The draft is over, and the players have made their way onto the Buffalo Bills. Every new player has been signed to the roster on their shiny new rookie deals. With such an influx of talent, on such a strong roster, there are questions and concerns for all these young draft picks. We like to look on the bright side of things, so here’s one reason for optimism about every draft pick.
Kaiir Elam: A CB with Speed
We start with the easy one. Kaiir Elam is an athletic, lengthy cornerback who has the elite speed our secondary needs. That speed is far from the only reason for optimism, but it’s one that we can focus on. The AFC is now absolutely stacked with powerhouse quarterbacks and speedy receivers. Tyreek Hill is now a division rival, having joined the Miami Dolphins, and he’s one of many playmakers we need to be able to catch. Kaiir’s speed will keep him on the field consistently, and in front of the offense. Even if he suffers from some growing pains, he’ll contribute early on.
If you actually needed to look further, Elam’s dedication to honing his craft — which is visible throughout the pre-draft process — should satisfy you. His work ethic seems unmatched, and will be a boon for this team in both the short and long term. His notes whilst playing at Florida were ‘notable’, and a clear sign of his commitment.
James Cook: A Safety Valve for Josh Allen
The running back out of Georgia isn’t a conventional one. As a receiving back, he had the softest hands in the draft for his position. In an offense where the top rusher has been our quarterback, we need to find a way to keep him safe.
Enter James Cook. On passing plays, where things break down, we could expect to see Cook handle checkdowns and dump-offs, keeping Allen’s body intact. The security of our quarterback is the priority for this franchise over the foreseeable future. Cook’s presence on the field can keep Allen upright, and extend our Super Bowl window.
Terrel Bernard: LB3 Upgrade
This was the first pick that had people asking questions. How does another linebacker fit into our defense, especially when we play so much nickel? The Buffalo Bills defense typically only features two linebackers, and we can’t expect Bernard to replace either of them this season.
Here’s a reason for optimism. The focus of this franchise has been to diversify the the kinds of plays we can run, and Bernard is a significant upgrade on the former LB3 in this unit. We now have the option to more effectively run a base 4-3 defense, combatting run games and tight ends when needed. These were both areas of weakness for us in 2021 and, with them addressed, we can expect an improvement. Bernard is a great coverage LB, and would allow us to spread our defense, and improve our size, without losing the ability to disrupt the pass.
Khalil Shakir: YAC
Brandon Beane was going to select Khalil Shakir in the fourth round, if he still had his pick. Somehow, this streaky receiver fell to us in the beginning of round five, and we traded up to get him. There were plenty of justified questions about our receiver depth, not just for 2022, but for the future. Consider them answered, in part, with this selection.
Shakir has excellent YAC ability, which has been a point of focus for Josh Allen and the offense this offseason. He’s a menace with the ball in his hands, and will have an opportunity to play regularly, fighting for the starting slot receiver position. In an offense that was one of the league-worst in yards after the catch in 2021, Khalil will get his chances. Optimism doesn’t quite describe it.
Matt Araiza: Punt God Go Boom
This one is obvious. Araiza had the strongest leg of any punting prospect in recent memory. He needs some refining, and has already started to learn how to hold for field goals and PATs. Still, one those rare situations where the offense stalls out and the special teams unit is required to make a play, they have the man for the job. That big leg could be a game-changer, when we really need it.
Christian Benford: Positional Versatility (DB & ST)
At this point in the draft, roster spots are no longer guarantees. Benford will have to fight tooth and nail to make the team, but he has an edge. With the questions at safety for this Buffalo Bills secondary, Beane picked up an athlete with a comparable skillset. It would take some work, but there’s optimism that Benford could be an ideal special teams contributor with the potential to evolve into a starting safety.
Luke Tenuta: Swing Tackle
Buffalo has their starting tackle spots locked down, and a solid backup option in Tommy Doyle. Why get Tenuta? There’s one reason above all others: He’s played both sides. Luke Tenuta has played effectively at both the left and right side, making him a workable backup in case of emergency on game day.
Baylon Spector: Great Instincts
Spector has good coverage skills, able to play all the way to the boundary. That’s not why we should be optimistic. His instincts are excellent, and allow him to play past his size. Very different from Tremaine Edmunds, Spector is undersized, but he has the mental capability to overcome that in a mike linebacker role.