The NFL draft was finished just over a week ago, and we have had several days to sit back and really analyze who the Buffalo Bills drafted and how they may impact the team in their first year. During the draft, the Bills added eight players, most of which came on day three. The Bills were active early on, making a trade to move up two spots in the first round. They followed that with two separate trades to move down the draft board in the second round. Now that the initial hype around this draft has slowed down, let’s grade each of the Bills’ draft picks based on value, fit with the team, first-year impact, and overall potential.
First Round: Cornerback Kaiir Elam, Florida
According to Brandon Beane in a press conference, the Buffalo Bills traded up for Kaiir Elam because he was the last player available they had a first-round grade on. Elam is a long, athletic corner who will fit Buffalo’s defensive system. Elam will give them some size and physicality to press some receivers, something Buffalo has not had the personnel to do much of. What concerns me about Elam is although he has good ball skills, he gets handsy and was penalized a lot at Florida. And the NFL rules are not always kind to rookie cornerbacks, especially with the caliber of receivers in today’s NFL.
Second Round: Running Back James Cook, Georgia
James Cook will give the Bills a skillset at running back that they have desperately needed. As serviceable Devin Singletary has been as a receiving back, serviceable is not good enough for a championship-caliber team. Cook will give the Bills the ultimate third-down option who can line up all over and may play out of the backfield.
Not only should Cook give Buffalo another offensive threat, but he should, more importantly, take some of the pressure off of Josh Allen to play superman, especially when it comes to running the ball. Cook was not the most prized ball carrier from this draft; however, being the brother of Dalvin Cook, you can see the similarities in their run style, indicating that Cook’s skills may easily translate to the NFL.
Third Round: Linebacker Terrel Bernard, Baylor
I actually believe that Terrel Bernard is a good prospect with good potential. So why a B-? First, I think Buffalo reached a little here. It makes sense without a fourth-round pick, but Bernard was more of a Day 3 pick in many people’s eyes. Second, Bernard has a challenging route to significant playing time in the coming years. His athletic build is similar to Matt Milano’s, and he is way too small to play middle linebacker, just like Milano. This means Bernard will essentially be Milano’s backup for years to come.
As a prospect, Bernard is one of the best blitzing linebackers coming out of college. He is a great athlete who can cover running backs and tight ends, making him the perfect outside linebacker for today’s NFL. At the end of the day, he may not play a whole bunch, but the Bills were able to get a backup linebacker with great potential after losing backup AJ Klein earlier this offseason.
Fifth Round: Wide Receiver Khalil Shakir, Boise St.
Khalil Shakir was a steal in the draft, and I was shocked he fell this far. Shakir is a really smooth athlete who really does not display many weaknesses. He is a good route runner, has reliable hands, and good ability after the catch, and teams raved about his character. He may not has elite skills, but he lacks any significant weaknesses as a player. It reminds you of one Bills receiver who was drafted by Brandon Beane in the later rounds. Shakir may not see the field this year because of the talent the Bills have at WR, but he sure will be a contributor in a couple of years.
Sixth Round: Punter Matt Araiza, San Diego St.
While many raved over the Bills drafting the “Punt God” Matt Araiza, I am concerned about his transition to the pros, despite having the biggest leg in the draft. First, he never has held, and he just got drafted by a team who cut a player who plays just like him (Corey Bojorquez) because he was a bad holder. Second, Araiza could kick the ball exceptionally far but was often susceptible to big returns because of his lack of hang time.
All that aside, Araiza is probably the most athletic punter in the league now, and with a leg like his, he surely could improve his hangtime and become a suitable holder. If we are honest, I am not sure it will take much to unseat Matt Haack after his last season. Araiza has all the traits you want with a punter, but I am not sure if the punter is the position you are willing to go through the growing pains of development that the Bills may experience with Araiza. Luckily the Bills’ offense is potent enough that they do not punt much. Remember the wild card game against the New England Patriots?
Sixth Round: Cornerback Christian Benford, Villanova
One of my favorite Bills picks. I honestly did not know who Benford was when the Bills picked him. I watched some of his highlights and lowlights at Villanova, and he certainly has potential. As shown by his testing pre-draft, Benford is big and strong with much power and explosiveness. He is physical at the line of scrimmage.
Benford is better in zone defense which fits with Leslie Frazier’s defense, and can make plays on the ball. Outside of his low competition level in college, Benford has many traits you like to see in modern cornerbacks. And for now, he could be a solid contributor on special teams.
Sixth Round: Offensive Lineman Luke Tenuta, Virginia Tech
Luke Tenuta is an Eiffel tower standing at 6’8″. Over the last two drafts, Brandon Beane has made his love affair with tall offensive tackles evident. The last three he has drafted stand at 6’8″. Tenuta is not the best athlete and does not really move well enough to project well in the NFL. He can block his way to the second level, but he plays slowly.
Tenuta has short arms and, with his height, often will lose leverage by leaning forward or back in pass blocking sets. It is understandable that the Bills like his size and fundamentals, but he seems like he is a tier below the NFL level. In the sixth round, the Bills could have drafted someone with a little more potential or a higher ceiling.
Seventh Round: Linebacker Baylon Spector, Clemson
With their last pick, the Bills got Baylon Spector out of Clemson. Although Spector tested well, he did not show much speed or the athleticism you would expect for a linebacker who weighs less than 230 pounds. He is a former safety who covers and understands zones and responsibilities pretty well. Spector also is willing to do the scrappy work linebackers are forced to do in the run game.
Spector does not have a good chance to make this Bills team, and he will be fighting with a large group to warrant a practice squad spot. Spector shows some skills that could lead you to believe he could be a serviceable backup in the NFL. The Bills are likely hoping he could be that, considering how cheap 7th-round contracts are.
Total Draft Grade: B
It is hard to imagine all eight players making the Bills team. Adding talent is essential to team building but keeping that talent under team control is just as important. The Bills are good enough where their last four picks could not make the roster putting them at risk of being signed by another team via the Bills practice squad or being claimed. This happened to Buffalo last season with draft picks Jack Anderson and Rachad Wildgoose. The Bills should have used some of the late-round picks to move higher and add talent that is more likely to stay beyond just one season. I really like the players that the Bills drafted early on, but if half of this class is not on the 53-man roster, the Bills’ draft strategy should change a little going forward. Emphasizing the number of picks in the top half of the draft.