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How would analytics have fared predicting the Buffalo Bills’ 2021 draft picks?

Well...how ‘bout it?

I’ve recently (and historically) referred to football as a game of tradition. Such is the case with football writing to a large extent. Welcome to this year’s edition of “Can Skare use data and behavioral science concepts to ‘predict’ NFL draft selections?” The idea is straightforward—even very, very wealthy people have limited amounts of time and therefore are not inclined to waste it. Charting the time used with various draft candidates might be useful to determine what a team is looking for. It’s been relatively successful each year, so let’s see if 2021’s data would have been useful. Here’s 2020’s for reference.

Disclaimer to make me look less bad at this: Information for the 2021 draft was in many ways even harder to come by than the 2020 draft.


By Player

First off, I usually look at walterfootball.com and round it out with supplemental sources like nfltraderumors.co. All told they came up with 22 players confirmed to have met with the Buffalo Bills. All of the meetings were virtual despite several face-to-face opportunities occurring. That means the usual sites missed some guys.

Namely...EVERY SINGLE PLAYER THE BILLS PICKED. That’s right, none of the BIlls’ selections were listed on my usual sites. Now I could probably scour the internet and find evidence of the visits, but to stay faithful to my yearly exercise we won’t do that.

Teams were allowed up to five, one-hour sessions per player. Only two players were reported to have had more than one virtual visit with the Bills. Florida State corner Asante Samuel Jr., and Darren Hall, a safety out of San Diego State. Samuel Jr. wouldn’t have been too shocking to see as their first pick but Hall might have dropped some jaws.

By Position

This is the only look that warrants a chart. Asante Samuel Jr. and Darren Hall counted twice for purposes of this breakdown.

When examining by position, wide receiver jumps off the screen. Running back and safety follow. Only linebacker and corner beside the big three had repeat visits. Circling back to the elephant in the room, despite wide receiver getting a ton of attention, no one on the list would have made sense for a first-round pick (or second-round pick in many cases).

By School

Finally, the idea behind tracking by school is that often players might give insight on a teammate of theirs. If a team is circling around a key prospect, it might show up in this manner.

But not this year. Only Notre Dame and Auburn had more than one prospect visit with the Bills with two and three visits respectively. None of the Bills’ draft selections were from either of those schools.

Who would I have picked?

Despite this being a data analysis exercise, the goal is to never entirely abandon reason. I wouldn’t have picked any of the wide receivers on the list but I would have insisted they’d be taking one. Which they did, Marquez Stevenson. Who was not on the list. Oh boy.

If I had the good sense to avoid a wide receiver in the first round I would have liked to think I’d go with Asante Samuel Jr. While the Bills only looked at two corners compared to four safeties and four running backs, the repeated interest in Samuel Jr. is intriguing. Darren Hall similarly inflated the safety total but, like the receivers, that group was not inspiring.

This is the first year doing this exercise that I truly feel it did poorly. While there are a couple arguable “hits,” the fact that they’re “arguable” rather than “convincing” is not great. Even if I had gone with Samuel Jr. as my choice, the Bills let him slide right by—for a player that didn’t even hit the usual lists.