So what do we conclude from the Bills’ 2021 draft and subsequent free agent signings?
For one, general manager Brandon Beane was telling the truth when, after Buffalo lost the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City last January, he cited the need for getting more pressure on the Chiefs’ elite quarterback, Patrick Mahomes.
Sure enough, while the Bills ignored the position during veteran free agency – partially because of a lack of quality but mostly for financial considerations – they threw themselves into seeking defensive ends/edge rushers in the draft.
As in the first two selections.
None of Buffalo’s 13 acquisitions – eight draftees, five undrafted free agents – between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon is likely to become a first-year starter.
However, given the way head coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier rotate linemen, it’s fair to say ends Greg Rousseau and Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr., taken in the first and second rounds, respectively, will see their share of playing time.
THE NEXT two picks – both offensive tackles – were more curious.
Spencer Brown of Northern Iowa, taken in the third round, and Miami (Ohio)’s Tommy Doyle, tabbed in the fifth, was unexpected. Starters Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams (ages 27 and 29) each signed new contracts for four and three years, respectively.
Granted, the Bills had only one backup tackle, Ryan Bates, given the surprise retirement of practice-squader Trey Adams and the exit of Ty Neskhe in free agency. But taking two so early in the draft spoke to Beane’s concern about the position should either Dawkins or Williams go down with an injury.
Of dedicating Buffalo’s first four draft picks to linemen, Beane maintained, “The game is won and lost up front and we want to be strong there. Our goal is to protect (QB) Josh Allen and get after the opposing quarterback.”
THE BILLS hierarchy was honest about the team’s satisfaction with running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss, despite their less-than-stellar combined performance in 2020.
The position was ignored in the draft, though some highly-regarded backs were available.
“We were never targeting a running back,” Beane said. “We’re very committed to the guys we have. There were (backs) we thought were good but we had other priorities.”
Cornerback, also seen as a position of need, got two late additions in sixth rounder Rachad Wildgoose (Wisconsin) and free agent Nick McCloud (Notre Dame).
Of the Bills’ 13 acquisitions (8 draftees, 5 undrafted free agents), four were offensive linemen (3 tackles and a guard), two each defensive ends, wide receivers, cornerbacks and safeties plus one tight end.
Beane also pulled off a rarity in trading down, sending Buffalo’s second fifth-rounder to Houston for two sixth-rounders giving the Bills three in that round.
“There were a decent amount of positions where we had similar grades,” he said. “I was trying to get as many guys (as possible) because as your roster gets deeper to where ours is, it becomes harder to recruit (premium undrafted free agents). Agents are looking at what’s the best chance for my player to make a 53(-man roster).
“We had a number of guys in that fifth-, sixth-round range that I felt, let’s get as many picks as we can.”
Beane explained that with Covid-19 giving players another year of collegiate eligibility, the pool of premium undrafted free agents was reduced and the only way a team in the NFL’s elite could be assured of getting a player was to draft him.
But he added, “We followed our board (though) as we went down (to later rounds) we went for some need spots, cornerback (Wildgoose), returner (Houston’s Marquez Stevenson) and safety (Pitt’s Damar Hamlin), but even our last pick Jack (Anderson, Texas Tech guard) was the highest player on our board.”
THE CLICHE about taking the “best player available” was actually a true luxury for the Bills this year.
And Beane admitted as much.
“We didn’t go into this draft, and say ‘We just want to draft for the future,’” he said in a Zoom call after Buffalo’s picks. “We wanted as many impact players as we could get.
“It’s just that we brought back a lot of our guys that started and played a lot of minutes for us on a team that went to the AFC Championship.”
He added, “Where we are, it’s hard to crack the lineup and harder to make the roster … and I want it to continue that way. But I think we got guys (in the draft) that are going to be part of the equation in 2021.”
Beane did concede that Rousseau and Basham have the best chance to see action.
“We rotate our D-linemen … I’m not going to promise either of them a starting job, but they’re going to have an opportunity to start and I expect them to be part of the game-day rotation,” he admitted.
Of course, the Bills’ success this past season produced the latest first-round draft pick in franchise history at No. 30.
“As painful as it is to draft in the 30s,” Beane said of the necessity to make the conference championship game to choose that low, “I would love to sign up for any year we can do that.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)