BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Because of where the Bills are as an organization, this was a much different draft for general manager Brandon Beane than his previous three with Buffalo.
After finishing the season 13-3 and making it to the AFC title game, the Bills had the 30th overall pick, the lowest they’ve had since Beane took over as GM. Which is a good thing, a very good thing. It means they made a deep playoff run but that also means fans have to tamper their expectations for this pick and this draft as a whole.
In Beane’s first season as general manager in 2018, the Bills had the 12th overall pick (traded up to 7 to get Josh Allen). In 2019 they had the 9th overall pick (drafted Ed Oliver) and in 2020 they had the 22nd overall pick (traded to Minnesota as part of the Stefon Diggs deal).
When it came time for the 30th overall pick this year, the Bills drafted defensive end Greg Rousseau out of Miami, a player that doesn’t have the pressure to make an immediate impact. This is part the Bills long-term plans.
“We do believe in being stout up front on both sides of the ball. That’s something that you’re gonna see here as long as Sean [McDermott] and I are running this thing. We’re in sync on that,” Beane said in his draft wrap up zoom call on Saturday.
The Bills then took another defensive end in the second-round with Carlos “Boogie” Basham out of Wake Forest. Of the Bills eight draft picks, five of them are linemen with Rousseau, Basham, Spencer Brown, Tommy Doyle and Jack Anderson.
“The game’s still won and lost up front. We want to be strong there,” Beane said.
“As we went down we started going for some need spots corner, returner, safety but again even our last pick Jack [Anderson] was the highest guy on our board and there was nothing else sticking out that we said man this guy’s definitely going to make our roster.”
Beane has emphasized his style of drafting as taking the best player available rather than drafting for need and that rang true once again. And because of how they’ve built this roster and the guys they have returning, they can afford to do that. While it seems like these players are long-term, big picture focused, some of them could see playing time come the fall.
“I think we’ve got guys that are going to be part of the equation in 2021. Greg Rousseau, Carlos Basham, you know we’ve talked about how we rotate our D-linemen, I’m not gonna promise either one of them a starting job but they’re gonna have an opportunity to start. I expect them to be part of the game day rotation of our crew,” Beane explained.
Sure, there are some positions the Bills could use help at, which had some scratching their heads as to why those needs weren’t addressed. I was surprised they didn’t take a cornerback earlier than they did. It shows Beane is staying true to his drafting philosophy but also showing faith in the guys they have.
Running back was also a position talked about heading into the draft since running the ball was a weakness for this offense last year. But to me, it seemed like Travis Etienne or bust and when Jacksonville took him 25th overall, there weren’t any left the Bills liked more than who they selected That’s how it seems, anyway.
“Obviously there were some really good skill players that we had in good positions but we either had some of these linemen over them or they went before we could get them. We followed the board,” Beane said.
At the end of last season, Beane also stressed the importance of improving their pass rush that ranked 15th with 38 sacks and 20th with 143 quarterback pressures. That need for a boost was evident in the AFC championship game where they could not make Patrick Mahomes uncomfortable.
And with Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison about to be 33 and 34 when the season starts and on the final years of their contracts, a youth movement is needed at the position. But for now, those are the starters and guys like Rousseau and Basham can not only learn from them but possibility get in the mix with their versatility as well to play both on the edge and inside.
“I think some of these moves are long-term but there’s a lot that should have a short-term impact on this 21 season,” Beane explained.
When it comes to the offensive line, it’s a different situation. The Bills have all of their starters back so these draft picks are about depth and future thinking.
“Spencer Brown he’ll come in there, you know he’ll compete with the guys, I’m not saying he’s gonna win a starting job but he’s an injury away from being in the game and that happens, especially at offensive line. We wanted to make sure should something happen to Dion [Dawkins] or Daryl [Williams] that we have a guy that can step in and protect number 17 and block for those running backs,” Beane said.
The bottom line is while it’s not the sexiest draft for the Bills, it’s a good “problem” to have. It means they’re progressing as an organization not needing to draft players who can be day one starters because that means that means there aren’t as many holes to fill.
“We didn’t go into this draft and say hey we just want to draft for the future. We wanted as many impact players this year as we can it’s just it’s harder. We brought back a lot of our guys that started and played a lot of minutes for us on this team that went to the AFC championship. So I think it’s just where we are, it’s harder to crack the roster, which is what I want,” Beane said.
Plus, when it comes to the contracts they have coming up, particularly Josh Allen’s massive deal looming, that plays into some of these picks as well.
“The other part of that is after what they can do this year is who will be coming off the books next year or who are we not going to be able to afford? Who’s a free agent that we’re man I don’t know if I can afford the guy so let’s make sure we have something in the pipeline either in free agency that we did earlier or now in the draft,” Beane explained.
Heather Prusak is a sports reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2020. See more of her work here.