High Hopes for Bills After Promising Draft
The 2020 NFL draft was a much-needed dose of normalcy for sports fans and it went as smoothly as possible considering the adjustments ESPN had to account for. A record-breaking 15.6 million people tuned in this year to watch their team’s selections on the first night of the draft. Fans also witnessed Roger Goodell’s poor attempt at showing the world that he is in fact not a robot, and is instead a real person with a real personality. For the Buffalo Bills, the 2020 draft insofar was one of their best and most productive to date. Once again, Brandon Beane and company flaunted their competence on the big stage, addressing needs on both sides of the ball. Oftentimes, preseason draft grades mean very little, however, analysts across the board scored the Bills a consensus A- to A letter grade. With a good offseason and a solid draft to boot, the Bills fans should be excited for these rookies to join training camp (if that ever happens). Below is a pick by pick analysis.
Round 2, Pick 54: DE A.J. Epenesa
Out of the University of Iowa, A.J. Epenesa is a 6’ 5” 275lb. monster projected to rush off the edge. The Bills selected him in the second round with tremendous value, as most projections mapped Epenesa as a first round lock (hovering in the mid to late 20s). A.J.’s Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade was 84.3 for his collegiate career, including a 90.1 score in 2018. The PFF grade is a metric that includes all statistical measures pertaining to each specific position on the field. Epenesa was initially projected as a top-three edge rusher in the draft, but his stock fell after his numbers were slightly less than desirable at the combine. What Epenesa lacks in athleticism he more than makes up for with tremendous hand technique, strength, and intelligence. He was dominant for the Hawkeyes, finishing his career there with 26.5 total sacks as well as 8 forced fumbles in 3 years. The first sack of his college career was actually on current Bills QB Josh Allen. This pick solidifies and improves an already top 5 elite defense. The Bills appear to be taking a page out of the 49ers Joey Bosa Super Bowl formula in stacking the line and constantly pressuring the QB. Epenesa fills a hole in the Bills defense after losing Shaq Lawson to the Dolphins and bolsters an aging defensive line starring Jerry Hughes (31) and Trent Murphy (29).
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 27: Austin Jackson #73 of the USC Trojans blocks A.J. Epenesa #94 of the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second half of the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium on December 27, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Round 3, Pick 86: RB Zack Moss
From the University of Utah, the Bills landed 22-year-old RB Zack Moss in the third round of this year’s draft. Buffalo had success last year selecting RB Devin Singletary in the third round and repeated that strategy again this year. Many Bills fans were unhappy with the Zack Moss selection. Many Bills fans wanted the team to select RB J.K. Dobbins out of Ohio State before Epenesa. I believe this selection was perfect for what Buffalo needs, going with a top-tier edge rusher and waiting to select Moss in the third round with great upside and value. Moss was Utah’s most accomplished runner, breaking numerous milestones. He holds multiple rushing accolades there, including the all-time leader in rushing yards. Moss was a force for the Utes in his senior year, rushing for 1,246 yards and 15 touchdowns. More importantly, he ran for 6.2 yards per carry. At 5’9’’ 223lb., Moss is a strong and heavy rusher with surprising speed. Outfitted for cold football already, Moss is an ideal fit for Buffalo’s winter. He is exactly what the Bills need in their backfield, a big and durable first down rusher and goal line bruiser to compliment Singletary’s speed and agility as a third-down back. Moss’ ability to break tackles is invaluable for Buffalo and fits perfectly in their playstyle that focuses on controlling the clock with a strong running game and a great defense.
PALO ALTO, CA - OCTOBER 6: Zack Moss #2 of the Utah Utes makes a run during an NCAA Pac-12 college football game against the Stanford Cardinal on October 6, 2018 at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. Defending is Paulson Adebo #11 of Stanford. (Photo by David Madison/Getty Images)
Round 4, Pick 128: WR Gabriel Davis
Out of UCF, Gabriel Davis stands as a big target for Josh Allen at 6’2” 216lb. I wanted the Bills to go earlier on a WR with a possible trade, but considering the depth this year at the receiver position this is still a smart selection. Davis led UCF in receiving during his career, including a slash of 72/1,241/12 (receptions, yards, TDs) his senior year. He has a respectable 40 time for his size at 4.54, and has a massive frame that allows him a wide catch radius. This will immediately benefit QB Josh Allen’s struggles with accuracy. Davis will be a good fit as the Bills’ fourth or fifth receiver with tremendous upside. Davis, however, was a one-dimensional player in college, only playing on the outside with little slot and special teams work. The Bills have their work cut out for them in refining Davis’ raw game, but I believe he can be molded to be a useful offensive weapon for the Bills and eventually a solid WR2.
CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 04: Gabriel Davis #13 of the Central Florida Knights tries to break a tackle against Coby Bryant #7 of the Cincinnati Bearcats in the second quarter at Nippert Stadium on October 4, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Round 5, Pick 167: QB Jake Fromm
From the University of Georgia, the Bills used the 167th pick on QB Jake Fromm. This was an interesting move by the front office, and I think the Bills could have been better off selecting another skill player here. Fromm, however, addresses the need for a better backup QB for the Bills, as Matt Barkley is not the answer at number two. Josh Allen is susceptible to injury as a rushing QB, and a competent QB in Jake Fromm is a good contingency plan in case of injury, or if Allen regresses in his third year. The Bills selected Fromm in the fifth round at a very low price, so little investment is lost if Fromm turns out to be a bust. At 6’1” 219lbs., Fromm was an effective three-year starter for the Bulldogs during his tenure there. He had productive freshman and sophomore years at Georgia but took a step backward in his junior season. Fromm totaled 78 TDs with 18 Ints at Georgia, as well as an average of 8.4 Y/A and an overall completion percentage of 63%. Fromm is truly the opposite of Josh Allen, a much smaller and less athletic QB with a weaker arm on deep balls, but throws a more accurate ball on short to intermediate routes. Fromm developed the reputation of a competent game manager in his time in college. Fromm showed promise at Georgia and the Bills got him for next to nothing. He should be a capable QB in the NFL, and it will be interesting to see if Fromm will be able to elevate his game to the next level as a starter. If he can develop a better deep ball and combine that with his turnover-free reputation from college, Fromm will have the pertinent tools to succeed in the NFL.
ATHENS, GEORGIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Jake Fromm #11 of the Georgia Bulldogs throws a first half pass while playing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sanford Stadium on September 21, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Round 6, Picks 188 and 207: K, Tyler Bass and WR Isaiah Hodgins
The Bills went with a kicker and another receiver in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Tyler Bass out of Georgia Southern was one of the top-rated kickers coming in and has a massive leg. Bass made 90% of his kicks his junior year and can hit from 50-65 yards out. Bass fills a small need at the kicker position, with the growing incompetence of Steven Hauschka. I project that Bass will likely win out the kicker role for this year. The kicking position is a crucial role for NFL teams and can easily turn wins into losses, or vice versa. This was a solid pickup at the back end of the draft. Wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins out of Oregon State was selected at pick 207, standing at 6’4” 210lbs. Hodgins led Oregon State in receiving all three years of his career, including a solid 86/1,171/13 junior year. The Bills continued to go with size at the receiver position to compensate for shorter starters in Cole Beasley, Stefon Diggs, and John Brown. Hodgins gives Josh Allen another big target. He has big hands, great ball skills, good route running abilities, and good ball tracking ability. Hodgins’ 4.61 speed is nothing to write home about, but he should be a solid depth and special teams player for the Bills to utilize. He should be capable despite a lack of explosiveness and power.
PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 05: Oregon State Beavers wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (17) catches a touchdown pass from Oregon State Beavers quarterback Jake Luton (6) (not pictured) during a college football game between the Oregon State Beavers and the UCLA Bruins on October 05, 2019, at Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. (Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Round 7, Pick 239: DB Dane Jackson
The Bills rounded out this year’s draft with a cornerback out of the University of Pittsburgh in Dane Jackson. At 6’0’ 187lbs, Jackson was a serviceable starter all three years at Pitt. His ultra-competitiveness around receivers made him appealing to teams, but his lack of strength on the outside resulted in him surrendering 20 touchdowns over his career. Jackson will need to be developed but will hopefully prove to be a solid depth piece in Sean McDermott’s defensive scheme. Jackson fills a small hole at the cornerback position if the offseason addition of Josh Norman falters.