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10 things I think about the Buffalo Bills and the 2022 NFL Draft

Happy Draft Day!

This will be the eighth NFL Draft that I cover with Buffalo Rumblings, but if you count the spreadsheets I made back when I was just a commenter here, it’s a full decade of thinking about and writing about the draft. We’ve come a long way since the doldrums of the playoff drought, but even though draft season is often supplanted by Real Actual Football for Buffalo Bills fans these days, I still see NFL Draft Weekend as the Christmas of the football calendar. Heading into the first night of the draft, here are ten things I think about Buffalo’s draft:

1. I think the reported interest in Breece Hall at pick 25 is... legitimate?

In recent days we’ve seen a few media figures (Chris Simms, Ben Allbright, Jeremy Fowler/Dan Graziano, Daniel Jeremiah) say that the Iowa State running back would be a great match for the Bills. Some of it is speculation and some of it is “sources say” type reporting.

Although I typically ignore stuff like this, I’m actually listening this time around, for a few reasons. One is that we heard similar interest last year regarding the speedy Travis Etienne, but he was drafted before Buffalo picked. Another reason is that Hall would give the Bills a speed dimension they don’t have on the roster today, something they sought with Matt Breida last year. Devin Singletary is also a free agent after the season ends.

The last reason I believe there’s something here is that there isn’t another team who strikes me as a target for a smokescreen. Often when news like this leaks, it’s either an agent trying to drum up interest in his client or a team trying to get another team to bite on a trade or player so they can nab someone they want more. And I don’t see anyone who would feel like they need to jump the Bills for a running back... or a player that the Bills would hope falls to them in place of Hall.

So, yeah, I think there’s something to this.

2. I think the Bills are drafting a tight end this weekend... and they’ll extend Dawson Knox before the season begins.

Buffalo’s interest in the tight end class is well documented. Even though we don’t have a complete picture of their pre-draft meetings, the fact that they have held a private meeting with at least eight of the top prospects in the draft tells me they’re shopping for one.

It makes sense from a roster construction perspective. Dawson Knox and O.J. Howard are both free agents after this season. Tommy Sweeney too. Reggie Gilliam will be an RFA. This is the perfect time to sign a player to a four-year contract.

I honestly have no idea what player the Bills are targeting, but my sense is that they’d prefer a Y tight end over an F who mostly plays in the slot. So think Trey McBride, Charlie Kolar.

I think this player will be drafted in the top four rounds.

I also don’t think this draft pick spells the end of Knox’s time with the Bills. I think, much like we’ve seen Buffalo do with Dion Dawkins and Taron Johnson, they’ll come to terms on a long-term extension before October. It just takes a while to get the gears turning, just like it took a while for Knox’s career to develop.

3. I think wide receiver isn’t the priority that everyone assumed it is.

I’m pretty sure that, second only to cornerback, the most-mocked position to the Bills has been wide receiver. Jahan Dotson, Treylon Burks, Chris Olave, Jameson Williams, etc.

But with the draft in sight, I just don’t see it.

Let’s start with the Bills having two starters on the outside, both signed for multiple seasons. They have a workable starter in the slot with Jamison Crowder. A hybrid guy with speed in Isaiah McKenzie. Two projects in Marquez Stevenson and Isaiah Hodgins.

That’s a full roster of six players. In 2021 they carried seven, which was a little excessive, but doable.

Now if the Bills were embracing 11 personnel on 90% of their snaps again, having a long-term slot receiver would make sense. I think the fact that they cut Cole Beasley and their two options in the slot are on one-year deals, tells me they aren’t planning that. Instead the emphasis seems to be on more 12 personnel (see above).

So if they drafted a receiver, he’s either a slot receiver who plays fewer snaps, or a backup on the outside. That doesn’t scream “first-round pick”—it screams “late-round project pick.”

The known pre-draft interest backs this up. Three meetings at the Combine, one private workout, and one “top 30” visitor. Even though we’re missing several names from the list of 30, I’m pretty convinced the Bills are striking this position off of round one.

4. I think linebacker is a bigger priority than everyone assumed it is.

On the one hand, the Buffalo Bills have a crystal-clear picture at linebacker: They used exactly two LBs on more than 90% of plays, and those two LBs were Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds.

However!

A glowing sign I see on the Bills’ roster is the fact that Edmunds, the team’s two-time Pro Bowler and former first-round pick, is now in the last year of his contract. And general manager Brandon Beane hasn’t exactly made strong overtures toward contract negotiations, the way he approached players like Stefon Diggs and Taron Johnson.

So... is there a disconnect here?

Making this more interesting is the fact that the Bills have been connected (quite a bit) to Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma. We also know they’ve met with Alabama’s Christian Harris, Penn State’s Brandon Smith, and Oklahoma’s Brian Asamoah. Muma and Smith are the most interesting names to me, because both players are bigger linebackers who would fit Edmunds’s role in this defense.

All I’m saying is “never say never.” We didn’t think the Bills would double up on DEs until they did it last year. And we wouldn’t think that the Bills are going to spend another high pick on LB until they draft Chad Muma (or Quay Walker or Troy Anderson) 57th overall.

They also were comfortable paying A.J. Klein big money to be their third linebacker, so they obviously value that spot as an injury replacement. Another sign then want to add one.

5. I think the Bills are seriously considering a first- or second-round cornerback, in spite of the past evidence.

Yes, I’m aware that the Bills have been happy to timeshare their CB2 spot with UDFAs, low-cost veterans, and a seventh-round pick. But I think now is the time for a high-cost investment. Why?

  • Tre’Davious White’s injury. The Bills would feel way more confident early on with at least one more talented player on the field, even if he takes some early sucker punches as he adjusts to the NFL.
  • The lack of roster depth. Besides White we have Dane Jackson and a bunch of UDFAs. We’ve been waiting for the late-spring Joe Haden signing and it still hasn’t happened. Something’s gotta give.
  • The known interest. We have confirmed meetings with both Washington CBs, Kaiir Elam, Andrew Booth Jr., and Roger McCreary. All are potential top-64 picks.
  • Tre’Davious White’s contract. It dovetails perfectly with a first-round pick: White is guaranteed to stick with the team for at least two, likely three years. In year four, he would be 30 and could be a cap casualty if his level of play had dropped. Or the Bills could extend him to save money. And in the meantime, that rookie would now be in year four of his rookie contract—still very affordable, and still in line for a big extension that triggers only after White becomes more affordable.

I’ve talked before about how I think Gardner, Stingley, Booth, and Gordon are all prototypes for the Bills. I think McDuffie and Elam are talented enough to qualify in spite of not hitting every size checkbox.

6. I think safety feels like a top-100 pick or no pick at all.

I do agree with the opinions shared by folks like Joe Buscaglia that the Bills could be (and should be) preparing for life without Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Both are over 30, Poyer’s contract is up soon, safety is very important in head coach Sean McDermott’s defense. That all makes sense.

I don’t think that Jaquan Johnson or Damar Hamlin are seen as the heir apparent at either position. But they’re very good role players who deserve to be part of the four-man safety and special teams depth chart for the near future.

So in my eyes, if the Bills decide to pull the trigger on a safety in this draft, I think they need to be scooping up one of the top talents in the class—one who would conceivably force his way up the depth chart before long.

That doesn’t have to be Kyle Hamilton, although he’s the best of the bunch.

But Daxton Hill, Lewis Cine, Jalen Pitre, Jaquan Brisker, Nick Cross—these players could be top-64 picks, the sweet spot may just be late in round one or round two, and if that’s the best player available, I get it. Especially if the team thinks they can play one of them (like Hill or Pitre) at outside cornerback in the short term, just to get him on the field.

7. I think trading up is way more likely than trading down.

I think this for two reasons: One, everyone is looking to trade down in this draft. The Bills, near but not at the end of their rounds, aren’t in a valuable place for teams who would want to trade up. So I think there aren’t takers if Buffalo tried trading down.

Two, the Bills are going to really struggle to have every draft pick make the roster. We saw Jack Anderson and Rachad Wildgoose poached last year. At some point, the smart move is to package a few picks to move up and get a slightly more talented player, knowing the players you lost aren’t going to land on the 53 in September.

8. I think Brandon Beane knows what he’s doing, and I’m thankful for it.

I’m glad I don’t have to experience the annual whiplash of Aaron Maybin, C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus, Stephon Gilmore, E.J. Manuel. Not to mention the assorted picks behind them. If there’s one thing the Buffalo Bills have, it’s a GM who leads the league in Moves That Make Sense.

Even though I’ve been skeptical of some of Beane’s picks (Josh Allen, A.J. Epenesa, Boogie Basham), he sure has a knack for finding players who pan out. Even in the late rounds. So whoever he picks, I’m going to start my evaluation from the perspective of “what can this player do well”—and that’s a luxury I’ll happily indulge in.

9. I think these are my draft crushes.

This has been a very busy year for me—a lot of life developments, a lot of new priorities. I have the college film, but watching it like I used to just isn’t an option. So I don’t know that I could truly do justice to the pre-draft analysis like I have in the past.

But in terms of draft crushes, those are 100% opinion based, and I’m willing to run with those even in lieu of rigorous analysis.

  • Isaiah Spiller is a natural at RB. He reminds me of Arian Foster with his smooth gait and vision. Not a burner, but the kind of player who’d have no problem rushing for 4.2 yards per carry.
  • Drake London gives me hope that we’ve found an heir apparent to the Mike Evans wideout template. The world needs more 6’4” receivers who are more than jump-ball targets.
  • Cam Jurgens is a phenomenal athlete at center and he really wants to bury you on his blocks. If he’s coached up, I think he’d be a top-ten center someday.
  • Jordan Davis. Freak talent, like Haloti Ngata. As long as he’s focused on football, he could have a few All-Pros in his career.
  • Sauce Gardner, one of the few sure things in a weak draft class. I hope he goes to a team that deserves him.

10. I think this is my shortlist for the first round.

My “big board” of ranked players for the Bills has already been published. Going into the draft here’s how I’d further narrow it down to ten possible names, on gut feeling:

  • Trading up: Sauce Gardner, Kyle Hamilton, or Derek Stingley
  • Staying put at 25: Breece Hall, Kyler Gordon, Trent McDuffie, Kaiir Elam, Daxton Hill, Lewis Cine, Zion Johnson
  • Gut feeling: Kyler Gordon or Breece Hall.