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Opinion: Buffalo Bills bet on potential with DE Gregory Rousseau

He could develop into a reliable starter or struggle to make an impact. Time will tell.

The Buffalo Bills, like every team making picks in 2021, was going to be forced to manage risks with their NFL Draft picks. Many players weren’t able to play a regular season, and that may have been their choice, but it made the evaluation process a challenge. In choosing Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau with their first-round pick, the Bills are making their own risky bet, hoping that a 30th overall selection could develop into a top-ten caliber player in his career.

The 6’7” 266-lb Rousseau was tremendously disruptive in 2019, his only full college season. He nearly led the nation in sacks, taking the passer down 15.5 times. Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season, so teams had to make projections based on 2019 (and watching a Rousseau-free Miami team pile up sacks between Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche in 2020).

It’s clear why the Bills went with an edge rusher here: they struggled immensely to generate mayhem with their highly-paid defensive line, especially in the AFC Championship Game. Rousseau can immediately slot into the rotation behind aging veterans Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, and adds to A.J. Epenesa as a second youthful player in the rotation.

Lack of experience isn’t the only reason Rousseau fell to the end of the round. Although his height, weight, arm length, and hand size are all prototypical for a defensive end, his pro day workout was surprisingly pedestrian. A 4.68 40-yard dash was an excellent time, but his 30” vertical and 7.5 three-cone drill were both awful results. His 4.53 short shuttle and 21 bench press reps were also below average for his position. The numbers looked worse in comparison to his not-quite-teammate Phillips, who set the pace for the Miami pro day.

It’s fair to wonder if Rousseau’s lack of a playing season, as well as the challenges with training for a one-off testing event, might be responsible for some part of those disappointing testing numbers. It’s also fair to say that Rousseau, who just turned 21 years old, has a lot of room to grow as a football player. He has the length and speed. He’s dangerous flexed inside to defensive tackle. He’s shown flashes of a pass rush arsenal. Where his career goes from here, is up to him and the Bills’ coaches.