Nate’s Notebook: Grading the 2019 Buffalo Bills Rookie Seasons
With the 2019 NFL season officially over for the Buffalo Bills, it’s time to take a look back all the way back to where it all started…the NFL Draft.
Coming off a 6-10 campaign in 2018, the Bills made overhauling the roster a priority. Those moves led to four more wins and a trip back to the playoffs. Buffalo made a total of eight selections in the draft, one in every round except the 4th and two in both the 3rd and 7th rounds. Let’s take a look back at those selections and see how they look six months later.
Round 1 – Ed Oliver
2019 Stats: 43 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks
In terms of value, Ed Oliver was an A+. Had he been eligible for the 2018 draft, he likely would have been a top-three pick. To get a dominant, pass-rushing defensive tackle at #9 was terrific value. Oliver improved consistently over the course of the season. When Harrison Phillips went down with an ACL injury early in the year, Oliver was called upon to play a high number of snaps. He tied for 3rd on the team with five sacks and was a consistent source of disruption in opponents’ backfields. Oliver has star potential and should grow into a Pro Bowler in the near future.
Round 2 – Cody Ford
2019 Stats: 15 starts
Cody Ford was another terrific value pick for the Bills at a position of need. Scouts disagreed on whether Ford would be a tackle or guard in the NFL, but he settled in nicely at RT for Buffalo. After getting part-time duty early on, Ford took over the right tackle spot for good in the second half of the season and played well for a rookie. He struggles with elite pass rushers and will need to improve his foot speed and technique this offseason. Rookie offensive linemen usually struggle to adapt to the speed of the NFL game, and, while Ford had his down moments, he also showed a great deal of potential. He should be a mainstay on the offensive line for the next few years.
Round 3 – Devin Singletary
2019 Stats: 151 carries, 775 yards (5.1 YPC), 29 rec, 194 yards, 4 Total TDs
Singletary was my favorite draft pick even before the start of the season, and he backed that up with stellar play throughout the year. Early in the season, he wasn’t getting many touches, though he was productive when he did touch the ball (10 carries, 127 yards through the first two weeks). Then came the injury that cost him a few games. When the calendar flipped to November, Singletary finally took over as the feature back. After never having more than seven carries in a game through the first two months of the season, Singletary only had less than 14 carries once in the 2nd half of the season. His 5.1 yards per carry was good for 5th in the league and he finished the season as the 3rd best rookie running back behind Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders.
Round 3 – Dawson Knox
2019 Stats: 28 rec, 388 yards, 2 TDs
Rookie tight ends rarely produce big numbers. Knox was no exception as he averaged less than two receptions per game. However, his numbers were good enough to make him the 3rd leading receiver on a 10-6 playoff squad. Considering that 1st round TEs TJ Hockenson (32 receptions) and Noah Fant (40 receptions) didn’t out produce Knox by all that much is a testament to how well Knox acquitted himself at a position that is traditionally unkind to rookies. He should continue to grow into an important weapon in the passing game. Oh, and he also went full Beast Mode on the Bengals for a huge 4th quarter catch in a Bills come from behind victory.
Round 5 – Vosean Joseph
2019 Stats: DNP, Injured Reserve
Unfortunately for Joseph, his season ended before it began. Joseph was placed on IR at the end of August with a shoulder injury and was lost for the season. He was expected to contribute depth to the linebacker position as well as play on special teams. Joseph should get an opportunity next season to secure a spot on the roster, and with Lorenzo Alexander riding off into the sunset, he will have a chance to stake his claim to a starting spot. Joseph had a reputation as a physical, hard-hitting linebacker coming out of Florida, and his development and health will be one of the bigger stories of the offseason for the Bills as they seek to replace Alexander’s production.
Round 6 – Jaquan Johnson
2019 Stats: 8 tackles
Week 17 was the first opportunity for Johnson to get meaningful snaps against another team’s starters. He played pretty well and even had an interception, though it ended up not counting because of a penalty. Johnson will be fighting for a spot on the two-deep next season in a deep and talented secondary in Buffalo.
Round 7 – Darryl Johnson
2019 Stats: 15 tackles, 1 sack
Johnson played in all 16 regular-season games, which is impressive for a defensive lineman drafted in the 7th round. His production was relatively low with just the lone sack, but with increased playing time in Week 17 while some starters rested, Johnson recorded five tackles. Johnson did not play in the Wild Card game and will have to fight for his roster spot again next season.
Round 7 – Tommy Sweeney
2019 Stats: 8 rec, 114 yards
Overshadowed by fellow rookie TE Dawson Knox, Sweeny was mainly used as a blocker. When he got his chance to start with Knox resting in Week 17, he made the most of it. Against the Jets in final regular-season game, Sweeny totaled 5 receptions for 73 yards and was PFF’s highest-rated TE for the week. He’ll continue to be a backup to Knox next season but Sweeny showed he has the potential to make an impact when called upon.
Overall Grade: A-
2019 was a heck of a draft class for Brandon Beane and the Bills. The top four picks (Oliver, Ford, Singletary, Knox) were all starters or regular contributors. All eight draft picks stuck on the roster with only Vosean Joseph failing to play in any games due to his injury. It’s not often that you see a team get production from this many rookies, especially one that went 10-6 and made the playoffs. The future is bright in Buffalo, and if the front office continues to hit on draft picks as they did in 2019, the Bills will have on the NFL’s best rosters in the near future.