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Buffalo Bills still lack young talent needed for internal defensive end overhaul

The Bills don’t have the pass rush talent they need.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

Buffalo Bills fans and the coaching staff agree that the team’s pass rush isn’t as good as it needs to be. The Bills have thrown a lot of free-agent money at the position recently, but only two draft picks have been spent there (only one before the final round) under general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott.

2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa and 2019 seventh-rounder Daryl Johnson both contributed in 2020, but neither are ready to be the main guy at defensive end. Epenesa played just 25 percent of the snaps on defense while Johnson played 20 percent. Further down the roster, Bryan Cox Jr. and Mike Love each played in just one game for the Bills in 2020, tallying around 3 percent of the team’s yearly snap total.

Despite Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison’s advancing ages, none of the young guys could steal snaps. Hughes played in 60 percent of the snaps during most games while Addison saw that much playing time in most games, as well. Simply put, if the young Bills couldn’t get the old ones off the field, it’s because they weren’t ready.

Johnson’s ceiling is probably as a complementary piece and special teams contributor, so where he is at is fine going forward.

In 2021, it would be nice if Epenesa could begin climbing toward being the full-time starter they thought he would be when they drafted him. He began to see more action as the season went on, topping out at 54 percent and 69 percent in the final two blowouts. Even before that, he had carved out around 35 percent of the snaps in the preceding three games. With a full (COVID-19) offseason and NFL nutrition program under his belt, he may be in line to share or take over the starter’s role in 2021 opposite Jerry Hughes, but they need an insurance plan at this point.

Going into the season with Epenesa and Hughes as your starters with Johnson and Love as your two backups isn’t going to work. They need to keep Quinton Jefferson and/or Mario Addison or find a starter-level replacement in the 2021 offseason.

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