Buffalo Bills Midseason Rookie Report

An Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate? Check. Late round gem? Check. The Buffalo Bills 2014 draft class has paid early dividends for the team. Here's a look at the contributions from Buffalo's rookie class.

The 2014 draft class of the Buffalo Bills has seen plenty of action through the first eight weeks of the season. Some of the draft picks have played extremely well, others have contributed and some haven’t seen the field at all.

How good has Buffalo’s rookie class been? Nate Davis of the USA TODAY believes that the Bills currently have the best draft class halfway through the 2014 season. There’s certainly other classes that could be argued, but Buffalo is one of the only classes that has had an outstanding player emerge on both sides of the ball.

Here’s a look at Buffalo’s rookie class and how they’ve fared through eight weeks.

Round 1: Sammy Watkins, WR

Stats: 38 receptions, 590 yards, 5 touchdowns

The Bills had Sammy Watkins as the number one player on their draft board leading up to the 2014 draft. When the Cleveland Browns went on the clock with the 4th overall pick, Buffalo came calling. Trading away the 9th overall pick in the 2014 draft and their 1st and 4th round picks in 2015, the Bills made a bold move to get Watkins. So far, it’s paying off.

Among all rookies, Watkins is currently third in receptions, first in yards and tied for first in touchdowns. Whereas players like Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin have quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Cam Newton, Watkins has produced with E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton at quarterback. The latter has especially brought out the best in the wide receiver. In four games with Orton, Watkins has 21 receptions, 393 yards and three touchdowns. The Bills are 3-1 over this stretch and Watkins was named October’s Offensive Rookie of the Month by the NFL.

His impact with the Bills cannot be ignored. Watkins has played a big role in four of Buffalo’s five victories. He led the team in receiving against the Dolphins, caught a 20 yard pass to set up Dan Carpenter’s game-winning field goal against the Lions, had the game-winning touchdown against the Vikings and accounted for the majority of Kyle Orton’s passing yards against the Jets.

If Watkins matches his production in the second half of the season, he’ll shatter Bills rookie wide receiver records. He’s already within reach of Joe Cribbs’ 52 receptions, the most receptions ever by a Bills rookie. As for yards, Lee Evans is currently first in Bills history with 843. If Watkins can stay healthy in the second half of the season, he’s also likely to surpass this Bills milestone. All in all, Watkins has looked like the star the Bills envisioned when they traded up for him.

Round 2: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT

Stats: No Stats Available

When the Bills drafted Cyrus Kouandjio, many wondered how quickly he’d start at right tackle. Now, everyone wonders if Kouandjio will even play a game in 2014. Kouandjio has been inactive through eight weeks this season.

During training camp and the preseason, Kouandjio had his fair share of struggles. He’s a massive man at 6’7” and 322 lbs., but his footwork has been a mess. Kouandjio’s slow feet allowed many speed rushers to get by him with ease.

As it stands now, Kouandjio’s best chance of playing time isn’t at right tackle, it’s at guard. He’s currently getting work at guard, a position of concern for the Bills. The team has started three different left guards and Erik Pears’ play at right guard has been disastrous. Kouandjio shared his thoughts on the move with Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News.

"It's cool," Kouandjio said. "I mean, it's easier at guard. You're not in space like you are at tackle. Playing tackle, you're usually by yourself. At guard, you can always get help from your left or your right, and the guys' just right there in front of you."

If Pears, Pro Football Focus’ lowest rated guard (Subscription Required), continues his struggles, Kouandjio may finally see some snaps in the second half of the season.

Round 3: Preston Brown, LB

Stats: 60 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defensed

Preston Brown has been Buffalo’s second best rookie. The former Louisville Cardinal leads the Bills in defensive snaps played with 530 total snaps. He’s played at all three linebacker spots in his rookie season and recently won the starting job at strongside linebacker from Keith Rivers.

Among all rookie linebackers, Brown ranks second in tackles behind C.J. Mosley of the Baltimore Ravens. Brown is currently 14th among all linebackers in tackles. The linebacker has been strong in run defense and even better in coverage. There’s a lot to like about Brown’s game and his versatility. Buffalo has struck gold at linebacker in the last two drafts and Brown and Kiko Alonso will be a formidable duo as soon as 2015.

Round 4: Ross Cockrell, CB

Stats: No Stats Available

Cockrell has been inactive in seven of Buffalo’s eight games. In Week 1, he was active due to an injury to Stephon Gilmore. It’s likely that a series of injuries would have to occur for Cockrell to get any playing time on defense. Currently, the Bills have Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey and Ron Brooks ahead of Cockrell. Cornerback is a position that the Bills are deep at, so Cockrell is most likely going to “redshirt” his rookie season.

Round 5: Cyril Richardson, OG

Stats: Started 4 games at LG

When Chris Williams was placed on the IR with a back injury, Cyril Richardson was named Buffalo’s starting left guard. The 5th round pick placed decently as a run blocker, but struggled terribly as a pass blocker. PFF gave Richardson a -10.2 in Week 5 against the Lions and after his fourth start in Week 7, he was graded as the league’s 72 best guard. In his four starts, Richardson allowed one sack, six quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries. He was benched in Week 8 for Kraig Urbik and didn’t see any playing time.

Richardson gained valuable experience and could get another opportunity to see significant playing time. If Pears’ struggles at right guard continue, the Bills may give Richardson and Kouandjio an opportunity to compete for the starting job.

Round 7: Randell Johnson, LB

Stats: 5 games played, 1 tackle

Randell Johnson has played in five games on special teams. He has a lot of raw talent and ability, so getting him on the field in any capacity is a plus. In the future, Johnson could play a hybrid DE/LB role with the team. For the time being, the Bills will be content with Johnson playing special teams.

Round 7: Seantrel Henderson, OT

Stats: 7 games started, 532 snaps

Seantrel Henderson has been Buffalo’s diamond in the rough. His character concerns made him fall to the seventh round, and the Bills benefited from selecting Henderson late. The former Miami Hurricane has played all 532 offensive snaps for the Bills at right tackle in his rookie season.

It’s been ugly at times. Henderson has allowed four sacks, eight quarterback hits and 13 quarterback hurries per PFF. That said, Henderson is coming off of two of his best games of the season against the Vikings and Jets. It’s an encouraging sign that Buffalo’s last draft pick is growing into his starting role with the team. He and Cordy Glenn could anchor Buffalo’s offensive line for many years to come.

It’s a mixed bag, but Buffalo has an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate and another full time starter at right tackle at the mid-point of the 2014 season. There are plenty of teams in the NFL who would love to say the same. 

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