel another shot to prove himself if starter Tyrod Taylor is injured at any point this season. Entering what will almost certainly be the final year of his rookie contract (the Bills aren't expected to pick up Manuel's fifth-year option for 2017), Manuel needs that exposure.

WR Robert Woods: Like Manuel, Woods was a 2013 draft pick of the Bills who is entering his contract year. Some projections in the months leading up to last week's draft predicted that the Bills would select a receiver in the early rounds. If they did, that would have threatened Woods' hold on the No. 2 receiver job. Instead, the team selected TCU receiver Kolby Listenbee in the sixth round. Listenbee will need a strong training camp to challenge Woods for a starting job. That's good news for Woods, whose so-so statistics over his first three seasons could use a boost before he hits the free-agent market next spring.

LOSERS

OLB Manny Lawson: The Bills were expected to address their lack of proven pass rushers in this draft, but the selection of Shaq Lawson at No. 19 overall will sting for Manny Lawson. He's been a reliable veteran for the Bills for the past three seasons and earned the responsibility of wearing the defensive radio helmet by the end of last season. Both Whaley and Ryan did not hesitate to name Shaq Lawson as a starter opposite Jerry Hughes at outside linebacker, which ostensibly relegates Manny Lawson to a backup role. The Bills certainly seem to value Manny Lawson's leadership, both in the locker room and on the field, but they will need to a make a decision in the coming months about whether he's worth a $3.4 million cap number as a backup. The Bills would save $2.65 million in cap space if they released Manny Lawson.

WR Marquise Goodwin: There was already some pressure on the Bills' 2013 third-round pick to stay healthy after three injury-plagued seasons. Now he's faced with competition from one of the draft's fastest players, Listenbee. The good news for Goodwin is that the Bills' receiver competition is wide open behind Watkins and Woods, so there could easily be enough room on the 53-man roster for both him and Listenbee. The bad news is that his skill set mirrors Listenbee's -- they both have top-end speed and will try to beat defenders over the top -- and the team might decide it doesn't need both players on its roster. Goodwin said in January that he will attempt to qualify for the Olympics this August, which could pull him away from training camp. It's possible that any missed time could give Listenbee -- or any of the veteran receivers competing for a job this summer -- an edge.

RB Mike Gillislee: A midseason addition to the Bills' practice squad who later got the call to the 53-man roster after injuries hit, Gillislee was a sensation in his limited late-season playing time. He averaged 5.7 yards on 47 carries over the final five games, emerging as a potential No. 3 option for this upcoming season behind LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams. Now Gillislee will face competition from fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams, an intriguing running-back prospect who missed last season at Arkansas because of a foot injury. There could be room for both Gillislee and Williams on the 53-man roster, but this will be a training-camp battle to monitor.