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Peeking Ahead: What DL in Next Year's NFL Draft Would Pique Bills' Interest the Most?

Buffalo has been stockpiling younger players but the transition it's undergoing may niot be complete.

Even after using their first two NFL Draft picks in 2021 on defensive ends, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see the Buffalo Bills take another defensive lineman in the first round of next year's draft as well.

After all, it's clear that they prefer to build from the inside out. Before taking Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham this year, they selected A.J. Epenesa in the second round last year, Ed Oliver in the first round in 2019 and Harrison Phillips in the third round in 2018.

Picks in all of those rounds are classified as "premium" by general manager Brandon Beane.

But looking ahead to two and three seasons down the road, they can't figure on having players like Star Lotulelei, Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes too much longer. So they'd like to add perhaps a fourth pass-rushing piece and/or beef up the interior to brace for the inevitable departures of Lotulelei and perhaps Vernon Butler, who's only 27 but is due to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

So today we'll take a look at three potential first-round picks plus a sleeper who could be a value pick in later rounds.

First-round prospects

DT Jordan Davis, Georgia

We hear the term "load management" a lot in other pro sports, particularly basketball. Davis would bring that term to the forefront in the NFL, but in a different context.

Because Davis (6-foot-6, 340 pounds) is a load himself, and opponents will not be able to manage blocking him very well.

Just because Davis doesn't get a lot of sacks doesn't mean he can't be a great three-down player. Considering how strongly he pushes the pocket and plays the run, everyone playing on the line with him would benefit.

Just imagine quarterbacks trying to throw over the outstretched hands of Davis, 6-6 Rousseau and 6-6 Epenesa.

If this season goes as planned for the Bills, they won't be picking until 32. If not, likely no higher than 28 or so.

No matter how it plays out, it's a virtual certainty that they would have to trade up to get him. But that's no problem. When Beane sees someone he wants, that's what he does.

DE Drake Jackson, USC

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Jackson is "only" 6-4, which makes him tiny by comparison to the line they're building now. But he shouldn't have any problem fitting in because of his proven versatility playing as an outside linebacker and dropping into coverage at times.

According to The Draft Network, Jackson wins a lot with superior athleticism and will need to get stronger to handle the rigors of the NFL and stronger, savvier tackles.

That part can be worked on. The natural athleticism cannot.

Jackson also could still be on the board when they pick.

DT Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma

Like Davis, the Bills almost certainly would have to trade up to get him. He looks to be worth it, though, according to this assessment from WalterFootball.com, which points out his ability to be even more productive as a three-technique player at the next level.

As it is, the former junior college player has 4.5 sacks in six games.

Sleeper

DE Ali Gaye, LSU

Hard to project where he will go now because he's done for the season after suffering a stinger that required surgery. Even before that, he's not someone who ever came close to the ceiling projected for him.

Depending on what pick is used, however, he is an intriguing prospect because of his size (6-6, 250) and athleticism.

The Pro Football Network has posted a mostly positive scouting report on him.

Gaye is an extremely interesting 2022 NFL Draft prospect with a good amount of upside. He has a solid combination of length and athleticism, and he also has a strong motor, which NFL coaches will like. He’s not incredibly refined to this point, although he has shown flashes of hand usage with moves like swipes, clubs, and rips. He can be more consistent there, but Gaye is trending up. And more consistently lowering his pad level could unlock his full potential.

Gaye’s listing as a true senior is somewhat misleading. He’ll be 23 years old by the 2022 NFL Draft, and he’ll turn 24 years old in November of his rookie year. Nevertheless, if Gaye can stay healthy, refine his hand usage, and lower his pad level, he has a lot of the physical and mental traits desired in edge rushers. He could also feasibly add more weight and absorption capacity to his frame without sapping that athleticism.

The Bills may not be looking to use any premium picks on defensive linemen next year. But these prospects are worth monitoring either way.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro. Email to Nicky300@aol.com.