The Buffalo Bills ended the 2019 NFL Draft having selected eight players, included filling major needs along the defensive and offensive lines and finding new blood at tight end and running back. The media was quick to praise the team. Mel Kiper liked “what Buffalo did with its first four picks, using three on players who will directly make [Josh] Allen’s life easier” while Todd McShay lauded Brandon Beane for selecting Ed Oliver, in particular. Opinions taken directly after the draft are one thing, but how did the rookie class fair during the season? Below we review how Buffalo’s rookie class fared, and discuss a bit about what we can expect of them for next season.
DT Ed Oliver
Immediately after the draft, it was almost easy to forget just how raw of a talent Oliver was coming out of the University of Houston. While he was supremely disruptive in college, the tenth overall pick got by mostly on his freakish athleticism and strength for his size. The beginning of the season made that apparent, with Oliver struggling to make much of an impact in either phase, despite disparate flashes. The rookie managed to improve every week, however, which culminated in a performance that bordered on ‘dominant’ against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. The flashes of performance became more apparent following the Dallas game, despite the rookie’s snaps being reduced thanks to the breakout experienced by Jordan Phillips. Going into the 2020 season, it’s clear Oliver still needs to work on the technical aspects of his position, but he already has the makings of a strong starter at three-technique defensive tackle.
OT Cody Ford
The former Oklahoma offensive tackle was ranked as a first rounder by many outlets before the draft. However, it was noted how unprepared the rookie was in making the transition to a real NFL blocking scheme. Those fears appear to have been warranted, as Ford struggled to adapt to the pro game for most of the season. The rookie was mostly able to perform well when given a run-blocking assignment, but when lined up in pass protection he struggled anytime he couldn’t get a solid punch on his opponent. His lapses in technique were much more noticeable and poor earlier in the season—so there was improvement—but considering he split time with Ty Nsekhe throughout the season proves that the coaches didn’t view him as improving fast enough. It’s uncertain how the coaches will choose to approach Ford in the upcoming offseason, as he may be kicked inside to guard where his deficiencies could be mitigated.
RB Devin Singletary
The third round was a solid place to take the former FAU runner, and scouting reports agreed that he could be decently productive as a part-time player in the NFL. But once he tore the starting role away from Frank Gore, Singletary proved that he could be much more than that. With a 5.1 per-rush average and 6.7 per-reception average, Singletary was hugely effective in whatever role he was asked to play. Tough to bring down, with great vision, balance and just enough power, Singletary finished third among rookie running backs, and looks like a long-time contributor for the team, even if the Bills draft another runner in 2020.
TE Dawson Knox
In the lead up to the draft, Knox was praised for his athleticism and effort as a blocker, but his limited sample size held him back from being drafted before the third round. Originally expected to compete for a backup role, Tyler Kroft’s injury—and a strong preseason by Knox—thrust the rookie into a starting role. While the tight end didn’t respond to the opportunity with domination, he did become a contributor to the offense as both a receiver and a blocker. He averaged about 2 catches and 24 yards a game and was often a check-down option for his quarterback. Tight ends rarely contribute in their first year, but Knox was 23rd in the NFL in receiving yards for his position, and second among rookies. If the former third-round pick can work on his craft and his body in the offseason, he could grab the starting role and look to break out next season.
LB Vosean Joseph
Unfortunately, the linebacker was placed on IR back in August with a shoulder injury. He never saw the field all season. He should expect to compete for a spot on the team in 2020, and may even be a candidate to replace Lorenzo Alexander’s snaps.
S Jaquan Johnson
Johnson saw minimal snaps on defense outside of the meaningless Week 17 against the New York Jets. However, he was able to carve out a significant role for himself on special teams. With two solid starters directly ahead of him, expectations won’t likely rise much higher for the former sixth-round pick.
TE Tommy Sweeney
Owing to Tyler Kroft’s early-season foot injury, Sweeney was able to see the field in a handful of early games, catching three passes, but mostly acting as a blocker. When Kroft returned, Sweeney was inactive most games. That changed in Buffalo’s final game against the New York Jets, the rookie tight end made the best of increased playing time, finishing with 5 catches for 76 yards. It remains to be seen what the team will do with their four tight ends in 2020, but Sweeney has shown enough flashes that it wouldn’t be out of the question for the young player to see more time on the field.
DE Darryl Johnson Jr.
The breakout star of training camp and the preseason, Johnson was a core special teamer while seeing about 21 percent snaps on defense throughout the season. It was difficult for the rookie to do much with those limited snaps, and he only ended up finishing with ten tackles and one sack on the season. It’s clear that while Johnson offers some juice against the pass, his ability to anchor against the run is severely lacking and was a clear weakness in his game. The defensive end position is expected to see some turnover this season, so Johnson should be expected to compete for a backup, or maybe even a starting role in the 2020 offseason.