The Buffalo Bills took a colossal step in the right direction in 2020, when they became AFC East champions for the first time in 25 years and rolled all the way to the AFC Championship game.
So, the 2021 NFL Draft was less about “Oh Lord, panic mode!” and more like “Hey, why don’t you come help us get to the Super Bowl?” for the Bills, who could just be a few tweaks away from the Lombardi Trophy.
Did Buffalo land “Bingo!” in their eight selections? Or did they bumble?
Buffalo Bills NFL draft picks:
1) Gregory Rousseau, Defensive End, Miami (1st round, 30th overall)
Bills Grade: B+
Buffalo certainly gave pass rushing the old college try in 2020, as the AFC East champions finished eighth in the NFL in total blitzes (230) and eighth in blitzes per drop back (35.8%). But the hustle didn’t provide as much cash as the Bills hoped, only landing quarterback knockdowns on 9.5% of passing attempts (T-18th), a quarterback hurry on 7.8% of passing attempts (T-26th) and 38 total sacks (T-16th).
The lack of an exceptional pass rush was unfortunately doubly apparent against the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs and their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. In their regular season meeting, a 26-17 win for the Chiefs, Mahomes was only sacked one time and completed 21-for-26 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown. In the AFC title rematch, the Chiefs won 38-24, and Mahomes was only sacked one time while going 29-for-38 with 325 yards passing and three scores.
Certainly the Bills would like nothing more than to maintain AFC North dominance for as long as Josh Allen and company can, but in order to move past the Chiefs — who should be perennial contenders for the Lombardi Trophy — Buffalo (and anyone, really) must keep the beef along the defensive line.
Enter Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau, whom the Bills selected 30th overall. They didn’t really have to reach for him, after he opted out of the 2020 season following a silly 2019 freshman All-American campaign (15 1/2 sacks, 19.5 tackles-for-loss), where he led the ACC in both big-time categories and earned ACC Defensive “Rookie of the Year.”
He’s young (21), fast (4.67 40-yard dash), well sized for the rush (6-foot-6, 270 pounds)…and is going to look awfully, awfully nice next to Ed Oliver on the line.
2) Carlos Basham Jr., Defensive End, Wake Forest (2nd round draft pick, 61st overall)
Bills Grade: B+
Buffalo brass doubled down on pass rushing in the 2021 NFL Draft, when they selected Wake Forest’s Carlos Basham Jr. with the No. 61 overall pick.
Not only is his last name beyond fitting for the position he’ll certainly be assigned, but his explosion off the line of scrimmage is certainly worth noting:
Highlights of the newest member of the Buffalo #Bills.
— Dan Fetes (@danfetes) May 1, 2021
He obviously hasn’t proven it just yet in the big stage, but there’s some beliefs that Basham has a chance to be one of the steals of the draft. His best season as a Demon Deacon came in 2019, when he amassed 18.0 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks — trailing only Miami’s Gregory Rousseau, Buffalo’s first-round pick, in the category.
Though the Bills got the blitz from multiple positions, only two players (A.J. Klein, Mario Addison) landed five or more sacks on the year. Clearly, this is where Buffalo wanted to get better.
3) Spencer Brown, Offensive Tackle, Northern Iowa (3rd round draft pick, 93rd overall)
Bills Grade: B+
Of the 34 offensive linemen expected to be either drafted or signed as restricted free agents in the 2021 class, Brown was listed as the second-largest behind Illinois State’s Drew Himmelman (6-foot-9). At 6-foot-8 (and two-tenths of an inch), Brown is straight bulk for an offensive line that did a pretty solid job opening rushing lanes and protecting prolific quarter Josh Allen in 2020.
Allen was the most-blitzed quarterback in the league last season (244 times), yet was only sacked 26 times (T-16th) as the line bought him extra time to escape the pocket.
Dane Brugler of The Athletic describes Brown as someone who “boasts the framework of a massive oak door” who’s also an “ideal developmental project for an NFL staff.” The Bills have multiple veterans up front, and snagging Brown in the third round wasn’t even a reach.
4) Tommy Doyle, Offensive Tackle, Miami (OH) (5th round draft pick, 161st overall)
Bills Grade: B+
If Brown was considered the second-largest offensive lineman of the 2021 NFL Draft, Doyle was right behind him as the third-largest at 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds. He missed a considerable amount of time due to various injuries from 2016-18, but was named First Team All-MAC in 2019 and 2020 with 16 consecutive starts.
He also played 16 games at left tackle and 14 games at right tackle, ran a 5.11 40-yard dash during his Pro Day and was largely considered a fourth-round pick. The Bills snagged him in the mid-fifth, in what was a complete value pick for the front office.
5) Marquez Stevenson, Wide Receiver, Houston (6th round draft pick, 203rd overall)
Bills Grade: B
Stevenson already has a friend on this Buffalo Bills squad, as he and defensive tackle Ed Oliver were both part of a vaunted Class of 2016 for the Houston Cougars.
Either way, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound speedster is the first of three selections the franchise had in the sixth round this year, and he’s certainly multifaceted. While at Houston, he finished with three kick-return touchdowns in his career, and added 147 catches for 2,269 yards and 22 touchdowns from 2018-20 — earning First Team All-AAC in 2018 and 2019.
He’s already dealt with a broken collarbone and a torn ACL during his early collegiate years, but rebounded to be an elite playmaker for the Cougars in his three full seasons.
New special teamer, with a chance to make some plays on deep throws out of the slot? Potentially, at least at the start.
6) Damar Hamlin, Safety, Pittsburgh (6th round draft pick, 212th overall)
Bills Grade: B-minus
There is an elite, elite burst in Hamlin’s first step. Among graded safeties, the former Pitt star posted the fastest 10-yard time (1.46) and one of the fastest 20-yard times (2.69). During the last two seasons of his collegiate career with the Panthers, he was particularly effective in pass coverage — snagging 20 of his 27 pass deflections, and six of his 10.0 tackles-for-loss.
Hamlin graded as a sixth-round pick, though, particularly because of his size (6-foot, 200 pounds), and it’s unlikely the Bills will be looking for him to contribute in the secondary right away. Instead, it’s more likely Hamlin will get to hone his pursuit skills on special teams.
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 26, 2020
7) Rachad Wildgoose, Defensive Back, Wisconsin (6th round draft pick, 213th overall)
Bills Grade: C
Wildgoose might be Buffalo’s only reach in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Wisconsin Badgers defensive back didn’t get to have much of a 2020 season due to a right shoulder injury suffered in November 2020, and he opted out of the final four games — posting just six tackles, two for loss and one pass deflection.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound corner did post seven pass deflections in both 2018 and 2019, but it’s hard to really project just where he fits on this Bills roster. Slot corner, for press man coverage? Maybe.
8) Jack Anderson, Guard, Texas Tech (7th round draft pick, 236th overall)
Bills Grade: B
The third offensive lineman taken by the Buffalo Bills in this draft, Anderson started 38 games at Texas Tech from 2017-20 — working from Freshman All-American status to First Team All-Big 12 and Red Raiders captain this past year.
A right guard in every collegiate contest, ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jacques reports Anderson will likely be switching to center after favorable marks at the position during the 2021 Senior Bowl.
Again, Buffalo made it very clear where the priorities were in this class — pass rush and pass protection. At 6-fo0t-5, 310 pounds, Anderson isn’t as big as Brown and Doyle, but he has some of the bigger hands from the draft (10 inches).