One of the stranger choices from the 2021 NFL Draft came when the Buffalo Bills selected Wake Forest edge rusher Carlos “Boogie” Basham with the 61st overall pick. They’d already signed free-agent defensive end Efe Obada in the offseason, and used their first-round pick on Miami’s Greg Rousseau, so most fans were already prepared to say “mission accomplished” with Buffalo’s pass rush. But general manager Brandon Beane dipped back into the water for another edge rusher nonetheless.
Following the draft, the Bills’ defensive line was suddenly quite crowded. The team had to trade away Darryl Johnson before making roster cuts, and even with that, they typically set aside three inactive defensive linemen each week. Basham is usually one of them. The rookie has only played in two games this year, with 1.5 sacks and five tackles.
Sure, Basham could develop into the long-term edge rusher of the future. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes are probably gone next year, and having a cost-controlled trio of Basham, Rousseau, and A.J. Epenesa is appealing. But set the future aside for a second—the Bills are supposed to be competing for a Super Bowl now. They made it to the AFC Championship last year. They reran the same roster, swapping John Brown for Emmanuel Sanders and re-signing their veteran starters. This should be a team making every attempt to bolster its chances for a Super Bowl win, the first in this team’s history. For instance, driving for the number-one seed, and the bye week and home-field advantage afforded that team.
A glaring weakness in this plan? The offensive line, especially the interior. Buffalo was fortunate to find rookie right tackle Spencer Brown in the third round. When healthy, he was able to claim a starting spot and slide Daryl Williams to right guard. But Williams and Jon Feliciano are average, at best, starters. Ike Boettger and Cody Ford, meanwhile, are complete liabilities whenever they enter the lineup. The lousy blocking has killed Buffalo’s offense of late, and it led to a dreadful loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s time to fit a few puzzle pieces together. Picked directly after Basham in the draft? Ohio State center Josh Myers, who started five games for the Green Bay Packers before suffering a knee injury. Picked after him? Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey, who’s played every snap for the Chiefs (and earned plenty of praise for it). Third-round pick Kendrick Green has started every game at center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s keep going: Ben Cleveland, Quinn Meinerz, Dan Moore, James Hudson, Jalen Mayfield, Royce Newman, Wyatt Davis. All of those players, noteworthy interior OL prospects drafted in rounds 3 and 4, have seen some amount of playing time (including several starts) already as rookies.
Now, it’s impossible to predict injuries, and maybe in a world where Brown and Feliciano are healthy, the Bills tread water on their offensive line and keep winning games on Sunday. But Beane chose to stand pat on the OL, betting on his former second-round pick to, well, play like a starting-caliber lineman. And he overloaded the defensive line, betting that he’d add strength to strength. That might pay dividends for the future, but right now, it’s dragging down Buffalo’s best chance for a Super Bowl win in decades.