BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Last season the Bills got big contributions from some of their rookies and they’re relying on them once again heading into 2020.
Here’s a closer look at what to expect from each of the Bills’ 2019 draft picks and an overview of their rookie seasons:
Ed Oliver looks ready for a breakout season. The Bills 9th overall pick out of Houston from a year ago had a slow start to his rookie season. He eventually lost the starting job to Jordan Phillips but Oliver picked up his game as the year went on.
He really flashed and showed more of what most expected of him midway through the season. His best game of the year game in his home state against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving.
Oliver ended his rookie season with 5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, 8 quarterback hits and 2 forced fumbles. But he also played through injury that required core muscle surgery in the offseason although he never missed time because of it.
Assuming he is 100%, I expect big thing from Oliver this season. With Phillips gone, he should reclaim the starting job next to Star Lotulelei.
A big question for Cody Ford is can he lock up that starting right tackle job after splitting time with Ty Nsekhe.
The second round pick out of Oklahoma had an up and down rookie season. He started 15 games and showed strong run blocking and pass protection but had moments where he struggled against speedy edge rushers.
Now he only started 14 career games in college at right tackle so some growing pains were to be expected. Ford also wasn’t always 100% healthy during the season either. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason. But he seems like he recovered and is ready for training camp and looking to make that jump in year two with and play with more consistency.
The Bills are hoping Ford can develop into that top tier starting right tackle and not have to move him back inside because that would leave a big hole at the position. Nsekhe is turning 35 in October and first best in that swing tackle role.
With a year under his belt and plenty of experience from his rookie season, I’d expect Ford to take that next step especially now healthy and claim the starting right tackle job.
With the starting job locked up, Devin Singletary should pick up right where he left off last year. The third round pick out of Florida Atlantic rushed for 775 yards and two touchdowns on 152 carries last year. His 5.1 yards per carry were also tied for 5th in the league.
Singletary missed three games with a hamstring injury but after recovering, he proved he can be the Bills lead back. He is elusive, has great vision and showed off his quick, shifty make guys miss style of running.
Even though he wasn’t used much in the passing game in college, he got involved more last year ending with 29 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of it this year.
Now Singletary should get majority of touches but he will share reps with this year’s third round pick, Zack Moss. How they’ll split time is something to watch during training camp.
But looking ahead to his sophomore season, expect Singletary to be even better in 2020.
Dawson Knox showed flashes of impressive play making ability in his rookie season and got opportunities while Tyler Kroft was hurt.
The third round pick out of Ole Miss led the Bills tight ends with 28 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns. Fan remember plays like Knox stiff arming a Bengals defender then running over another right after for a monster play.
He also had some highlight reel catches throughout the season. He’s a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses with his size and power after catch. As shown on that play against Cincinnati, he’s tough to bring down and showed his ability to extend plays after catch.
But he lacked consistency. There are things he must clean up heading into his sophomore season to make an even bigger impact. Knox struggled with drops last year and that’s a big area he needs to fix.
If he can make that jump heading into year two and with the addition of Stefon Diggs, there’s opportunities for Josh Allen to get his tight ends even more involved in the passing game and that bodes well for Knox looking to lead this group once again.
Vosean Joseph is kind of a question mark for the Bills right now. The 5th round pick out of Florida missed his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury he suffered in last year’s final preseason game.
The Bills placed him on injured reserve before the 53 man roster cut down. Joseph then had surgery in early September.
He’s a speedy linebacker and showed his ability to blow up ball carries in the backfield in college. But it’s tough to evaluate him right now given the limited snaps he saw in the preseason. The Bills don’t have much tape on him so they’ll have to go off of what they see this training camp since it doesn’t look like there will be preseason games.
It’ll likely come down to Joseph fighting for a roster spot with Corey Thompson and Tyrel Dodson. If the Bills do cut him, I could see him landing a spot on the practice squad instead.
It was Darryl Johnson’s impressive training camp and preseason last year that earned him a spot on the 53-man roster in his rookie season.
The 7th round pick out of North Carolina A&T flashed early on. He averaged 20 defensive snaps through the first 8 weeks of the season as their fourth defensive end.
The drastically decreased as he struggled, only playing 24 defensive snaps the next 8 games. But as his inexperience was exposed, he made up for it on special teams playing a big role in their kickoff coverage unit.
Now the Bills invested a lot in their defensive line adding even more veteran talent that Johnson will have to beat out. He has his work cut out for him going into his sophomore season. Johnson has that raw talent that needs time to develop. But the upside is his youth and athleticism.
Not to mention his contributions on special teams will be another thing in his favor. I could see this going one of two ways, either the Bills cut him and he ends up on their practice squad or they end up cutting a guy like Trent Murphy who has nearly a 10 million dollar cap hit and that would open the door for Johnson once again.
Either way, he’s an interesting playing to watch this camp.
Even though he didn’t see the field much last year, Tommy Sweeney showed promise and made the most of the opportunities he did get. The 7th round pick out of Boston College ended his rookie season with 8 catches for 114 yards in the 6 games he played.
He was inactive majority of the year but did play the first 5 games while Tyler Kroft was hurt. His biggest game was the Bills regular season finale, although meaningless since they already locked up their playoff spot, but still he had 5 catches against the Jets.
So looking ahead to this year, Sweeney’s going to be battling for that third tight end spot with veteran Lee Smith. I know how much the Bills love Smith, he’s a solid blocker and brings that leadership aspect but Sweeney is younger and he could develop into that blocking tight end role.
If they do only keep three tight ends, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sweeney slides into that role barring any kind of set back or mishaps during training camp.