Rookie coach Sean McDermott didn’t stand pat in turning the first three round of the NFL draft into swap meet by wheeling and dealing to place his personal stamp on the Buffalo Bills roster.
And McDermott even provided a parting shot to his former team, the Carolina Panthers, in the process.
The Bills began Friday by trading with the Los Angeles Rams to move up seven spots to select East Carolina receiver Zay Jones with the 37th pick. Not done yet, Buffalo struck a deal with Atlanta to jump ahead 12 spots to pick Temple offensive lineman Dion Dawkins at 63.
McDermott began to chuckle when informed Buffalo selected Dawkins one spot ahead of the Panthers, who were also in need of an offensive lineman.
“Well said,” the Panthers former defensive coordinator said with a laugh, when asked if he might have had some inside information.
“You do your homework and you look at the needs like every team,” McDermott said, before noting the Panthers did select Western Michigan guard Taylor Morton at 64.
“I’m sure they got the player they wanted, and we got the player we wanted at the end of the day,” he said.
Jones addresses an immediate need on a team with two openings behind starting receiver Sammy Watkins. Jones set the FBS record with 399 career catches, and broke the single-season reception mark with 158 catches last year.
Jones already has an immediate connection to Buffalo. The receiver’s position coach at college, Phil McGeoghan, was hired by McDermott in January.
Though Jones had no formal contact with the Bills during the pre-draft process, he never ruled out the possibility of being drafted by Buffalo due to McGeoghan.
“A great mentor, like a father figure,” Jones said. “I’m comfortable. I know the type of man he is. I know how he works.”
Dawkins, a three-year starter who can play various positions, adds versatility and depth to a line that helped the Bills lead the NFL in yards rushing in each of the past two seasons.
The moves came a day after Buffalo opened the draft by acquiring two picks — including a first-rounder next year — in a trade with Kansas City, and moving back 17 spots to draft LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White at 27 .
Buffalo has three picks left: fifth-round selections at 163 and 171, and a six-rounder (195).
McDermott’s influence on the selections continued to become apparent at a time the team is undergoing another overhaul in an attempt to snap a 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
The 42-year-old coach has spent the past three months preaching “character” and “process” since taking over what had been an undisciplined team under Rex Ryan, who was fired in the final week of last season.
And more changes might be in order with questions raised over general manager Doug Whaley and his scouting staff’s job security.
Though McDermott said he was collaborating equally with Whaley in making Buffalo’s selections, the team’s first three picks featured distinct differences from recent drafts.
All three met McDermott’s desire to add players with versatility. White and Jones specifically were credited by McDermott for their character and leadership qualities.
Buffalo’s trade with Kansas City featured a McDermott connection to Chiefs coach Andy Reid. McDermott spent 12 seasons on Reid’s staff with the Philadelphia Eagles.
And Jones’ and Dawkins’ selections were notable because they didn’t play for schools in one of the nation’s five power conferences. Buffalo hasn’t used a first- or second-round pick to select a player from a non-power-conference school since choosing Central Florida defensive tackle Torrell Troup in the second round of the 2010 draft.
Unlike past drafts when the GM or scouts assess each selection, McDermott was the only team official made available to reporters.
Whaley was questioned last year for selecting Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson in the first round despite knowing the player would likely miss significant time because of a shoulder injury. In 2014, Whaley was second-guessed for giving up a 2015 first-round pick to move up five spots to select Watkins with the fourth pick in a draft class deep in receiver talent.
White traveled with his parents and sister from the NFL draft site in Philadelphia to Buffalo and toured the Bills facility on Friday.
White provided a glimpse of his maturity in discussing the reason he elected to stay in school and earn his degree in sports management.
“Growing up, I had a lot of family members and a lot of my best friends go the wrong route,” he said, referring to challenges he faced growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana. “My mindset was, just because I’m in this situation, I’m not going to stay here. Just because I’m living this certain way, I’m not going to live this all my life.”
His father, David White, grew so emotional he reached for a napkin and dabbed his eyes.