While Bills' first-round slot is falling, draft needs abound

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- November was kind to the Buffalo Bills, who ended a four-game losing streak and won back-to-back games for the first time since last December. The month will end with optimism about rookie quarterback Josh Allen's future, as well as hopes of another run to the postseason.

The Bills' Thanksgiving turnaround also has significantly shifted the conversation around the team's first-round pick in the 2019 draft.

At 2-7, the Bills entered Week 10 with an 89.3 percent chance at capturing a top-10 overall selection, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Buffalo had a 50-50 shot at a top-five pick and a 4.9 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick.

Having won their past two games, the Bills now are virtually eliminated from the race for the No. 1 pick and have only a six percent chance at a top-five selection. They have a higher probability at finishing outside of the top 10 than inside (47.8 percent).

ESPN's FPI projects the Bills, now 4-7, to finish with the No. 11 overall selection. There is a chance they could slip lower into the first round by passing a six-loss team such as the Cincinnati Bengals, who placed starting quarterback Andy Dalton on injured reserve this week.

Buffalo has the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to FPI. Only the Tennessee Titans' slate is easier.

Finishing with a draft pick in the middle of the first round instead of early in the round likely will be of little consequence to general manager Brandon Beane, because such a fall down the draft board will be the result of the rise of Allen. He was taken No. 7 overall in 2018 and is the most important pick of Beane's tenure.

But if the Bills continue to win, the pool of players they could realistically target in the first round will shift. Here are some positions of long-term need to watch for Buffalo:

1. Offensive line: The biggest need is along the interior, particularly at center and right guard. The Bills benched veteran starter Vladimir Ducasse in Week 10 and replaced him with fifth-round rookie Wyatt Teller, who projects as the likely starter in 2019. Fifth-year center Russell Bodine's contract includes no guaranteed salary next season, its final year, and will guarantee him neither a starting job nor a roster spot. Starting right guard John Miller and interior backup Ryan Groy will both become unrestricted free agents. Pro Football Focus ranks Bodine as the NFL's 20th-best center and Miller as the 39th-best guard, leaving room for upgrades at both spots. The same is true at right tackle, where Jordan Mills ranks as the NFL's 64th-best tackle and is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Left tackle Dion Dawkins, a 2017 second-round pick, is secure.

2. Wide receiver: The end of Kelvin Benjamin's time in Buffalo is in sight -- his snap counts were reduced to under 40 percent in Sunday's victory over Jacksonville. Benjamin will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and it is hard to envision either side coming together for a new deal given his disappointing production (21 catches, 334 yards and one touchdown through 11 games). The Bills are finding some complementary pieces at receiver but still could use a top-tier talent who could become Allen's top target. Zay Jones, a 2017 second-round pick, should continue to fill a No. 2 or No. 3 role. Undrafted rookie Robert Foster is carving a niche as a speed threat, and Isaiah McKenzie, a fifth-round pick of the Denver Broncos last season, has emerged as a returner and gadget option.

3. Cornerback: The Bills have one of the top young cornerbacks in 2017 first-round pick Tre'Davious White, but they have cycled through No. 2 options this season. Both of their free-agent signings from last offseason, Vontae Davis and Phillip Gaines, are off the roster. The Bills have given snaps to a pair of young players, Ryan Lewis and Levi Wallace, but could use more help at a critical position in a passing league.

4. Defensive end: There is more a long-term need than a short-term need at this position. Longtime starter Jerry Hughes enters the final season of his contract in 2019 and at 31 would be a risky candidate for a long-term extension because of his age. The Bills must decide by May whether to exercise 2016 first-round pick Shaq Lawson's fifth-year option for 2020; if they do not, then he also will enter the final season of his deal in 2019. The Bills signed Trent Murphy to a three-year deal last offseason, but he has played on only 40 percent of defensive snaps this season, in part because of injuries. If a top pass-rusher becomes available to the Bills in the first round, they would have reason to take him.

5. Tight end: Changes at tight end seem to be on the horizon, as Charles Clay is in the fourth season of a five-year contract that former general manager Doug Whaley used to pry him away from the Miami Dolphins as a transition-tagged free agent in 2015. Because of a contract restructuring in 2016, Clay still would count $4.5 million against the Bills' salary cap in 2019 if he were released in the upcoming offseason. One way or the other, the Bills would be justified in selecting a tight end in the early rounds of the draft in order to upgrade from Clay, who turns 30 in February and has only 19 catches for 169 yards this season. Second-year tight end Jason Croom has shown flashes of promise, but as an undrafted free agent in 2017, he faces an uphill battle to become a long-term starter in the NFL.

6. Running back: Taking a running back in the first round would open the Bills up to criticism, but it is arguably the Bills' biggest long-term need. LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory will both turn 31 before next season, the final year of both players' deals. The only other running back on the 53-man roster, Marcus Murphy, will turn 28 next season. The Bills are strikingly old at a position that skews young in the NFL, and even though Beane has publicly committed to bringing McCoy back next season, there would be some sense in moving on from him. Bills running backs this season have the sixth-lowest yards per rush (3.72) in the NFL this season and the fewest rushing touchdowns (three).