With a somewhat complete team, and lacking an all-important first-round selection, the Buffalo Bills knew their 2020 Draft class was going to lack some impact. Most analysts were nonetheless eager to praise general manager Brandon Beane’s savvy in snagging A.J. Epenesa and taking advantage of a deep wide receiver class by selecting Gabriel Davis. 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.
DE A.J. Epenesa
Although seen as a steal at the time of the draft, with only 11 tackles and a single sack on the season it’s hard to declare Epenesa’s rookie season as anything better than a disappointment. It appears that the coaches asked the rookie to slim down during training camp, which noticeably helped his burst but seemed to take away some of his strength at the point of attack. Experienced tackles, those who know how to defeat multiple pass rush moves, especially rendered Epenesa all but useless in pass rushing situations. Against the run, the rookie wasn’t tested much, but the results were largely mixed there as well. For every time he stood strong and held the edge, there was another snap where the offensive tackle completely shoved the defensive end out of his gap. A lack of full preseason and chances to learn and develop his technique in live situations probably hurt the former Hawkeye as well. As it stands, Epenesa will have a lot to prove next season before he can be labeled as even a potential starter.
RB Zack Moss
A highly effective, but injury-prone power runner in college, Moss proved to be the same player he was in the NFL as a rookie. He finished the regular season with 481 rushing yards, 95 receiving yards and four touchdowns over 13 games. Considering his split usage with Devin Singletary those aren’t bad numbers, but not terribly impressive. Watching the tape throughout the year, there was certainly a lot of good with his ability to hit the hole quickly and power through for extra yardage, but by that same token there were many instances where he chose the wrong hole on zone runs and killed runs before they even started. The offensive line’s overall poor run-blocking also didn’t do him any favors. On the positive end, the rookie runner proved to be an effective pass catcher and was largely careful with the football. The biggest red flag were the injuries, which included an early season toe issue and an ankle injury in the Wild Card game that saw him land on IR. With the coaches seeming to prefer Moss to Singletary as the season continued, the arrow should continue pointing up for the rookie in the 2021 season if he can remain healthy.
WR Gabriel Davis
Another of the team’s draft steals, the Bills benefitted from the plethora of quality wide receivers in last year’s draft. Davis proved to be massively under-drafted during the season, as he finished with 599 yards and seven touchdowns after establishing himself as the third or fourth wideout in the rotation. For perspective, that’s more production than Robert Woods had during his rookie year. The former UCF wideout’s penchant for big plays certainly carried over from college, as his 17.1 yards per catch was fourth in the league. Where Davis particularly stood out was his ability to make himself available to a scrambling Josh Allen. He wasn’t perfect by any means however, as his lack of elite speed and route nuance meant he mostly struggled against press-man coverages. With expected improvements in those areas, Davis should be able to climb the wide receiver depth chart in 2021.
QB Jake Fromm
Fromm played the important role of being the team’s “break glass in case of emergency” quarterback. He was strategically isolated from the team all season in case either Josh Allen or Matt Barkley contracted COVID-19 and did not see the field as a result. With a vaccine now available, Fromm should be expected to either take Barkley’s place as the team’s backup, or possibly compete with the veteran (who is a free agent) or another free-agent signee.
K Tyler Bass
The “Bass-o-matic” shook off some early struggles and finished the season as the Bills’ record holder for most points scored in a single season with 141 and an 82 percent field goal percentage. Sure, that speaks more to the team’s offensive success overall, but some was definitely on the rookie. His high point of the season came in the team’s loss against Arizona, which saw Bass nail three separate kicks from beyond fifty yards. Moving forward, Bass will hopefully be the team’s unquestioned kicker for many seasons to come.
WR Isaiah Hodgins
After reportedly making a good impression in training camp, Hodgins injured his shoulder and became this year’s player stashed on injured reserve. He will likely compete for playing time next year, although it will be tough for him considering just how deep and talented the team is at the position.
CB Dane Jackson
The surprise of the class, Jackson didn’t see the field much during the season but, when he did play, he impressed. Injuries to Levi Wallace and Josh Norman thrust him into action against the New York Jets in late October, and he managed to record his first interception. Then, against Arizona, he earned a couple pass breakups against noted physical specimen DeAndre Hopkins. He has flaws, particularly related to his lack of deep speed, but he’s assignment sound and has the size to beat up receivers in press coverage. As Brandon Beane said, Jackson should look to not only win a roster spot, but compete to start opposite Tre’Davious White.
TE/FB Reggie Gilliam
One of two undrafted players to actually see offensive snaps, Gilliam was used mostly on special teams and helped the Bills finish strong in that area. His shining moment on offense came against the Miami Dolphins in September, on a one-yard touchdown catch off of a flare pass. It remains to be seen if he can retain his role next season, as an incoming class of rookies could jeopardize his special teams niche.
RB Antonio Williams
Activated for the ‘meaningless’ final game of the season against the Dolphins, Williams had the type of eye-opening game that should cause him to get quite a few extra looks next season. He had 12 rushes for 63 yards and two touchdowns and looked quicker and more vicious running the ball than even Zack Moss. The coaching staff clearly likes him, and he could end up making the roster next season.