Nate’s Notebook: Buffalo Bills Draft Grades … and a few other thoughts

The NFL, Roger Goodell, ESPN, and NFL Network deserve a lot of praise for what they pulled off with this draft. It seemingly went off without a hitch, and as viewers, we even had a chance to get a glimpse into the lives of NFL coaches and GMs.

It was refreshing to see them making their selections with their sons and daughters in the room and families high-fiving after a draft choice was made. It was cool to see them with their living room draft boards and marking names in highlighter, just like you and I do in our fantasy drafts. Well done, NFL. 

Now for the draft grades for the Buffalo Bills…

Round 1

Stefon Diggs (for a 1st, 4th and 5th round picks)

It’s impossible to grade the Bills’ draft without taking the blockbuster trade for Stefon Diggs into the equation. In surrendering the 22nd overall pick, had the Bills stood pat, they could have selected a WR like Justin Jefferson (LSU), Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona St.), or Tee Higgins (Clemson). All of the top running backs were available. We’ll have to wait to see how these young guys develop before we know if the Bills missed a chance at a great player or if they were smart to get a proven player like Diggs when they had a chance. The price was expensive but there’s no doubt it filled the Bills’ biggest offensive need for the 2020 season. 

Grade: B+

Round 2

A.J. Epenesa (DE), Iowa

One of the best picks of the entire draft. At the start of the 2019 college football season, Epenesa was widely viewed as a top 10 pick. While he didn’t dominate like many thought he would, he still had 11.5 sacks in 13 games for the Hawkeyes. Some poor testing numbers at the combine dropped Epenesa out of the first round. Still, it was a shock to see him still on the board at 54. 

Epenesa brings outstanding size (6’6″, 280 lbs), power, and technique to the DE position. While he’s not a dominant sack artist like Chase Young, he is a productive pass rusher in his own right. Epenesa has great hands and he makes up for his lack of elite athleticism by being technically sound and playing with a high motor. He should fit nicely on an already strong Buffalo defensive line as a well-rounded DE who plays well against the run and the pass. 

Here’s Epenesa dominating Austin Jackson in the Holiday Bowl. Yes, the same Austin Jackson who was picked #18 overall by the Dolphins. AJ ate his lunch. 

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Bills second-round pick (54) DE AJ Epenesa matched up with #Dolphins first-round pick (18) OT Austin Jackson in the 2019 Holiday Bowl.Epenesa finished with 3 sacks and a forced fumble. #NFLDraft2020 pic.twitter.com/Ta7Fa6cQ8E

Grade: A+

Round 3

Zack Moss (RB), Utah

Here is another good value pick for Brandon Beane. Moss slipped behind a couple of backs that I think he’s better than like AJ Dillon and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. He’s a perfect complement to Devin Singletary. Moss (5’9″, 223 lbs) is a thick, strong runner who’s tough to bring down on first contact and always churns out extra yards. He should be a better version of what Frank Gore was supposed to be in 2019. Moss was Utah’s all-time leading rusher and ran for 1,416 yards and 17 total TDs this past season. He doesn’t have breakaway speed but he brings tremendous balance, good vision, and toughness to the position.

Grade: A-

Round 4

Gabriel Davis (WR), Central Florida

The Bills take advantage of a deep WR class by selecting Davis, a 1st Team All-AAC receiver from UCF. Davis fits the mold of what the Bills are looking for in receivers this offseason: big and strong. At 6’3″, 212 lbs, Davis is a downfield threat who uses great body control and exceptional hands to make an impact. He’s not a burner (ran 4.54 at the combine) and may struggle to create separation at the NFL level. Still, this is a guy who got better each year, culminating in a junior season where Davis records 1,241 yards at over 17 yards per catch. He has upside as a #3/4 receiver in the NFL. Good value in the 4th round.

Grade: B+

Round 5

Jake Fromm (QB), Georgia

I get the rationale to take the free-falling Georgia QB, but I don’t love the player or the pick. Fromm has a good chance to develop into a solid backup quarterback but little chance to ever develop into a top-flight player at the next level. Fromm was always good at Georgia but never great. He’s intelligent and accurate as a passer, but he lacks arm strength and isn’t a great athlete. If I’m taking a late-round flier on a QB, I’m selecting a guy who has boom or bust potential. I would have preferred to see this pick spent on an offensive lineman.

Grade: C+

Round 6

Tyler Bass (K), Georgia Southern

I did not like this selection. If I’m spending a draft pick on a kicker, I need to be convinced that he is a special player. Bass might turn out to be a pretty good kicker, but it’s no sure thing he even makes the roster. Bass is known for his big leg, though it’s been more evident on kickoffs than FGs. He’s made a lot of FGs over the past few seasons, but at less than an 80% success rate. At this spot, I would have loved to see the Bills take an underrated WR like James Proche (SMU), a solid all-around safety like Jordan Fuller (Ohio State), or an All-Big Ten OL like Jon Runyan Jr., who can play guard or tackle. There was better value here than a kicker.

Grade: D+

Round 6

Isaiah Hodgins (WR), Oregon State

Another big-bodied, productive receiver. Like Gabriel Davis, Hodgins is a tall WR with great hands and body control. He’s not a home run threat (4.61 in the 40) and isn’t overly dangerous with the ball in his hands. It’s clear the Bills had an agenda with the receiver position this offseason with Diggs, Davis, and Hodgins: get bigger. 

Hodgins was a breakout performer in the Pac 12 in 2019 with 86 catches for 1,171 yards and 13 TDs. After a couple of head-scratching picks, Beane gets back to form with a great value, low risk, high reward pick. 

Grade: B+

Round 7

Dane Jackson (CB), Pitt

With their final pick of the 2020 draft, the Bills found a decent value in Dane Jackson. He’s a tough kid that very much fits the style the Bills want to play. He doesn’t have great speed or ball skills which limits his ceiling, but he’s a sure tackler who may find a way to carve out a role as a nickel corner. I think LaVert Hill (CB from Michigan) is a better player with superior cover skills and would have been a home run at this spot. Still, Jackson is a good player and I like the pick.

Grade: B

Overall Grade: B+

Another year, another solid draft for Buffalo. While I wasn’t a fan of the Fromm or Bass picks, they were more than offset by the grand slam they hit with Epenesa and really solid selections like Moss, Davis, and Hodgins. When you factor in the trade for Stefon Diggs, there’s no doubt the Bills used their draft picks to address their biggest needs and on paper. They appear to be a better team than they were in January. 

Around the League

Three Draft Picks I Love:

Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB), Chiefs (1st) 

Some may consider this a reach with all the running backs still on the board, but this pick was all about fit. Edwards-Helaire was the draft’s premier receiving running back, and he fits Andy Reid’s system to a T. You’re going to see him put up monster numbers in K.C., just like Kareem Hunt did a few years ago. 

J.K. Dobbins (RB), Ravens (2nd)

Dobbins is the best runner in the draft. He’ll be joining a backfield with Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, and that league-best rushing attack in Baltimore just got a whole lot better. John Harbaugh and company seem to find unbelievable value every year.

Zack Baun (OLB), Saints (3rd)

Baun is a borderline first-round talent that Sean Payton had dropped in his lap in the middle of the third round. He’s a relentless pass rusher and a solid run defender. A bit of a tweener, which is probably why he dropped, but Baun is one of those guys that will have GMs kicking themselves for passing on in the years to come. 

Three Draft Picks I Hate:

Damon Arnette (CB), Raiders (1st)

The Raiders did some good things in this draft. This was not one of them. Arnette is a borderline 2nd/3rd rounder and Jon Gruden took him at #19 overall. It left me speechless. K’Lavon Chaisson, Kenneth Murray, and Cesar Ruiz were all available and fit a need, and you still could have gotten Arnette in the 2nd in all likelihood. This was the head-scratcher to beat all head-scratchers. 

Jordan Love (QB), Packers (1st)

Uhh. Okay? You’re one game away from the Super Bowl in 2019. You have one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. You have a 3-4 year window with Rodgers where you could realistically win a title. You’re short on receiver talent in the most receiver-rich draft ever. And you draft a quarterback. Not just that, you TRADE UP to draft a quarterback. A quarterback who led the FBS in interceptions last season. I don’t get this pick one bit.

Van Jefferson (WR), Rams (2nd)

I like Jefferson as a player, and I think he could be a decent pro. What I hate about this pick is what the Rams reached for when there was a clearly superior talent sitting there for them. Jefferson was projected as a 4th round pick, so he was a reach here. The Rams could have hit it out of the park here by taking Denzel Mims from Baylor. Mims is big (6’3), blazing fast (4.38 forty), and productive (1,020 yards, 12 TDs in 2019). I liked Mims as a late first, early second guy. I had him higher than Tee Higgins, Michael Pittman, and KJ Hamler, all of whom went before him. The Rams are going to regret passing on Mims. 

All right, #BillsMafia, let’s hear your thoughts on these draft grades!

Comment below!