Last Monday morning I was a guest on an Albany sports talk radio show to discuss the Bills’ draft.
The host, who has interviewed me for years, opened with an unexpected question.
‘How do you grade Buffalo’s draft?” he wondered.
There was no grade in my draft assessment column for that day’s Times Herald, but the immediate response was “B-”.
I’ve always felt that grading a draft the day after it ends is a waste … a speculative assessment based on how players performed in college. That wasn’t what constituted my B- grade. It was partially what the Bills did … and partially what they didn’t do.
A team in desperate need of an upgrade at tight end and depth at linebacker ignored those positions in their eight draft picks and waited until the sixth round before adding competition at cornerback.
BUT THERE was more that contributed to the grade.
Buffalo, admittedly seeking pass rushers, used its first two picks to take defensive ends Greg Rousseau (first round) and Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. (second).
The Bills most quizzical choices came next with a pair of offensive tackles: Spencer Brown (third) and Tommy Doyle (fifth).
Rounding out the draft class were three sixth rounders – wide receiver Marquez Stevenson, safety Damar Hamlin and cornerback Rachad Wildgoose – with guard Jack Anderson the seventh round pick.
Rousseau is a dice roll, having compiled a spectacular sophomore year (15½ sacks), but sitting out last season due to coronavirus concerns. To some he conjures unsettling memories of Aaron Maybin, the Bills’ first-round pick in 2009 – 11th overall – who was selected after logging 12 sacks in 13 games for Penn State. However, the defensive end/rush linebacker was a colossal bust, logging no sacks in two seasons for Buffalo, being waived before the 2012 season and signed by the Jets. Now a professional artist, he played 48 NFL games with only one start, his six career sacks coming in 2013 for New York.
Indeed, there’s a thought that Basham might work his way into the Bills’ defensive line rotation more quickly than Rousseau.
The selections of Brown and Doyle were head-scratchers. Both went a bit earlier than expected but on a team with Dion Dawkins (age 27, new 4-year contract) on the left side and Daryl Williams (29, new 3-year deal) on the right, at best they’re playing for a backup role.
The other four draft choices will have to impress to make an already solid roster. Stevenson looms as the fastest possible contributor if he can wrest the kick returner role from Isaiah McKenzie with Andre Roberts having left as a free agent.
IT’S ODD, but many see Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane as a draft guru. I view it the opposite, that his real skill is identifying quality free agents.
His reputation as a drafter goes back to 2018, the first one he controlled for the Bills. He traded up in the first round to take quarterback Josh Allen and into the first round to tab linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Allen was seen as a risk by many personnel people, owing to his struggles with accuracy and playing in a secondary conference (Mountain West). It took two years of patience but the former Wyoming star became more precise with his throws and immediately established himself as one of the NFL’s elite QBs.
Edmunds has become a work in progress as, after a solid rookie season, there was a question whether Buffalo would even pick up his fifth-year option.
Beane’s 2019 draft is open to question. First-rounder Ed Oliver, a defensive tackle, and second-rounder Cody Ford, an offensive guard/tackle, have decidedly underperformed. And the two third-rounders, while also starters, haven’t stood out. Tight end Dawson Knox’s uneven performance seemingly put Buffalo in the market for that position in this year’s draft, and running back Devin Singletary, after a solid rookie year, ended up sharing time with 2020 third-rounder Zach Moss, neither of them putting up impressive numbers.
In fairness, of Beane’s 23 draft choices from 2018-20, 19 remain on the roster. However, only seven – Allen, Knox, Singletary, Oliver, Edmunds, cornerback Taron Johnson and placekicker Tyler Bass – are starters.
CONVERSELY, 11 of his trade and free agent acquisitions were starters for January’s AFC Championship Game in Kansas City against the Chiefs. On offense that would be wide receiver Stefon Diggs via trade, plus free agents John Brown (wide receiver), center Mitch Morse, guards Jon Feliciano and Ike Boettger (who replaced the injured Ford) and tackle Daryl Williams. The free agent defensive starters are defensive linemen Mario Addison and Vernon Butler, cornerback Levi Wallace, Roberts at kick returner and punter Corey Bojorquez.
Roberts and Bojorquez are gone as free agents and this season the Bills veteran signings were limited due to salary cap restraints. However, three of them signed by Beane – wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, tight end Jacob Hollister and running back Matt Breida – figure to be more significant contributors than anybody he took in this year’s draft.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)