CAPACCIO: After strong rookie campaigns, what should the Bills expect from the 2017 draft class?

The class had several players make big contributions last season

Sal Capaccio
July 17, 2018 - 11:43 pm

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills' 2017 NFL Draft class had quite the rookie season as a group. From All-Rookie honors to one of the worst starting debuts in NFL history, the group had a little bit of everything along the way.

So, what does 2018 hold for these sophomores? Here’s a rundown of the group and what may be reasonable to expect from them:

Round 1 - Tre’Davious White - Cornerback (LSU)

After the Bills moved down 17 spots and took White with the No. 27 overall pick, the LSU product had one of the best rookie campaigns in the league.

It started with him winning AFC Defensive Rookie of the Month honors in September and ended with him finishing second in AP Rookie of the Year voting and with an appearance on every All-Rookie team there is.

Going into Year 2, White will be counted on and expected to be the team’s No. 1 CB in most situations, and that’s even with two-time Pro Bowler Vontae Davis on the other side of him. He has every opportunity to build on his incredible rookie season, become a Pro Bowl player, and be recognized as one of the best in the league at his position.

Round 2 - Zay Jones - Wide Receiver (East Carolina)

There are a lot more questions than answers surrounding Jones right now.

His rookie season started with struggles catching the ball, but as the season went on he became much more of a reliable target in the passing game, finishing with 27 catches for 316 yards and two touchdowns.

Jones played with a hurt labrum for most of the last half of the season which required surgery. Then he was arrested for vandalism after a bizarre incident in a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex. However, the charges were eventually dropped. Then in May, head coach Sean McDermott announced Jones would miss all of OTAs and minicamp after undergoing knee surgery. McDermott said there was no reason to believe Jones’ 2018 season is in jeopardy.

That may be true as far as his health, but as he heads into his sophomore season, Jones certainly can’t be relied upon to be a solid contributor until he proves it on and off the field.

Round 2 - Dion Dawkins - Offensive Tackle (Temple)

The team made a huge commitment to Dawkins as their starter when they dealt their former young franchise left tackle Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati in March. Now, he’ll be expected to take hold of it and anchor the left side of a totally revamped offensive line.

Without veterans Richie Incognito and Eric Wood to his right, Dawkins will also have to become a leader quicker than expected. Dawkins played all 16 games his rookie year, starting 11 of them.

It’s now his job full-time.

Round 5 - Nathan Peterman - Quarterback (Pittsburgh)

After having one of the worst starting debuts in league history, then getting the win in the famous “snow game” a few weeks later, then having to come into the team’s playoff game late to try and lead a comeback, Peterman certainly had an eventful rookie year.

He’ll be part of a three-way quarterback competition when training camp opens next week and will have every chance to win the job.

Even if he does, however, the Bills drafted Josh Allen seventh overall to eventually be their franchise quarterback. That could happen Week 1 or not until 2019.

Expect the grounded Peterman to put up his best fight to win the job and, if he does, hold on to it for as long as he can. If he doesn’t, there’s no doubt he’ll still prepare every week as if he is the starter and be a solid quarterback-mate to have in the locker room and on the sidelines.

Round 5 - Matt Milano - Linebacker (Boston College)

Milano had a surprising rookie season, eventually taking over the starter’s role at weakside linebacker for veteran Ramon Humber.

He showed plenty of athleticism and a great football IQ. But he injured his hamstring on the final play of the final regular season game and missed the AFC wildcard contest at Jacksonville. Then he couldn’t participate in the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp in June once again due to a hamstring injury.

McDermott said he expects Milano to be ready for training camp. So staying healthy is the big concern right now. But if he does, Milano should take another jump his sophomore season and give the Bills and excellent, athletic 1-2 punch with rookie Tremaine Edmunds next to him in the middle.

Round 7 - Tanner Vallejo - Linebacker (Boise State)

After missing opening week with an injury, Vallejo played the remaining 15 games as a core special teams player. Going into Year 2, there will be chances for him to earn more playing time.

Before the team drafted Edmunds, Vallejo was being mentioned as the starting middle linebacker. Now, training camp will determine where he fits.

There are other young players who will be fighting for, essentially, the same role Vallejo played last year. Vallejo’s year of experience in McDermott’s and Leslie Frazier’s defense will give him a slight edge. But he’ll be fighting to keep a roster spot.

If he can, then he may be able to add a little more depth to the linebacker group than he was able to last year.

Follow me on Twitter @SalSprorts

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