Bills Add Talent and Depth to Elite Roster
Updated: Feb 17
by Anthony D. Macari
When I was a teenager, I used to go toy shopping with my Dad for all the young kids in the family every Christmas. On the way to the store, we would think of a theme for the year meant to simultaneously bring the most joy to the kids, while simultaneously driving their parents nuts. Some of the themes were "loud, lots of pieces, huge and major assembly required, etc". I imagine Beane's approach to the draft these past few years is also meant to bring the most joy to BillsMafia and the coaches while causing opposing fans and coaches nightmares. Last year's theme was massive size. This year's theme is explosive athleticism. This common trait is coupled with leadership, character and competitiveness.
The Bills continue to add players to the roster that not only produce on the field, but who exhibit elite athletic traits for their relative size. In fact, all but one of their picks this year had an elite Relative Athletic Score (RAS):
The common athletic explosiveness of this draft class added to what is already an elite roster, gives the Bills coaches some new tools to deploy on both sides of the ball and on special teams. The defense gets two corners with quickness and ball awareness to help match up against the speed receivers they will face throughout the conference. If the Bills had one hole entering the draft, it was at corner where last year's starting CB2 departed in free agency and Tre'Davious White is recovering from knee surgery. Now the CB room adds youth and depth to keep the Bills secondary among the league's best pass defenses.
The defense also added talent at the second level, double dipping at Linebacker. Both Terrel Bernard and Baylon Spector share quickness and relentless motors to read and react against the run and pass. Bernard, who was projected to go lower than where the Bills selected him, is considered undersized but who's game compares to new teammate Matt Milano. His read and reaction skills racked up tackles and according to his NFL.com profile, scouts raved about his character and commitment. "If you don't like Bernard, then you don't like smart team leaders who can run. It's that simple." -- Scout for NFC team Bernard is versatile and can line up inside or outside and will also likely contribute on special teams. His versatility gives the Bills options to vary their lineup from their base 42 to employ some 43. Paired with Milano, the Bills D will have rare quickness to take away speedy receivers and help contain scrambling QBs, paired with both Milano and Edmunds, they will add more size than they have in their 42 package with Taron Johnson at Nickle to help counter power running teams and better match up against TE's. The free agent additions at DT, including 1 tech DaQuan Jones, are key to keeping the core backers clean to maximize their athleticism despite their less than average size for the position. Clemson Inside Linebacker, Spector, who Buffalo selected in the 7th round, was a team captain that was easy to spot on film because he was always around the ball. His fiery leadership is also easily identifiable. He, like Bernard will have to cut his teeth on special teams to earn an active spot on the roster, but he adds depth and competition to a unit that was not as deep as the others on the roster pre-draft.
In the 2nd and 5th Rounds, the Bills added two potent weapons to their impressive offensive arsenal. James Cook is a dynamic, game breaking back who offers the Bills a skill set unlike any previously on the roster. Like his brother Dalvin, he is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He has the flexibility to be used in the backfield, in the slot or split out wide as a receiver. With him in the backfield, the Bills can force defenses to pick their poison on committing to stop the run or pass. Paired with Josh Allen, and the host of receivers and TE's, the Bills can attack defenses at every level in a multitude of ways. Singletary will still be used in base packages, but now the Bills have a true change of pace back to keep opponents off balance. Khalil Shakir is the other offensive weapon added to the tool bag. He is a physical, quick receiver with Velcro hands. He was an absolute steal in the 5th round that can be used in the slot and may even potentially be used as a returner. Boise State got the ball in his hands in multiple ways including on Jet Sweeps, screens, out wide and in the slot. Shakir is a menace with the ball in his hands who can beat you with speed and quickness but thrives to use his physicality not shying away from contact. One area the Bills are looking to improve on offense is their run after catch average. Both Cook and Shakir will absolutely help in that area and are home run threats every time they touch the ball.
In the 6th round the Bills dipped into last year's theme and added a massive swing Tackle to compete for a depth spot on the roster. At 6'8", he will fit right into the Tackle room with Spencer Brown and Tommy Doyle, provided that room is really really big.
The cherry on top of this roster, is Matt Araiza, who posses a sledge hammer for a left foot. Araiza will instantly enter as one of the strongest legs in the league, capable of launching 60, 70 or even 80 yard punts. Never in the history of the league has a fan base been more excited by a Punter being drafted on day 3 of an NFL draft. He not only has a powerful leg, but posses elite athleticism and is capable of delivering the occasional knock out hit in coverage when needed. He will need to learn to hold for Field Goals, a skill not developed because he served the dual role of being the place kicker.
While this Bills draft class succeeded in adding pieces to an established roster, it could be questioned for taking a safe approach rather than swinging for the fence at some of the early selections. While Elam was the best player available at the Bills greatest position of need, I am not convinced he is substantially a better prospect than one that could have been selected on day two. His run support and aversion to contact is a legitimate knock when watching his game tape. One particular play sticks in mind against Georgia in 2021, where he had a clear path to the Georgia receiver who was streaking to the endzone, and he noticeably pulled up to avoid contact allow the receiver to score. It was not the only example of him staying back allowing his teammates to do the dirty work. The Bills then added Georgia running back, James Cook, who has the potential to play a key, albeit complimentary role in the backfield. His play-makaking ability has a chance to be electric in the Bills offense, but he is not going to be a feature, 3 down back at he next level. It is fair to wonder if the Bills would have been better off selecting Breece Hall, a true 3 down back who also would have possessed the potential to be an electric weapon in the Bills offense. Then they could have taken Cam Taylor-Britt in the second.
In total, the Bills have added key pieces to put a ribbon on what we all hope will be a championship roster. They posses no glaring holes and have a star studded roster led by MVP favorite, Josh Allen. The Bills take care to bring in high character athletes, who excel on and off the field, but also have fun playing the game of football. That joy and care for their profession comes through to the fan base, who desperately wants to see them succeed. From asking for a table to jump through, to the playbook to study on the plane on the way to their new home, these new Bills look the part of future champions.