Bills should look to bolster pass rush on Thursday

Dan Almasi, Sports Editor

The Bills are in the unfortunate situation of needing to draft for necessity rather than being able to draft the best player available on Thursday. Tom Brady’s kryptonite is a consistent pass rush, and as long as he reigns king in the AFC East, his division rivals are forced to place emphasis on putting a formidable defensive line on the field. The Bills need to draft a defensive lineman.

Entering 2015, the entire NFL feared the terror that the Buffalo Bills defensive line had the potential to be. Rex Ryan was going to dial up crazy blitzes all season long, wreaking havoc on the AFC East, and the Bills were supposed to finally end the longest NFL playoff drought. Ryan promised it.

Instead, the Bills totaled just 21 sacks – second-worst in the NFL – and the secondary, highlighted by strong play from cornerback duo rookie Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore, kept the Bills in most games playing behind a weak pass rush. An 8-8 finish saw the Bills extend their playoff drought.

Mario Williams was criticized for taking plays off and voiced his opposition to being forced to drop into coverage occasionally. Marcell Dareus followed up a career-best 2014 campaign in which he totaled nine sacks with a pitiful two-sack 2015. Jerry Hughes managed half the sacks he did the year prior – 10 in 2015, five in 2014. Kevin Williams got hurt.

Fans jumped off the Rex Ryan bandwagon as quickly as they jumped on it, with many criticizing the Buffalo Bills organization for not doing more to keep Jim Schwartz with the team after he did a stellar job in 2014.

Heading into 2016, the defensive line is one of the Buffalo Bills’ greatest areas of need. Mario Williams, who even in a down season was tied for the team lead in sacks (five) is gone, and the Bills made no moves in free agency to replace him.

After Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner (who will both almost surely be gone by the time the Bills are on the board, barring a miracle), there’s a lot of disagreement about who the third defensive lineman off the board should be.

Here are my top five defensive linemen which could be drafted by the Bills at 19:

  1. Shaq Lawson, DE/OLB, Clemson

Lawson is a top-tier pass rusher with explosive speed (4.68 40-yard dash). He led the nation with 23.5 tackles for a loss and was fourth in the nation in sacks with 10.5 last year. There’s a very good chance he’ll be drafted by Chicago at 11, so this is a best-case scenario in which he falls considerably.

  1. Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky

Spence is another fast, somewhat undersized pass rusher. He has a big motor and great endurance. He has some character issues, and if you draft him, you’re going to want to make sure he stays out of the club – he’s a recovering ecstasy addict and was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct in 2015.

  1. Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Mississippi

Nkemdiche has the prototypical build and measurables of a defensive stud and was a solid player at Mississippi, but put up mediocre stats. He’s a boom or bust pick who you hope will take the next step at the next level. He’s another guy who comes with some baggage – keep him away from hotel balconies and the devil’s lettuce.

  1. Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville

Rankins is disruptive, explosive and quick. He’s a bit undersized at 6’1”, but he’s a versatile player who could be an asset as both a pass rusher and run defender.

  1. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

Robinson is a big thumper who is a much better run stuffer than he is a pass rusher, which is why I’m only taking him if I’m the Bills if the aforementioned four players are already off the board.

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