Exhale, Bills Mafia. After many exhausting hours of preparing for the NFL Draft, the Bills front office, our staff at Buffalo Fanatics, and you – the fans – can all sleep better at night as we now have a better idea of what the 2022 Buffalo Bills roster will look like. To me, this is one of, if not the most, complete rosters in the league.
Sure, there will be additional moves as the Bills continue to fill out their roster (GM Brandon Beane said today on One Bills Live that they have 84 out of the 90 roster spots filled), but we are now out of the thick of the offseason (in terms of free agency and the draft). We can finally start formulating accurate depth charts while taking a look at who may be starting week one, which is less than 19 weeks away!
I am really happy with how this draft turned out. The Bills draft and my final mock draft that I published last week ended up being extremely similar. I mocked three players correctly (James Cook, Terrel Bernard, and Matt Araiza) while also correctly mocking all eight positions that the Bills drafted. I had a couple of different positions going in different rounds, but the Bills still addressed the same eight positions. (The only difference was they drafted a cornerback in round six, not a safety. However, since Christian Benford can play both positions and considering I predicted a second DB going in round six, I think it still counts.)
As satisfied as I am that GM Brandon Beane and his staff were looking at the same numbers, stats and film that I was over these last few months, the real reason why I love this draft is because the Bills added speed, athleticism, versatility and YAC (yards after the catch).
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Buffalo Bills Town Hall yesterday at the Fieldhouse, and that was the main thing I took away from what Beane, Assistant Director of Player Personnel Terrance Gray, and Senior Personnel Advisor Brian Gaine told the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of club season ticket holders in attendance. Every player that they drafted this weekend not only have the physical traits (speed, athleticism, versatility, and YAC ability), but the intangible traits as well. They are guys that fit into our culture here in Buffalo.
Beane, Gray, and Gaine came out on the stage a little after 1 pm to answer questions about the draft, first from Maddy Glab, Bills multimedia journalist and event MC, and then from the fans. The Bills also put out a large spread of foods and drinks before the event started, so it was a great experience all-in-all.
Here’s a recap of what they said about the newest Buffalo Bills.
CB Kaiir Elam
Elam is a perfect example of what I was describing a couple of paragraphs ago. He played more man coverage than zone in college at Florida. However, based on what I heard in Beane’s press conferences and during the Town Hall, the Bills are very confident his athleticism, physical traits, and profile will transition smoothly into the NFL and that he will become one of the best corners in the league alongside Tre’Davious White. Beane also said yesterday that they are still very confident in the other guys in the CB room, such as Dane Jackson and Cam Lewis. Elam is going to have to earn that CB2 job.
Here is his physical profile which makes him such an enticing pick.
On top of that, Elam’s work ethic, dedication and willingness to learn scream Buffalo Bills, as seen in this video.
RB James Cook
This is probably my favorite draft pick as Cook was my first draft crush. The Bills needed to improve their running game, but had to be careful with how they went about it. I didn’t want them to draft a bell-cow back and then change the dynamic of their offense to accommodate it. I wanted someone who could step in and add another element to the passing game. That’s what makes Cook so appealing. In his four years at Georgia, he always split backfield duties, so he’s not a guy who’s going to demand 20-25 handoffs a game. Rather, you can give him 5-10 carries and 8-10 targets in the passing game, great for PPR fantasy leagues. Ironically enough, he has been training all offseason with his brother, Dalvin, and with Devin Singletary in Florida.
As Beane has previously mentioned, Cook’s ability to line up as a receiver and make plays with the ball in his hands make him a very appealing offensive weapon. For as much as some Bills fans wanted Breece Hall, who was known for his contact balance, Cook finished with more yards after contact.
On top of that, he averaged an impressive 10.9 ypc (yards per catch) during his college career. So basically, the Bills got a younger and possibly better J.D. McKissic.
For what it’s worth, here’s how his RAS (relative athletic score) compared to his brother’s.
LB Terrel Bernard
Bernard is another guy who is regarded as super athletic. His 8.88 RAS score ranked 271st out of 2,419 linebackers from 1987-2022. Bernard is a great cover linebacker, as you can see from this stat.
Bernard looks and plays a lot like Matt Milano, someone who he’s modeled his game after. However, the Bills play a nickel defense. They only have two linebackers on the field at all times: Milano and Tremaine Edmunds. So where does that leave Bernard? Could he potentially replace Edmunds if the Bills can’t re-sign him next offseason? On the surface, it seems like a no as Bernard doesn’t have the build to be a middle linebacker. However, Gaine discussed his potential inside-outside versatility at the Town Hall, echoing Beane’s remarks from Saturday’s video press conference.
“He’s going to be undersized. He’s not going to be your prototype size. If he’s playing Mike, he’s going to be the opposite of what Tremaine looks like inside, but we do think he can do both. We like his versatility, super instinctive.”Brandon Beane on Terrel Bernard’s positional versatility
WR Khalil Shakir
The Bills got a fifth-round steal in Khalil Shakir. Beane said at the Town Hall that they would’ve taken Shakir at 130 if they didn’t trade it to Baltimore. I know they had to trade back up to get him, but being able to still get him in the early part of round five is a great job by Beane and his staff.
I, like most Bills fans, was wondering how the Bills are planning on using Shakir, but Beane told us yesterday that he can play inside as a slot receiver or as an outside receiver. I’ve been calling that role WR3, but Beane calls it WR4, meaning that player has inside-outside versatility and is the first backup to come off the bench. (I would assume that Jamison Crowder is considered WR3 then.) So, for this year, Shakir can be the vertical deep threat while Crowder and McKenzie work in the slot. Then Shakir can eventually take over as the team’s slot receiver (if the Bills choose to go that route). He and McKenzie can also be the jack-of-all-trades receivers… having this much talent and versatility is a good problem to have.
Shakir’s 92.0 career PFF grade was the highest among all wide receivers in this draft, in large part due to the many ways that Boise State used him.
P Matt Araiza
You’re probably thinking there’s no way I’m about to say that a punter is very athletic and versatile, right? Well, not only can Araiza boom 85-yard punts, he can also kick field goals, place kick, and he isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder after the return. One of the concerns with Araiza is he’s never held for field goals before, something that Beane said P Matt Haack is elite at. However, Araiza said in his press conference that, even though he’s never done it in a game before, he’s been working on it right along with other professional punters.
Araiza set an NCAA single-season record by averaging a whopping 51.2 yards per attempt in 2021 and scored a 9.49 on the RAS chart, which ranked 10th out of 175 punters since 1987. The “Punt God” surprisingly fell to Buffalo with the first pick of the sixth round as he was the third punter taken off the board. (Which by the way, we may have to come up with another nickname for him.)
CB Christian Benford
As previously mentioned, Benford is listed as a corner but can play safety and nickel. Beane said – and Gaine reiterated – that they will start him at corner because it’s easier to move back than it is up in the defensive backfield. Benford is yet another athletic, versatile draft pick; he is described as a big, physical corner with tremendous ball skills. Last season, quarterbacks had a 25.2 passer rating when targeting Benford in coverage. I see Benford as someone who will challenge guys like Cam Lewis and Nick McCloud for the fourth outside corner spot.
OT Luke Tenuta
Tenuta is another guy that wasn’t on a lot of draft boards, but he has a lot of upside. While there are questions about his athleticism (when comparing his combine and pro day results), he still offers some versatility. Beane told us yesterday that he’s a swing tackle, meaning he can play left or right tackle. Beane also reiterated yesterday that Tenuta has to work on getting leverage, as a lot of NFL edge rushers will go low when rushing the quarterback. Tenuta has to make sure he can get under his blocks and then work his way up. In 2021, he had a career best 80.1 pass block grade, according to PFF.
LB Baylon Spector
Spector is another athletic and versatile linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. He actually recorded the highest RAS score out of the eight draft picks, even though he was the lowest draft pick. On the surface, it looks like the Bills have two A.J. Klein replacements, but Beane said that Spector can also play inside.
Oddly enough, Spector will wear Klein’s number 54 this season, as the team announced this afternoon. Gray told the fans in attendance yesterday that they were somewhat familiar with Spector, as one of their scouts played college football with his dad.
One final note from the Bills Town Hall… Beane, Gray, and Gaine told the fans that they start the draft process with 400 players on their board at the conclusion of the college season. After the combine and pre-draft visits, they cut that list in half down to 200. Then, in the weeks leading up to the draft, they narrow their big board down to approximately 125 players that fit the Buffalo Bills.
I would say they did great with the eight players they picked out of the 125 they were looking at. They filled five holes with their first five picks and then added some valuable depth with their last three. And of course, the speed, athleticism and versatility that they added should definitely be a huge benefit.
Here is the complete list of their draft RAS scores, which ranked 13th in the league (and this doesn’t even include Tenuta’s improved score).