WELCOME TO BUFFALO — Bills first-round NFL football draft pick Shaq Lawson holds his jersey as he poses for photos following a media conference at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. Also pictured, from left: head coach Rex Ryan, owners Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula, managing partner and president Russ Brandon and general manager Doug Whaley. AP Photo)
Stewart love— The Buffalo Bills filled their most pressing defensive needs early in the NFL draft before adding an intriguing long-term prospect at quarterback on Saturday.
That left general manager Doug Whaley and coach Rex Ryan in a particularly jubilant mood Saturday night.
“I’m going to have a tough time believing somebody had a better draft,” Ryan said. “But it will be proved out as the years go on … it just so happened that these landed really great.”
The Bills’ immediate focus was to improve a defense that disappointed and underwhelmed in Ryan’s first year on the job. Buffalo’s first three selections were on defense, and all three players are expected to contribute right away.
With the 19th overall pick, the Bills added Clemson pass rusher Shaq Lawson. Lawson is expected to line up as an outside linebacker opposite Jerry Hughes and will replace the departed Mario Williams.
“He has that Buffalo and Bills mentality,” Ryan said. “He’s going to fit great in the community. He’s a tough guy, a passionate guy. … There’s not going to be anybody that’s going to play harder than this kid.”
In the second round, Buffalo traded up eight spots to select hard-hitting Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland. Ragland fills arguably Buffalo’s most pressing need at inside linebacker and will line up in the weak side role in the 3-4.
“You hit it on the head, physical,” Ryan said. “That’s what we said we were going to bring here and that’s what we’re used to and that’s what we want. And I’ve been around the Bart Scotts of the world and things like that. This young man, there’s a lot of similarities in his play.”
Buffalo’s third-round pick, Ohio State defensive lineman Adolphus Washington, should contribute right away in a rotational role.
“When you add the three young men at the top of our draft, these three guys will have a major impact on our football team,” Ryan said.
After focusing on defense, the Bills turned to offense with one of their most interesting picks of the draft. Buffalo chose former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones with the 139th pick.
Jones is a raw, developmental prospect who displayed signs of greatness along with inconsistency throughout his time with the Buckeyes. At 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, Jones has a strong arm and tremendous size.
“We told you we’d get a quarterback,” Whaley said. “Tired of going defense. We like this guy.”
After replacing injured quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, Jones led the Buckeyes to the 2015 national championship. He threw for 2,323 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 23 games.
Jones went undefeated (11-0) as a starter with the Buckeyes but is coming off an inconsistent 2015 campaign. Jones opened the season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback but struggled with his consistency and accuracy under center as the season progressed. He was benched for Barrett late in the season.
“I feel like my ceiling is extremely high,” Jones said.
Starter Tyrod Taylor is coming off a breakout season but his long-term future is in question as he enters the final year of his contract.
Buffalo now has three quarterbacks on its roster with Taylor, Jones and former first-round pick EJ Manuel.
“He’s going to come in and be a three, be able to develop, be able to learn under some professionals that have been at their craft for a while with EJ and Tyrod,” Whaley said. “We like his skill set. He’s got the talent to possibly be a franchise guy.”
Whaley added that he is “very comfortable” with Manuel as Buffalo’s No. 2 QB as Buffalo looks to develop Jones. Manuel struggled in his only two starts last season in place of an injured Taylor, going 0-2 as a starter.
After selecting Jones, the offensive picks continued for Buffalo on Saturday before one final selection on defense.
Buffalo selected Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams 156th overall. Williams missed the entire 2015 season with a foot injury.
Speedster Kolby Listenbee was selected by Buffalo at 192nd overall. Listenbee is one of the fastest players in the draft and ran a 4.39 40 while dealing with a double sports hernia.
The Bills went back to defense for their final pick at 218th overall with USC cornerback Kevon Seymour. Like Listenbee, Seymour is known for his speed and also ran a 4.39 40.
After the draft, the Bills agreed to a deal with Glenn Gronkowski, a fullback from Kansas State who went undrafted and is the brother of Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski tweeted after the draft ended: “staying home. Go bills!”
Two officials familiar with the deal confirmed it to The Associated Press on Saturday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the move.