Meiler: Bills strong again in quiet draft

Mike Meiler

Everything's coming up Brandon Beane.

The Bills GM sat tight during the NFL draft, replaying clips of Stefon Diggs during Round 1 before watching two high-impact players fall his way Friday in rounds 2 and 3.

In all, Beane filled five genuine needs without making a single trade, a departure from the free-wheeling side he'd shown in previous drafts. He didn't make any super sexy picks, but having built a deep roster over the past couple of seasons, he didn't have to.

I won't begin to pretend to be some draftnik who claims to know how certain players will turn out. I could not have named four of the seven players the Bills ended up drafting before Saturday. But Beane's history — the Bills have gotten at least three starting-caliber players out of each of his previous three drafts, and 16 of the 22 players picked remain on the team — has earned him the benefit of the doubt. Assuming he knows what he's doing, the Bills got better this week.

• Counting Diggs, who was acquired for a trade package that included Buffalo's first-round pick, I figured Beane would end up with three impact players out of this draft. I also thought he'd probably move up a bit in the second or third round to do so.

I was halfway right. Beane stayed put and watched two players who filled some of his biggest needs, DE AJ Epenesa and RB Zack Moss, fall to him in the second and third rounds.

Epenesa was often mocked to the Bills at No. 22 before the pick was moved for Diggs, but Beane managed to get him at 54. He's not an explosive pass-rusher who will become the heir to Jerry Hughes as the Bills' top sack-getter, but at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, he's instead the Bills' replacement for Shaq Lawson.

Moss, meanwhile, will see a healthy dose of carries spelling Devin Singletary. He's not especially big, but his powerful running style — someone compared to Travis Henry — should compliment the slippery starter well. 

Neither player is likely to start for the Bills, but they certainly might have been given the opportunity on a lesser team.

• The Moss pick also kept the Bills out of the running for disgruntled RB Leonard Fournette, and, well, phew.

A healthy, focused Fournette obviously would have been a great addition. But years of weirdness in Jacksonville — what else happens in Jacksonville? — leave it unlikely that's who Buffalo would have gotten.

Beane and Sean McDermott have done a fantastic job building a culture, and while the locker room may be sturdy enough to handle a potential knucklehead, why risk it for a backup running back?

• The Bills picked two receivers, Gabriel Davis and Isaiah Hodgins, in rounds 4 and 6. While they're set with Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley handling the majority of the snaps, they did need to add some explosive youth into the group. Brown and Beasley are both on the wrong side of 30.

Both Davis (6-2, 216) and Hodgins (6-4, 210) have good size, as well, an element the Bills lacked outside of Duke Williams. If nothing else, they'll challenge Williams, Robert Foster and Isaiah McKenzie for spots, and there isn't a football coach around who doesn't love competition up and down the roster.

• The selection of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm in Round 5 may have been a surprise, but it really shouldn't have been.

The Bills are in a good enough spot under center with Josh Allen and Matt Barkley, but, much like at receiver, they lacked any real sort of developmental prospect.

Allen is extremely easy to root for and has gotten better each year in the NFL, but he's still a huge question mark on a team with championship aspirations. Barkley is well-liked and has helped Allen's development, but he's only got one year left on his deal. He's also never going to be an NFL starter.

Fromm played in all of Georgia's 43 games over the past three seasons, guiding the Bulldogs to a 36-7 record during that time. As a true freshman, he helped them make it to overtime of the national championship.

It never hurts to add depth in the NFL. One hit could change a player's trajectory; remember Trent Edwards? Maybe Fromm washes out. Maybe he's takes over for Barkley as the Bills' backup. But if Allen doesn't work out for whatever reason, the Bills at least have a young guy with some talent learning the system.

• The Bills also selected a kicker, Tyler Bass, in the sixth round, which didn't seem particularly popular on social media.

Look, Buffalo didn't have a ton of needs. As I've said in the last two sections, competition is never a bad thing on a football team. If Beane and Co. saw something in Bass that led them to believe he might the Bills' kicker for the next 12 years, and the cost of finding out was a sixth-rounder, I'm cool with it.

• I'm a bit surprised Beane didn't add anything to the offensive line. Maybe the value wasn't there, or maybe he didn't see it as a need, but I'm not confident this year's group will be any better than last year's.

Last season, Beane put together an passable group by opening the purse strings for Mitch Morse, adding a few unheralded free agents (Quinton Spain, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano) and drafting Cody Ford.

The group was strong in the run game and iffy in pass protection, though some of that certainly can be attributed to Allen's need to get better at reading pressure. Dion Dawkins turned into a franchise left tackle and Morse remains a top center, but outside of that, there's no certainty last season wasn't a flash in the pan. Sixteen games is not a strong sample size.

If you're going to ding Beane for anything, it sure feels the Bills could have benefited from bringing in another mid-round lineman to at least challenge for a spot.

• The draft from home strangely endearing. Nike Belichick — somehow the giant brand even got rights to Bill's dog — was the star, as were Kliff Kingsbury's swanky home, Mike Vrabel's ragtag crew and Andy Reid's Hawaiian shirts. Who didn't breathe a sigh of relief with Roger Goodell decided enough was enough and announced picks from his recliner rather than half-heartedly ask fans for cheer over web feeds?

Football coaches are ridiculously buttoned up, and it was refreshing to get a glimpse into their home lives.

Throw sports drafts in with college classes and many, many jobs as things the coronavirus has shown us no longer need to be done in person in the year 2020.

Next year, live feeds — video only — of all 32 GMs. Imagine the suspense each time someone glances at a phone.

Respond to sports editor Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or via email at mike.meiler@gnnewspaper.com.

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